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The Year of Dragon - Tatsudoshi

The Story of the Japanese Zodiac

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2012 is the year of the dragon. There are twelve animals in the Japanese zodiac (Juunishi): the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. The dragon is the only mythological creature in the zodiac. The Japanese word for "dragon" is, "tatsu" or "ryuu". There are three kanji characters to express the word, "dragon". One (竜) is in Joyo kanji, and the other one (龍) is the old style kanji. When describing a dragon as, "Juunishi", a different character (辰) than the previous two is used.

Dragons are a familiar motif in Japanese art, architecture and popular culture. The "Chuunichi Dragons" are a professional baseball team. "Dragon Ball" is a manga series. "Dragon Quest" is a popular videogame series. "Tatsu no ko Taro (Taro, the Dragon Boy)" is a famous Japanese folk tale, which was made into a movie in 1979.

A "seahorse" is called, "tatsu no otoshigo (the dragon's lost child)," since it resembles a dragon. I think it is a cute name.

Here are some Japanese expressions that are related to the word "dragon":

  • Gekirin ni fureru 逆鱗に触れる --- "Gekirin" is the scale on a dragon that grows in the opposite direction to all the others. A dragon doesn't harm humans in general, but hates to have its "gekirin" (scale) touched. It is said that if a "gekirin" were touched, the dragon would become furious and kill the person responsible immediately. Therefore, "Gekirin ni fureru" means, "to incur the wrath of the Emperor; to provoke the Emperor's wrath; to step on the toes of a man in power".

  • Ryuutou-Dabi 竜頭蛇尾 --- Is one of the, "Yoji-Jukugo". It literally means, "A dragon's head and a snake's tail". It describes a, "bright beginning; dull finish; to end in an anticlimax; a tame ending."

  • Touryuumon 登竜門 --- Literally translates as, "Climbing the Dragon's Gate". It expresses, "the gateway to success; an opening to honors". It finds its origin in the old Chinese legend about a carp, swimming up a rapid current and a waterfall named, "The Dragon's Gate", that turns into a dragon and goes to heaven.

    The Origin of Juunishi – Juunishi no Hanashi

    You might wonder why in the "Juunishi" that there are these twelve animals and why they appear in the order that they do. There is a folk tale about the origin of the "Juunishi" that explains it.

    昔々、ある暮れのこと。神様が動物たちにお触れを出しました。「元旦の朝、私のところへ出かけてきなさい。最初に到着したものから12番目のものまでを、1年交代でその年の大将にしてあげよう。」動物たちは、我こそが1番になるぞと張り切っておりました。

    ところが、ネコは話を聞き漏らしてしまい、ネズミにたずねます。するとネズミはわざと1日遅れの日付を教えてやり、ネコはそれを真に受けて帰っていきました。

    元旦となり、足の遅いウシが誰よりも早く夜明け前に出発しました。すると、牛小屋の天井でこれを見ていたネズミが、こっそりウシの背中に飛び乗りました。そんなこととは走らないウシが神様の家に行ってみると、まだ誰も来ておらず、門も閉まったまま。我こそが1番だとウシは喜び、門が開くのを待っていました。

    やがて朝がきて門が開いたとたん、ウシの背中からネズミが飛び降り、ネズミが1番となってしまいました。残念ながらウシは2番となり、それからトラ、ウサギ、タツ、ヘビ、ウマ、ウシ、サル、トリ、イヌ、イノシシの順で到着しました。1日遅れででかけたネコは番外となり、それ以来ネズミをうらんで追い回すようになったそうです。

    Romaji Translation

    Mukashi mukashi, aru kure no koto. Kamisama ga doubutsutachi ni ofure o dashimashita."Ganjitsu no asa, watashi no tokoro e dekakete kinasai. Saisho ni touchaku shita mono kara juuni-ban me no mono made o, ichinen koutai de sono toshi no taishou ni shiteageyou." Doubutsutachi wa, warekoso ga ichiban ni naru zo to harikitte orimashita.

    Tokoroga, neko wa hanashi o kikimorashite shimai, nezumi ni tazunemasu. Suruto nezumi wa wazato ichinichi okure no hizuke o oshiete yari, neko wa sore o ma ni ukete kaette ikimashita.

    Gantan to nari, ashi no osoi ushi ga dare yori mo hayaku yoake mae ni shuppatsu shimashita. Suruto, ushigoya no tenjou de kore o miteita nezumi ga, kossori ushi no senaka ni tobinorimashita. Sonna koto towa shiranai ushi ga kamisama no ie ni itte miruto, mada daremo kite orazu, mon mo shimatta mama. Ware koso ga ichiban da to ushi wa yorokobi, mon ga aku no o matte imashita.

    Yagate asa ga kite mon ga hiraita totan, ushi no senaka kara nezumi ga tobiori, nezumi ga ichiban to natte shimaimashita. Zannen nagara ushi wa niban to nari, sorekara tora, usagi, tatsu, hebi, uma, hitsuji, saru, tori, inu, inoshishi no jun de touchaku shimashita. Ichinichi okure de dekaketa neko wa bangai to nari, sore irai nezumi o urande oimawasu youni natta sou desu.

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