|The Year of the Snake|
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"Eto (formally called Jikkan Junishi)" refers to the Chinese zodiac symbols. Unlike the Western Zodiac which is divided into 12 months, the Asian Zodiac is divided into 12 years. Each year is named after an animal: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. It is said to have been adopted in Japan in 604 during the reign of Empress Suiko.
According to Chinese legends, before Buddha departed from earth, only twelve animals came in their devotion to him. Buddha honored them by naming the years after them in the order arrived.
This zodiac cycle was also used to tell time and directions in the old days. For example, the rat symbolized the time period between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and the horse was for between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. For the compass points, the rat stood for north, and the horse was for south.
Every Japanese person knows what year of the zodiac they were born in. The Japanese are likely to ask what your zodiac sign is, instead of asking how old you are. In this way, you can guess a person's age without asking it directly.
Like the astrological zodiac there are all sorts of things which influence individual people. The Japanese believe that people who are born in the same animal year share similar personality and character. For example, people born in the year of the snake were profound thinkers and have tremendous wisdom. Click here to check what year you were born in and what kind of personality your animal sign has.
People whose zodiacal sign corresponds to the year's sign (which means their age is a multiple of 12) are called "toshi-otoko (men)" or "toshi-onna (women)." Expressions including snake on the next page!