In Japanese culture, certain years are considered inauspicious based on the year you were born and are called “yakudoshi” (厄年).
The logic behind these particular years comes from Chinese homophones (words that sounds alike). According to this helpful book, the years listed can also be homophones for bad things. For example “42”, if you say the numbers “4” and “2”, you get shi ni (四二). The word “shini” is also a homophone for “death”, (死に). For 33, it can be read as sanzan (三三), which also happens to sound like a word for “disaster” (散々). You see a lot of this in Japanese/Chinese culture not just with auspicious/inauspcious years and numbers, but other events like holidays and so on.
The worst year, or taiyaku (大厄) or honyaku (本厄), is 41 for men, and 36 for women. Also, the year before and after taiyaku are called maeyaku (前厄) and atoyaku (後厄) respectively. These are also years of bad luck, but less severe.
Anyway, when you are in the middle of a Yakudoshi year, many Japanese choose to undergo a ritual purification. Much of Shintoism revolves around the notion of purification. In Shinto if the shrine is not sufficiently purified, physically and spiritually, a kami spirit might not descend for a ritual. Also, when one has encountered calamities such as death, one should be purified as well. So, for Yakudoshi, this is no exception. The particular ritual in Shinto that is applied toward purification for Yakudoshi is called yakubarai (厄払い), which is intended to exorcise any negative spirits that might take advantage of this inauspicious year. Optionally one can instead go to some Buddhist temples to get this done, though the ritual would be more Buddhist in nature, not Shinto. It’s a matter of personal preference. My wife said she want to Kawasaki Daishi, a Shingon Temple that has a positive reputation for this kind of thing.
As for me, my taiyaku year recently ended, and it definitely had some hiccups, but overall it wasn’t a particularly bad year. No one got seriously ill, finances were better than past years, and work plods on like usual. I was by no means a great year, but it certainly didn’t live up to the moniker of “year of suffering”. However, full disclosure, I did undergo a purification ritual at a certain Buddhist temple, and paid extra for the ritual protection just to go the extra mile.
On the other hand, I like to think that the Buddha-Dharma was better protection in that regard. ;-p
With the Chinese New Year recently concluded, I got to thinking about the traditional 60-year zodiac in Japanese culture. The Japanese calendar was originally based off the Chinese Lunar calendar, though this changed in the late 19th century when Japan moved toward rapid Westernization and industrialization. However, the 12-animal zodiac, or jūnishi (十二支), is still an important part of the culture. In Japanese culture, like Chinese culture, the calendar is divided into a 12-animal cycle that rotates year after year. Even hours of the day were divided by these same animals, with the time starting at midnight, the hour of the rat, and noon being the hour of the horse.
The animals, their names and kanji are listed as follows:
A few things to note:
Unlike the Chinese calendar, the “pig” has been replaced by a “boar”, which are common in the mountainous areas of Japan, even today.
The Kanji for these characters are quite different than the ones in daily use. The regular Kanji for Dog is 犬 but in the zodiac it’s 戌.
Some of the animals also have different readings than daily use. Compare the snake, “hebi” in daily use, with “mi” in the zodiac.
Things can be divided further and further though. You can divide these by five elements: earth, fire, water, air and metal. These can then be divided even further into a pair of “stems”, for a total of ten stems. The stems related to the notion of yin/yang, or inyō in Japanese (陰陽). Japanese “in” (陰) is yin, while yō (陽) is yang. Often times these are referred to as big brother, or “e” (兄), and little brother, or “to” (弟), as well. These are called jikkan (十干) and are organized like so, with pronunciations added:
A few notes here as well:
All the elements are read as native Japanese “kun yomi” readings only.
All the stems are kanji that show up elsewhere in Japanese, but here they take on different meanings, readings.
So, how do you read this? If someone is born as the element wood, or “ki” and the yin stem, or “otsu”, this is read as ki no to. If yang stem, then ki no e. That’s why I mentioned “e” and “to” above under yang and yin. The only exception to this rule is “metal” which sounds awkward if you say kane-no-e or kane-no-to, so it gets shortened to ka-no-e or ka-no-to.
Now, putting this altogether. If you consult the chart here, you can figure out what this year’s horoscope will be. For 2019, the horoscope is the Earth Yin Boar or tsuchi no toi (己亥).