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In Western culture, we tell fortunes through the stars and through horoscopes. Our twelve star signs each represent a certain part of the year and are supposed to reflect the type of person we are and what is going to happen to us from day to day. Whether you say you believe in it or not, most people can't resist reading predictions about themselves.

In Japan, and in many other countries in Asia, horoscopes are not commonplace. Instead of a starsign, people have an animal sign which represents the year of their birth. Just like horoscopes are supposed to predict your personality and future, animal years or 'juunishi', claim to do the same.

The history
Tradition and legend claim that the twelve animals of the juunishi, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and boar, were chosen by Buddha to have a year named after them because they were the only ones who turned up at a farewell feast for him before he left the earth. The order of the animals is supposed to be the order they arrived at the feast.

The twelve animals originally represented direction, time, years and days such as the "Hour of the Rat" which was around 11pm to 1am. Now though, they are used almost exclusively for years.

The 60 year cycle
As well as the 12 animals, juunishi also incorporates 5 elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Thus you would have a Water Rat or a Fire Rat or Metal Rat depending on which Year of the Rat you were born in. This 60 year cycle (5 x 12) was adopted in Japan in the 600s and continues to the present time. However, typically, while everyone knows what animal year it is, fewer people know which element the current year combines with.

The "Fiery Horsewoman"
Once in each 60-year cycle, there is a year known as the Year of the Fire Horse. Japanese and Asian superstition in general believes that girls born in this year will be headstrong, find it difficult to marry and that they will kill their husbands; an interesting perception. What is also surprising is the drop off in births in these years. The most recent Year of the Fire Horse was in 1966 (the year of my birth!) and prior to that, 1960. Many Asian women in the past suffered discrimination for having been born under these signs although things have improved in recent years.

Which year is what?
Certain animal years have a more auspicious feel to them and certainly 2000, the year of the Dragon, is supposed to be one of them. So what animal year are you and what type of personality does that mean you have? Read below and find out! If your year of birth is not mentioned, calculate forwards or backwards from those that are here.

So what type of person are you?
Rat - 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996
Charming, creative, energetic, generous, quick-witted
Ox - 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997
Stubborn, patient, strong, practical, reliable
Tiger - 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998
Brave, loyal, sociable, active, enthusiastic, self-confident
Rabbit- 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999
Witty, happy, artistic, clever, well respected
Dragon - 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000
Ambitious, energetic, healthy, honest, stubborn
Snake - 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001
Fashionable, quiet, agile, wise, refined
Horse - 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002
Elegant, charming, honest, independent
Sheep - 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003
Caring, creative, helpful, trusting, artistic
Monkey - 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
Inventive, curious, versatile, clever, quick
Rooster - 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
Hardworking, fussy, determined, confident, stylish
Dog - 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
Loyal, excitable, watchful, outspoken, protective
Boar - 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
Trusting, reliable, kind, loyal, intelligent