Just as New Year celebrations finish in the West, folks are gearing up to mark Chinese New Year in the East! February 12, 2021, marks the beginning of the Year of the Metal Ox.
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!
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, 2021 is the Year of the Metal Ox. (Sounds like a cool band name!) The “metal” 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?
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.
- January 25 (Metal Rat)
- February 12 (Metal Ox)
- February 1 (Water Tiger)
- January 22 (Water Rabbit)
- February 10 (Wood Dragon)
- January 29 (Wood Snake)
Quick Look at the Year of the Ox
Did you know?
People born in an Ox year are said to have “an ox's virtues.” In terms of personality, they are said to be diligent and dependable, strong, and determined. Oxes, having an honest and relatively conservative nature, are said to be strongly patriotic and have ideals and ambitions for life, and are bound to both family and work.
Also, 2021 specifically is the Year of the Metal Ox, meaning that people born this year are notably sensitive and are active, hardworking, and popular among friends.
What are the Ox years?
If you were born in the years 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, or 2009, this is your year as well!
Celebrity Oxes include Vincent Van Gogh, Walt Disney, Margaret Thatcher, and Barack Obama.
Have a Happy “Year of the Ox!”
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