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Chinese Zodiac in Japan: 2024 is the Year of the Wood Dragon

Chinese Zodiac in Japan: 2024 is the Year of the Wood Dragon

Last updated: 12 December 2023

Just as New Year celebrations finish in the West, people are gearing up to mark Lunar New Year in the East! 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon, starting from February 10, 2024, to January 28, 2025.

Although it did not originate in Japan, the Chinese zodiac, and the 12 animals that represent it, have been embraced by Japanese culture wholeheartedly.

During the time of both the New Year on January first and the Lunar Calendar New Year in Japan, you will find the year’s 'Japanese zodiac' animal on cards, decorations, and more!

(Main image: PIXTA)

Table of Contents
  1. Roots of the Chinese Zodiac
  2. From Sake Jar to Rooster?
  3. Quick Look at the Year of the Dragon

Roots of the Chinese Zodiac

Roots of the Chinese Zodiac

When talking about the Chinese Zodiac, the majority of people will immediately think of the twelve animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. These “Twelve Signs” or “Earthly Branches,” however, are only one part of the entire Zodiac.

The other part is the “Ten Heavenly Stems” or “Celestial Stem,” an ancient Chinese system of ordinal numbers. Used in combination with the Earthly Branches, namely the twelve animals, they created a cycle of sixty days.

Specifically, 2024 is the Year of the Wood Dragon. The “wood” in this term comes from these very Celestial stems. The original purpose of this system was to determine the day, month, year, time, and even directions, similar to the English “o’clock.”

It is believed that the Celestial stem was invented around 4,000 years ago in China’s Yin Dynasty, while the Earthly Branches, the twelve animals, was established in China during the Han Dynasty. When this system was brought to Japan isn’t entirely clear but a prominent theory states that it must have been sometime before the Nara period.

From Sake Jar to Rooster?

From Sake Jar to Rooster?

Interestingly enough, these Earthly Branches weren’t always animals. The rat, for example, originally was depicted as a child, while the rooster was once a sake jug!

This changed in China’s Han Dynasty, when these depictions were all changed to livestock to make it easier to remember for farmers who were more familiar with animals and ultimately dependent on this calendar – although there are various theories surrounding the reason for the change from a child to a rat and so on.

Of course, the Chinese Zodiac hasn’t only spread to Japan but all over Asia and various regional differences have developed over time. In Japan, for example, the Chinese Pig is a Boar, while Tibet replaced the original Rabbit with a Cat.

In Japan, everyone immediately knows the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar (or Pig).

The respective animal of the year often adorns New Year’s cards called nengajo and calendars, and a lot of families decorate their homes with references to the zodiac sign of the coming year.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Chinese Zodiac is an inherent part of Japanese day to day life and culture.

What is this Lunar New Year's Animal?
January 22 (Water Rabbit)
February 10 (Wood Dragon)
January 29 (Wood Snake)
February 17 (Fire Horse)
February 6 (Fire Goat)
January 26 (Earth Monkey)

Quick Look at the Year of the Dragon

(Photo: PIXTA)
(Photo: PIXTA)

Did you know?
People born in a Dragon year are said to have “a dragon's virtues.” Dragons symbolize power, honor, luck, and success, being a supernatural being no parallel for talent and excellence.

Also, 2024 specifically is the Year of the Wood Dragon, meaning that people born this year are notably sensitive, creative and engaging, intuitive, and influencing the environment around them.

What are the Dragon years?
If you were born in the years 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 or 2012, this is your year as well!

Celebrity Dragons include Bruce Lee, Charles Darwin, John Lennon, and Vladimir Putin.

Have a Happy “Year of the Dragon!”

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
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