Just as New Year celebrations finish in the West, folks are gearing up to mark Chinese New Year in the East! February 5, 2019 marks the beginning of the Year of the Pig. 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 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 are 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, 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig. The “earth” in this term comes from these very Celestial stems. The original purpose of this system was to determinate 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.
Quick Look at the Year of the Pig
Did you know? People born in a Pig year are said to have “a pig's virtues:” considerate, independent, responsible and optimistic. Also, 2019 specifically is the Year of the Earth Pig, meaning that together with people born in 1959, people born this year are notably good socializing and maintaining interpersonal relations.
On the flip side, it is said that those born in the Year of the Pig may be somewhat prone to inaction and should take extra care not to become overly procrastinatory in 2019.
What are the Pig years?
If you were born in years 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995 or 2007, this is your year as well! Celebrity Pigs include Alfred Hitchcock, Sade, Humphrey Bogart, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carrie Underwood.
Have a Happy “Year of the Pig!”
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