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Japanese Zodiac Signs: How to Talk About Zodiac and Horoscopes


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Are you interested in the Japanese zodiac? Or maybe you’re curious about Japan’s love of fortune-telling?

Fortune telling is a common practice and interest in Japan. There are a lot of popular ways to receive a prediction, such as the 12 zodiac animals, blood type, horoscopes, and tarot.

There’s also 動物占い (doubutsu uranai, “animal fortune”) and 御神籤 (omikuji, fortunes written on strips of paper at shrines).

While horoscopes are pretty popular everywhere in the world, they’re one of the newer fortune-telling methods in Japan. The animal zodiac and blood types have been the two most prominent for a long time.

It’s believed that those born in the year of a zodiac animal have some of the personality traits it imbues. Some believe that blood type, zodiac, and horoscope can determine a romantic match’s compatibility. (Especially if they use a match-making service, which does still happen)

Other times, Japanese people just look to these fortunes for guidance.

Since the zodiac and blood types are often used as small talk in conversation with new acquaintances, it’s a good idea to learn about them. Even if fortune-telling isn’t your cup of tea.

Let’s take a look at different Japanese zodiac signs and more:

Japanese Zodiac Signs

The 12 signs are Japanese zodiac animals, and each of the animals represents a block of years 12 years apart.

So… Are the Japanese and Chinese zodiacs the same? Do Japanese people believe in the Chinese zodiac?

Essentially, yes. Japan adopted the zodiac from China. But there are a few small changes.

For example, in China, the calendar has a Pig. But in Japan, it’s a Boar. Also, the Chinese zodiac follows the lunar calendar system, but Japan’s is based on the solar calendar.

That just means they don’t celebrate the zodiac on the same day. The Chinese New Year is normally sometime between late January and mid-February. Japan celebrates it on New Year’s Day, or 正月 (shougatsu).

Besides the 12 animals, there are also 5 elements (called “Celestial Stems”). They are water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. They change every year along with the animal and add more dimension to the traits of the person born in that year.

“Zodiac” in Japanese is 干支 (eto), but specifically the 12 zodiac signs are called 十二支 (juunishi).

Here’s a bit about the 12 animals and the Japanese zodiac years they represent:

Rat

Japanese Word: ネズミ, nezumi
Zodiac Kanji: 子, ne
Years: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020
Attributes: Ambitious, resourceful, persuasive, greedy, hot-tempered

Ox

Japanese Word: 牛, ushi
Zodiac Kanji: 丑, ushi
Years: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021
Attributes: Patient, confident, trustworthy, stubborn, conservative

Tiger

Japanese Word: 虎, tora
Zodiac Kanji: 寅, tora
Years: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022
Attributes: Courageous, empathetic, passionate, short-tempered, selfish

Rabbit

Japanese Word: 兎, usagi
Zodiac Kanji: 卯, u
Years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023
Attributes: Popular, elegant, sincere, gullible, reserved

Dragon

Japanese Word: 竜, ryuu
Zodiac Kanji: 辰, tatsu
Years: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024
Attributes: Warm-hearted, noble, fearless, short-tempered, wild

Snake

Japanese Word: 蛇, hebi
Zodiac Kanji: 巳, mi
Years: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025
Attributes: Clever, determined, wise, indifferent, introverted

Horse

Japanese Word: 馬, uma
Zodiac Kanji: 午, uma
Years: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026
Attributes: Independent, energetic, charming, impatient, short-tempered

Sheep

Japanese Word: 羊, hitsuji
Zodiac Kanji: 未, hitsuji
Years: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027
Attributes: Kind, peaceful, creative, shy, indecisive

Monkey

Japanese Word: 猿, saru
Zodiac Kanji: 申, saru
Years: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028
Attributes: Clever, inventive, skillful, manipulative, erratic

Rooster

Japanese Word: 鶏, niwatori
Zodiac Kanji: 酉, tori
Years: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029
Attributes: Practical, observant, diligent, outspoken, overambitious

Dog

Japanese Word: 犬, inu
Zodiac Kanji: 戌, inu
Years: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030
Attributes: Loyal, honest, generous, kind, stubborn

Boar

Japanese Word: 猪, inoshishi
Zodiac Kanji: 亥, i
Years: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031
Attributes: Strong, affectionate, humble, naive, hot-tempered

Japanese New Year Zodiac Traditions

While Japan doesn’t celebrate the Lunar New Year anymore, there are still zodiac traditions at the New Year.

During 正月 (shougatsu), the Japanese New Year, many people visit shrines. This visit is called 初も出 (hatsumode), or the first shrine visit of the year. People will write on wooden plaques (called 絵馬, ema) their wishes for the year and hang them at the shrine.

There’s also a tradition of getting 御神籤 (omikuji) from the shrines, which are rolled up paper fortunes. Sometimes, they’re 干支神籤 (eto-mikuji), or zodiac-themed fortunes.

These fortunes can bring you wonderful good luck and great fortune, or horrible back luck. If you get a lucky fortune, you’re supposed to keep it with you (such as in your wallet, purse, or coat pocket).

But if you get a bad fortune… You’re supposed to tie it to a branch at the shrine so you leave the bad luck behind.

At New Year’s, you’ll also find lots of New Year’s greeting cards called 年賀状 (nengajou). They’re often themed with the zodiac animal of the year and are delivered on January 1st. They’re sent to anyone you have a relationship with, such as friends, family, teachers, co-workers, and more.

Japanese Horoscopes

Okay, so what about horoscopes? For example, you may be wondering, “What is the Japanese zodiac for Capricorn?”

So while the animal zodiac is one way of predicting traits and fortunes, Japan also uses astrology horoscopes as well.

The horoscopes, or astrology zodiac, are called 星座 (seiza). This also means “constellation.”

Here are the astrology signs in Japanese. Keep in mind, the dates for each zodiac sign shift slightly each year. If you don’t know yours, use a zodiac calculator to figure it out.

Aries

Japanese Word: 牡羊座, ohitsujiza
Sign: ♈, the ram
Date of Birth: March 20 – April 19
Element: Fire
Attributes: Passionate, bold, headstrong, impatient

Taurus

Japanese Word: 牡牛座, oushiza
Sign: ♉, the bull
Date of Birth: April 29 – May 20
Element: Earth
Attributes: Loyal, stubborn, ambitious, abundance

Gemini

Japanese Word: 双子座, futagoza
Sign: ♊, the twins
Date of Birth: May 20 – June 21
Element: Air
Attributes: Playful, expressive, intellectual, flaky

Cancer

Japanese Word: 蟹座, kaniza
Sign: ♋, the crab
Date of Birth: June 21 – July 22
Element: Water
Attributes: Intuitive, compassionate, sensitive, homebody

Leo

Japanese Word: 獅子座, shishiza
Sign: ♌, the lion
Date of Birth: July 22 – August 22
Element: Fire
Attributes: Confident, passionate, prideful, vain

Virgo

Japanese Word: 乙女座, otomeza
Sign: ♍, the virgin
Date of Birth: August 22 – September 22
Element: Earth
Attributes: Logical, diligent, judgemental, perfectionist

Libra

Japanese Word: 天秤座, tenbinza
Sign: ♎, the scales
Date of Birth: September 22 – October 23
Element: Air
Attributes: Balanced, beauty, peaceful, indecisive

Scorpio

Japanese Word: 蠍座, sasoriza
Sign: ♏, the scorpion
Date of Birth: October 23 – November 22
Element: Water
Attributes: Passionate, powerful, mysterious, jealous

Sagittarius

Japanese Word: 射手座, iteza
Sign: ♐, the archer
Date of Birth: November 22 – December 21
Element: Fire
Attributes: Genuine, inquisitive, irresponsible, adventurous

Capricorn

Japanese Word: 山羊座, yagiza
Sign: ♑, the sea goat
Date of Birth: December 21 – January 20
Element: Earth
Attributes: Strong, leader, apathetic, inflexible

Aquarius

Japanese Word: 水瓶座, mizugameza
Sign: ♒, the water bearer
Date of Birth: January 19 – February 18
Element: Air
Attributes: Free-spirited, rebellious, eccentric, aloof

Pisces

Japanese Word: 魚座, Uoza
Sign: ♈, the fishes
Date of Birth: February 18 – March 20
Element: Water
Attributes: Romantic, empathetic, creative, careless

Japanese Blood Types

Blood types are a big deal in Japan. They’re often a topic in small talk and are used to predict personalities and fortunes. It even has a name: the “Japanese Blood Type Personality Theory.”

In fact, magazines and papers often have blood type horoscopes rather than astrology ones.

“Blood type” in Japanese is 血液型 (ketsuekigata). And in small talk, you may be asked, 血液型は何ですか? (ketsuekigata wa nan desu ka, “What’s your blood type?”)

To reply, you just say the letter + です, desu. For example, Aです。

Here’s what personality types Japanese believe each blood type has:

  • Type A: organized, stubborn, perfectionist, reliable, kind
  • Type AB: selfish, wild, creative, outgoing
  • Type B: eccentric, popular, trustworthy, impatient
  • Type O: optimistic, calm, easygoing, cautious

This is seriously a Whole Thing in Japan, so if you want to learn more about its cultural impact, Tofugu wrote an excellent article about blood types.

What is My Japanese Birth Year? Eras in Japan

So the last thing you should know is that there’s also a traditional calendar marked by the reign of the emperor.

Your Japanese birth year would be called whatever year of the era you’re in.

For example, the current era is called Reiwa, for the reign of Emperor Naruhito. Before that, Emperor Akihito reigned and his era was called Heisei.

This is why you’ll hear things like “the Meiji Era” or “the Showa era” often when referring to different points in Japanese history.

So, the current era began in 2019 when Prince Naruhito became Emperor. That makes 2019 Reiwa 1. 2021 is Reiwa 3.

The Heisei era went from 1989 to 2019, so it ranged from Heisei 1 to Heisei 31.

You can see the calendar conversion here to figure out what year and what era you were born.

Related Japanese Fortune-Telling Vocab

Besides the zodiac, it’d be helpful to know how to talk about them and some extra vocabulary. So here’s what you need to know:

  • Astrology: 占星術, senseijutsu
  • Horoscope: 星占い, hoshi uranai
  • Constellation: 星座, seiza
  • The North Star: 北極星, hokkyokusei
  • Little Dipper/Ursa Minor: こぐま座, kogumaza
  • Big Dipper/Ursa Major: おおぐま座, oogumaza
  • Sun: 太陽, taiyou
  • Moon: 月, tsuki
  • Mercury: 水星, suisei
  • Venus: 金星, kinsei
  • Earth: 地球, chikyuu
  • Mars: 火星, kasei
  • Jupiter: 木星, mokusei
  • Saturn: 土星, dosei
  • Uranus: 天王星, tennousei
  • Neptune: 海王星, kaiousei
  • Pluto: 冥王星, meiousei
  • Fortune-telling: 占い, uranai
  • Fortune-teller: 占い師, uranaishi
  • “What’s your sign?”: 星座は何ですか, seiza wa nan desu ka or just 何座ですか, nanza desu ka
  • “I’m a Scorpio.”: 蠍座です, sasoriza desu
  • “What’s your Japanese zodiac sign?”: 干支は何ですか, eto wa nan desu ka
  • “I was born in the year of the horse.”: 馬の年に生まれました, uma no toshi ni umaremashita.
  • “Year of the rabbit.”: うさぎの年, usagi no toshi

What’s Your Fortune?

You’ve learned a lot about the Japanese zodiac and fortune-telling. Now you can practice talking about it in Japanese — what’s your sign?

Ready for your next Japanese lesson? Here are some ideas for what you can learn next:

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Caitlin Sacasas

Content Writer, Fluent in 3 Months

Caitlin is a copywriter, content strategist, and language learner. Besides languages, her passions are fitness, books, and Star Wars. Connect with her: Twitter | LinkedIn

Speaks: English, Japanese, Korean, Spanish

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