明けましておめでとうございます! (Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu, Happy New Year!) The 2010s are done and we’re now in the 2020s. 心機一転頑張ろう！ (Shinki itten ganbarō, It’s time to turn over a new leaf!)
Another thing that starts over in 2020 is the 干支 (eto, Chinese zodiac), and the cycle starts with 子年 (nezumi-doshi, the Year of the Rat). This kanji also introduces our first lesson of the 2020s, ネズミ (nezumi, rat) is often written in kana as its kanji, 鼠, is kind of complicated. You will note, however, that the first kanji used in 子年 is 子 (ko, child). The kanji came first, and there are several explanations as to how it came to be associated with the rat. One story says that the upper classes in the Shang Dynasty (starting in the 16th century BC) wanted a way for the common folk to understand the zodiac, so they associated the cycle with 12 animals. Rats were associated with fertility and therefore were assigned to 子. Another legend has it that 12 animals took part in a race in which the rat was victorious and therefore assigned the first cycle, 子年.
Either way, 子年 is associated with family and fertility, and if you were born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 or 2008) then you are in for a lucky 12 months.
You can ask your friends, “何年生まれですか” (“Nani-doshi umare desu ka,” “What’s your Chinese zodiac sign?”) to which they may reply, “ネズミ年生まれです” (“Nezumi-doshi umare desu,” “I was born in the Year of the Rat”). Those born in the year of the current zodiac are also referred to as 年女 (toshi onna) or 年男 (toshi otoko) for women and men, respectively.
As 干支 follows a 12-year cycle, the years that come after it will be:
丑年 (ushi-doshi, Year of the Ox)
寅年 (tora-doshi, Year of the Tiger)
卯年 (usagi-doshi, Year of the Rabbit)
辰年 (tatsu-doshi, Year of the Dragon)
巳年 (hebi-doshi, Year of the Snake)
午年 (uma-doshi, Year of the Horse)
未年 (hitsuji-doshi, Year of the Sheep)
申年 (saru-doshi, Year of the Monkey)
酉年 (tori-doshi, Year of the Rooster)
戌年 (inu-doshi, Year of the Dog)
亥年 (inoshishi-doshi, Year of the Boar)
Just remember that the kanji in the names of the years don’t necessarily match the kanji used for those animals.
If you’re the same zodiac year as someone but 12 years apart, then you’re 一回り違う (hitomawari chigau, one round different). If you’re 24 years apart, then you’re 二回り違う (futamawari chigau, two rounds different). Just be careful not to point out these differences with your elders.
So, when would knowing your Chinese zodiac be useful? Well, it would come in useful when you visit a 占い師 (uranaishi, fortune teller), for example. 占い (uranai, fortune telling) has a long history in Japan from anywhere between 手相占い (tesō uranai, palm readers) to new year おみくじ (o-mikuji, slips of paper with fortunes written on them).
In addition to 干支占い (eto uranai, fortune-telling via the Chinese zodiac), Japanese people will sometimes pay attention to 星座占い (seiza uranai, fortune-telling via the Western zodiac). Monday brings 今週の12星座占いランキング (konshū no jūni-seiza uranai rankingu, the ranking of the luckiest Western zodiac sign for this week) on morning television and radio programs.
While Westerners use the zodiac to figure out an individual’s 性格診断 (seikaku shindan, personality assessment), the Japanese decipher it via 血液型 (ketsueki-gata, blood type).
When engaging in conversations about personality, you may be asked, “血液型は何ですか”(“Ketsueki-gata wa nan desu ka,” “What is your blood type?”) or, more simply, “何型ですか” (“Nani-gata desu ka,” “What type are you?”). You can respond with, “A型です” (“Ei-gata desu,” “I’m type A”), which means you may have a 几帳面な性格 (kichōmenna seikaku, methodical personality), or “B型です” (“Bī-gata desu,” “I’m type B”), which suggests that you are マイペースな性格 (maipēsuna seikaku, a type of a person who does everything at their own pace).
Type O can mean a few different things, and to convey the idea that you are explaining what you are, use the connective construction なので (nanode, so): “O型なので大雑把です” (“Ō-gata nanode ōzappa desu,” “I’m type O, so I’m not particular about details”). You could also talk yourself up by saying, “O型なのでおおらかだと思います” (“Ō-gata nanode ōraka da to omoimasu,” “I’m type O, so I think I’m pretty generous”).
My blood type is AB, so I may reply with, “AB型なので二重人格と言われます” (“Ei-bī-gata nanode nijū jinkaku to iwaremasu,” “I’m type AB, so I’m said to be dual-natured”). Sadly, AB型 are believed to be kind of two-faced. On the other hand, they’re also 天才肌 (tensaihada, having the temperment of a genius).
It’s up to you as to whether you believe this kind of stuff or not. Fortune or no fortune, 人生はあなた次第 (jinsei wa anata shidai, life is what you make it).