With omicron causing concern, 2022 was ushered in without any major fanfare —silent and swift, like a 虎 (tora, tiger).

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that this year is also the 寅年 (tora doshi, Year of the Tiger) on the Chinese zodiac calendar.

Notice that the kanji for the animal is different from the one used in the 十二支 (jūnishi, the 12 signs of the zodiac). That’s because the kanji “寅” (tora) isn’t used to represent the animal itself. Associating the zodiac with animals came later so that the common folk could remember the astrological concepts more easily. Therefore, Japanese idioms that refer to tigers will use the 虎 kanji instead. That doesn’t make them any less fierce, of course.

  • 虎の意を借りる狐 (tora no i o kariru kitsune): A phrase that literally references “a fox that borrows the authority of a tiger,” and is used to express the idea of someone acting arrogantly through borrowed authority.
  • 張り子の虎 (hariko no tora): This is a kind of papier-mache bobblehead toy tiger, but it can also refer to a person who has no initiative and simply nods along to what other people say.
  • 虎穴にいらずんば虎子を得ず (koketsu ni irazunba koji o ezu): Translated roughly, this literally reads as “If you don’t go into the tiger’s den, you can’t get its cubs.” It has a similar meaning to the English expression: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
  • Similarly, 虎の尾を踏む (tora no o o fumu, to step on a tiger’s tail) means to do something dangerous and to take a risk.