• Life & Culture

Japanese Zodiac Signs: Each Animal And What It Means

a monkey perched on a branch with trees and leaves in the background

An Introduction to Japanese Zodiac Signs


The Japanese zodiac, known as “juunishi” (十二支), is deeply embedded in the nation’s traditions – particularly during New Year celebrations.


Unlike star signs in the west, which follows monthly cycles, the Japanese zodiac signs span twelve years. Each year is marked by a distinct animal. These animals carry unique meanings and attributes. They’re believed to shape the lives of those born under their influence.


The “eto” (干支) system in Japan draws inspiration from the Chinese zodiac, but it’s not identical. For instance, the Japanese zodiac features a wild boar, while the Chinese version has a pig. This zodiac system became commonplace in Japan in around the 4th and 5th centuries. It has since become an integral part of the nation’s cultural fabric. Many Asian traditions narrate a tale about the Jade Emperor – this tells the sequence of the zodiac animals.


The Japanese zodiac comprises twelve animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar. 


What Each Japanese Zodiac Sign Means


a small rat on some dirt with various woodland in the background


1. Rat (Nezumi)


The Rat, or “Nezumi” in Japanese, holds the first position in the Japanese zodiac. The rat is not first by coincidence, and its position in the chart is a testament to its character. The rat symbolizes intelligence and charm. It’s renowned for strategic thinking.


Those born under this sign shine brightly, with intelligence and charm that gives them leadership skills. Their innovative strategies are widely admired, and they are often liked and praised by those around them. What sets them apart is their focus and rapid decision-making.


Recent years of the Rat include: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and 2020.


an ox being pulled by a woman on a rice field terrace in asia


2. Ox (Ushi)


The Ox, or “Ushi”, is the second Japanese zodiac sign. It epitomises hard work and the fruits it bears. Representing diligence and trustworthiness, ox-born individuals are the bedrock of their communities. Their systematic methods and deep sense of responsibility are unparalleled. They’re patient, determined, and tenacious.


The ox is perhaps synonymous for these traits due to their historic role in Japanese agriculture, particularly rice farming. Once they set their mind on something, they pursue it with unmatched determination. Their presence brings stability, and people often seek their counsel.


Recent years of the Ox include: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021.


a tiger on a snowy hillside


3. Tiger (Tora)


The Tiger, “Tora” in Japanese, is a force of nature. It is the third animal in the Japanese zodiac chart, representing strength and dynamic energy. But there’s more to the Tiger than sheer power – it is introspective, revealing layers of personality.


Those born under this sign are adventurous. Their charisma is magnetic. People are drawn to them and they are often well-liked by their peers, and often find themselves in positions of influence. They’re brave, both in mind and body. They face challenges with fresh, innovative approaches. Yet, their attitude can sometimes lead to hasty choices. Above all, they champion justice, always standing up for what they believe in.


Recent years of the Tiger include: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, and 2022.


a rabbit surrounded by grass


4. Rabbit (Usagi)


The Rabbit, known as “Usagi” in Japanese, is the fourth Japanese zodiac animal. It embodies grace, kindness, and fortune. A symbol of peace and diplomacy. While the Rabbit might not have the Tiger’s raw power or the Ox’s tenacity, it has its own unique charm.


Those born under this sign are gentle and wise. Their calmness is unmatched. They’re excellent mediators, thanks to their thoughtful approach – their intuition guides them. They read social cues effortlessly, building strong relationships. Their advice is invaluable – with a sharp intellect lying underneath their calm facade.


Recent years of the Rabbit include: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and 2023.


a statue of a dragon with a traditional japanese building in the background


5. Dragon (Tatsu)


The Dragon, “Tatsu”, is perhaps one of the most iconic in the Japanese zodiac signs. It’s the fifth animal in the zodiac chart. A symbol of strength, energy, and mystery. It is known for its grandeur, with a presence that is felt by all around them.


Those born under this sign are dynamic and confident. They love the limelight and are not afraid to tackle challenges. Their determination is unwavering. They think outside the box, often bringing fresh perspectives and new ideas. While they’re confident, introspection is also a part of their nature. They seek deeper truths. Their passion is infectious, often inspiring those around them.


Recent years of the Dragon include: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, and 2024.


a snake on a wooden decking with grass in the background


6. Snake (Hebi)


The Snake, or “Hebi”, is the sixth animal in the chart of Japanese zodiac signs. Often revered for wisdom and mystery, it’s been a muse for countless tales. Those born under the Snake sign are perceptive and intuitive. They see patterns others overlook, making them brilliant problem solvers.


People trust them and seek their advice. Their exterior might be calm, but deep down they are incredibly complex. They value deep connections, choosing their close ones carefully.


Recent years of the Snake include: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, and 2025.


a horse stood in grass with trees in the background


7. Horse (Uma)


The Horse, known as “Uma”, is the embodiment of freedom in the zodiac. It’s the seventh animal in the Japanese zodiac chart. It’s all about spirited adventure, quick thinking, and action.


Horse-born individuals are vivacious and cherish their independence. They make decisions swiftly, thriving in fast-paced scenarios. Their energy is contagious, often making them the life of the party. Exploration drives them, and adventure calls to them. Despite this, amidst their free spirit, they remain deeply loyal to their loved ones.


Recent years of the Horse include: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, and 2026.


a sheep with a rope and bell tied to its neck, stood in a green field with trees in the background


8. Sheep (Hitsuji)


The Sheep, known as “Hitsuji”, is the zodiac’s artist and is the eighth Japanese zodiac sign. The sheep is a symbol of tranquillity and beauty.


Those born under this sign see art everywhere. They’re imaginative, creative, and compassionate. They are often capable of transforming the mundane into the extraordinary. They listen with empathy, making them well respected and confided in by those close to them. Their sensitivity is both a gift and a vulnerability. Artistic pursuits call to them, offering an escape from their troubles and problems.


Recent years of the Sheep include: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, and 2027.


a monkey perched on a branch with trees and leaves in the background


9. Monkey (Saru)


The Monkey, “Saru”, is the ninth Japanese zodiac sign. Bursting with energy, cleverness, and adaptability, monkeys are innovators. Their curiosity is insatiable. Those born under this sign are sharp, often making swift decisions. They’re problem solvers, connecting dots others miss.


Always learning and growing, their charm is magnetic, often lighting up gatherings. They’re sociable yet tenacious, and competitive when the situation demands. Their versatility is their strength, juggling tasks with flair.


Recent years of the Monkey include: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, and 2028.


a rooster stood on grass with plants in the background


10. Rooster (Tori)


The Rooster, or “Tori”, is the tenth Japanese zodiac sign, symbolizing dawn and fresh beginnings. Beyond timekeeping, Roosters are hard workers. Sincere and grounded, those born under this sign are meticulous. They value truth, speaking candidly. They’re reliable, with a clear-eyed view of reality.


While they’re goal-driven, they also cherish genuine interactions. Their directness is their hallmark, often cutting through pretense.


Recent years of the Rooster include: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, and 2029. 


a white fluffy dog stood on some grass with leaves on with a tree in the background


11. Dog (Inu)


The Dog, known as “Inu”, is loyalty personified in the zodiac. It’s the eleventh animal in the Japanese zodiac signs. Representing trustworthiness and justice, those born under this sign are steadfast.


They have a strong moral compass and are loyal to the core. They stand by you, prioritizing loved ones. Their honesty makes them pillars of trust. Calm yet intuitive, they fiercely protect their pack. Their commitment to justice is unwavering, making them invaluable teammates.


Recent years of the Dog include: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, and 2030.


a boar in a grassy area with various woodland in the background


12. Boar (Inoshishi)


The Boar, “Inoshishi”, concludes the zodiac with a flourish. It’s the twelfth and final Japanese zodiac sign. Symbolizing courage, tenacity, and resilience. Boar-born individuals are brave, honest, and responsible.


Their charisma draws people in. They chase goals with unmatched determination. Generosity defines them. They’re trustworthy, forming deep bonds. While they exude strength, they also have a nurturing side, full of compassion.


Recent years of the Boar include: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, and 2031.


The Last Word On Japanese Zodiac Signs


The Japanese zodiac is deeply woven into Japan’s cultural and spiritual fabric. Beyond being mere symbols, these signs offer insights into people’s personalities and character traits. Originating from ancient Chinese astrology, they’ve found their own place in Japan’s history. Each animal carries unique traits. This leads to beliefs that one’s birth year influences their personality.


Cultural practices are shaped by these signs. Some years are deemed lucky for events like weddings, thanks to the zodiac. Japanese arts, be it pottery or textiles, showcase zodiac motifs. Their significance runs deep. Festivals, especially around the Lunar New Year, are zodiac-centric. Celebrations burst to life as each year honours a specific animal as streets come alive with parades, dances, and rituals. Lanterns and masks, adorned with zodiac symbols, are everywhere. Some regional festivals even spotlight a particular zodiac animal. For example, certain shrines host ceremonies for a zodiac creature, attracting worshippers far and wide.


If you want to get more immersed in Japanese culture, why not start by learning some of the beautiful Japanese language?  We have guides on how to say basic phrases such as ‘Hello‘, ‘I love you‘, ‘Friend’ and ‘Shut up‘.


If you are a little more advanced perhaps try learning some more unique Japanese words, or try to hone your pronunciation with some Japanese tongue twisters.


What can Interac offer you?


If you are interested in Japanese language or culture and can speak English, there are plenty of opportunities available to relocate to Japan and become an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). It is a great way to gain teaching experience whilst also having the opportunity to move somewhere completely new and different!


There are plenty of opportunities all over Japan to get involved in, so if this sounds like something that might interest you, take a look at our application process!

About the Author

Brian McDonough is a consultant at Interac, Japan’s largest provider of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Originally from the US, Brian has lived in Japan for over 25 years, giving him a unique perspective on the cultural differences and challenges people face when moving to Japan. He has first-hand experience of working in Japan as an American.