The Complete Japanese Zodiac And Astrological Signs Guide

People have always been fascinated by pseudosciences such as astrology, tarot cards, and personality typing. The Japanese are no different.

In addition to regular fortune telling, personality typing by blood types, and palm reading, zodiacs are especially popular in Japan.

There are two prevailing zodiac systems in Japan; one is the traditional Chinese zodiac, which uses your birth year to determine which of 12 animals represents you. The other is the astrological zodiac that the West is more familiar with, also called your horoscope, which is based on your birth month.

Today we’ll take a look at both systems, the names of all the zodiacs in Japanese, and the traits represented.

十二支 (Jūnishi): 12 Chinese Zodiacs

Though originating from China, the Japanese version of the story of the zodiacs is different.

The Chinese zodiac is also referred to as 干支 (eto). 

The story goes that God once invited all the animals to a feast on top of the mountains on New Year’s Day, naming each year after the first 12 animals that arrived for a repeating 12-year cycle, in the order of their arrival.

The traits of each animal can vary between people and sources.

1. 子 (Ne): Rat – Years: 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Technically the first to arrive at the feast, the rat supposedly hitched a ride on the bull’s back and jumped off as they got there. Traits associated with the year of the rat are fertility and wealth. People that are born in the year of the rat are said to be cunning and quick to adapt.

2. 丑(Ushi): Bull – Years: 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Traits associated with the year of the bull include strength, tenacity, and sincerity. People born in the year of the bull are said to be hardworking and persevering.

3. 寅(Tora): Tiger – Years: 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Traits associated with the year of the tiger include talent and decision-making. People born in the year of the tiger are said to be straightforward and empathetic.

4. 卯(U): Rabbit – Years: 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Traits associated with the year of the rabbit are safety and a never-ending quest for improvement. People born in the year of the rabbit are said to be kind and observant.

5. 辰(Tatsu): Dragon – Years: 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024 

Traits related to the year of the dragon are privilege and trust. People born in the year of the dragon are said to be lively, smart, and suited for leadership.

6. 巳(Mi): Snake –   Years: 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025 

The year of the snake symbolizes rebirth, growth, and life. People born in the year of the snake are said to be adaptable.

7. 午(Uma): Horse – Years: 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

The year of the horse is tied in with health and agriculture. People born in this year are said to be proactive and have a kind heart.

8. 未(Hitsuji): Sheep – Years: 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

The year of the sheep is associated with family safety. People born in the year of the sheep are said to be calm, collected, and great team players. In the story of the zodiacs, the horse and sheep are good friends.

9. 申(Saru): Monkey – Years: 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

The year of the monkey is associated with wisdom and craftiness. People born in this year are said to be quick learners who are also full of curiosity and quick to act.

10. 酉(Tori): Rooster – Years: 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029 

The year of the rooster is associated with prosperity and business growth. People born in the year of the rooster are said to be tenacious and diligent.

11. 戌(Inu): Dog – Years: 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030 

The year of the dog is associated with hard work and loyalty. People born in the year of the dog are said to be honest and brave, with a strong sense of justice.

In the story of the zodiacs, the dog and monkey fight the whole way up the mountain.

12. 亥 (I): Boar – Years: 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

The year of the boar is associated with passion and good health. People born in this year are said to be extroverted and generous.

The story of the zodiac says that god would make the first 12 animals who greet him on New Year’s Day “king of all animals” for one year at a time. The rat told the cat the wrong date (January 2nd) and missed his chance to be one of the 12 animals. This is why cats are not in the Japanese zodiac and still chase mice to this day.

Side Note: Kanji for Animals

The kanji used for these zodiac animals are not the same kanji used for the actual (non-zodiac) animals.  

For example, “rat” in Japanese is read as nezumi, and the kanji is 鼠. However, the kanji for the rat in the zodiac is 子 (ne).  

Although all the kanji characters for the actual animal and zodiac animals differ, the only ones with different readings are the rat (nezumi), rabbit (usagi), and snake (hebi).

The Chinese zodiac was originally used as a time-keeping system, which is where the current kanji (子、丑、寅、etc.) come from. Later on, the readings for this system were associated with animals, and the story of the feast, so that the common folk could remember it better.

A famous pop culture reference to the 十二支 is the slice-of-life manga (later adapted to an anime—twice!) called “Fruits Basket,” in which the main character encounters people who can turn into animals of the zodiac.

星座 (Seiza): Astrological Zodiacs

An illustration of the 12 zodiac signs with a cute cartoon character drawn for every sign, along with its constellation name.

In Japan, the Western astrological zodiac is not as ingrained as the traditional Chinese zodiac, but it’s gaining popularity, especially with the younger generations. There tend to be “daily fortunes” for the astrological zodiacs on TV or in certain magazines and applications.

Here are the 12 horoscopes in order, along with their commonly associated traits in English and Japanese.

1. 牡羊座 (Ohitsuji Za): Aries – March 21 – April 19

Words commonly used to describe Aries in Japanese: 

  • 自立している (jiritsu shiteiru): independent
  • 負けず嫌い (makezugirai): hates to lose
  • 勇ましい (isamashii):  courageous

2. 牡牛座 (Oushi Za): Taurus – April 20 – May 20

Words commonly used to describe Taurus in Japanese: 

  • 回復力 (kaifukuryoku):  resilient
  • 頑固 (ganko): stubborn
  • 堅実 (kenjitsu): reliable

3. 双子座 (Futago Za): Gemini – May 21 – June 21 

Words commonly used to describe Gemini in Japanese: 

  • 社交的 (shakōteki): sociable 
  • 好奇心旺盛 (kōkishin ōsei): full of curiosity
  • 遊び好き (asobizuki):  playful

4. 蟹座(Kani Za): Cancer – June 22 – July 22

Words commonly used to describe Cancer in Japanese: 

  • 直感的 (chokkanteki):  intuitive 
  • 忠実 (chūjitsu): loyal
  • 愛嬌がある (aikyō ga aru): charming

5. 獅子座(Shishi Za): Leo – July 23 – August 22

Words commonly used to describe Leo in Japanese: 

  • 自信家 (jishinka): self-confident
  • 大胆 (daitan):  bold
  • 独立心が強い (dokuritsushin ga tsuyoi):  strong independent spirit

6. 乙女座 (Otome Za): Virgo – August 23 – September 22

Words commonly used to describe Virgo in Japanese: 

  • 知的 (chiteki):  intellectual
  • 神経質 (shinkeishitsu): high-strung
  • 勤勉(kinben): hard-working

7. 秤座 (Tenbin Za): Libra – September 23 – October 22

Words commonly used to describe Libra in Japanese: 

  • チャーミング (chāmingu): charming
  • 外交的 (gaikōteki):  diplomatic 
  • 優柔不断 (yūjūufudan): indecisive

8. 蠍座(Sasori Za): Scorpio – October 23 – November 21

Words commonly used to describe Scorpio in Japanese: 

  • 感情的 (kanjōteki): emotional
  • 複雑 (fukuzatsu):  complex
  • 情熱的 (jōnetsuteki):  passionate

9. 射手座 (Ite Za): Sagittarius – November 22 – December 21

Words commonly used to describe Sagittarius in Japanese: 

  • 楽観的 (rakkanteki): optimistic
  • 自由奔放 (jiyū honbō):  free-spirited
  • 正直 (shōjiki):  honest

10. 山羊座 (Yagi Za): Capricorn – December 22 – January 19

Words commonly used to describe Capricorn in Japanese: 

  • 冷静 (reisei): calm
  • 野心的 (yashinteki): ambitious
  • 慎重 (shinchō):  careful, prudent

11. 水瓶座 (Mizugame Za): Aquarius – January 20 – February 18

Words commonly used to describe Aquarius in Japanese: 

  • クリエイティブ (kurieitibu):  creative 
  • 個性的 (koseiteki):  unique
  • 冷淡 (reitan):  indifferent

12. 魚座 (Uo Za): Pisces – February 19 – March 20

Words commonly used to describe Pisces in Japanese: 

  • 親切 (shinsetsu):  kind
  • 純粋 (junsui): pure
  • 意志が弱い (ishi ga yowai):  weak-willed

A famous pop culture reference to the Western zodiac is the shōnen manga (turned anime) called Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac. Serialized in the 1990s, the main characters of Saint Seiya fight with armor named after and based on properties of constellations on a quest to free Athena.


Now you know how to say the Chinese zodiac and your astrological sign in Japanese! How does it feel? Which do you think describes your personality better? Drop us a comment or question below!

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Sonya S

An Arizonan living in Tokyo, Sonya is in love with all things nature, art, and food, and--in pursuit of all three--moved to Japan right after college. She works full time in translation and medical assistance in order to put food on the table for her rescue cat.

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