While the Chinese observe their new year according to the lunar calendar, the Japanese follow the Western that begins on January first.
This lunar year, when the Chinese Year of the Horse began on January 31st, the Japanese’s had already begun on New Year’s Day. Their zodiac animals are similar, however.
I am of Japanese descent and my mother noted I was born in the year of the Rat. The Rat is the first of the twelve animals in the Asian zodiac. Rat is followed in order by the OX, TIGER,RABBIT,DRAGON, SNAKE, HORSE,SHEEP, MONKEY,ROOSTER, DOG and BOAR.
There are folktales and fables about how the twelve animals got included while others such as the cat, the fox and the wolf are not. One story I read states when Buddha died the animals decided to attend his funeral but only the first twelve who got there would have a place in the zodiac.
The Rat, who is deemed most intense and curious, jumped on the back of the slow but powerful ox’s back and when they got to the funeral, jumped off Ox and got to be first in line.
Boar, however, ate along the way and managed to be last of the twelve who arrived in time.
There is thus a cycle of twelve years and each person’s zodiac year comes up accordingly. That means a baby born this year and others born during the twelve- year intervals prior,will have HORSE year occur again in 2026.
Using that knowledge, I know the Japanese,who are always interested to know the age of anyone they meet but won’t outright ask it, will instead say, “What’s your zodiac?” and will immediately know by looking at a person correctly guess the new acquaintance’s age!