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The East Asia zodiac (「生肖」?) is a twelve-part timekeeping cycle which arose from the system of the Twelve Earthly Branches (「十二支」?; jū ni shu), originating from East Asia. Each branch is identified with an animal, as well as with a Chinese character which does not usually refer to that animal outside this type of cyclical context. For example, an ordinary discussion about rats or mice would use the kanji 鼠, but a reference to the "Year of the Rat" or "Time of the Rat" would instead use the kanji 子.

The system has become widespread throughout Asia with some local variations; for example, Vietnam substitutes the Cat for the Rabbit and the Water Buffalo for the Ox. Some of the other animal names can also be translated differently, such as "Cow" or "Buffalo" for "Ox", "Goat" or "Ram" for "Sheep", and so on.

Time cycles

The twelve-year calendar cycle was originally based on the apparent circuit of the planet Jupiter around the solar ecliptic, and is sometimes referred to as the "lunar zodiac" because of its lunar-based method of determining the start of the new year (usually the second new moon after winter solstice). The twelve-part clock cycle divides each day into twelve approximately two-hour periods in which the "Time of the Rat" is around midnight.

Calendar table

The following table shows the Chinese character for each animal followed by the one for the associated "Earthly Branch". The "branches" have inherent individual links to four of the five Asian elements-- wood (blue/green), fire (red), metal (white), and water (purple)-- in the aspect of either yang (+) or yin (-). The color-coding follows traditional conventions of association.

There is also a more complex sixty-year cycle that results from interactions with another system known as the "Ten Celestial Stems", based on the yin/yang aspects of all five Asian elements including earth (yellow), which was omitted from the branches. In each elemental pair of "stems", the yang aspect's year is shown in boldface and precedes the normal-font yin aspect's year.

Properly speaking, the first Celestial Stem is the yang aspect of Wood, which began the current 60-year cycle in the Rat year of 1984. The chart below has been shifted to accommodate the likely birth-year range of interested readers.

Because the lunar new year usually occurs sometime in February, the calendar divisions are inexact. For example, the most recent Year of the Rat began on February 4 2008 and ended on January 25 2009, and was associated with the yang aspect of the element of Earth. The next one will mostly overlap with the calendar year 2020 and will be associated with the yang aspect of the element of Metal, repeating through the same sequence shown from 1960 onward.

Animal Branch Year (Stem)
鼠 Rat 子 (-) 1960 1972 1984 1996 2008
Ox 丑 (-) 1961 1973 1985 1997 2009
虎 Tiger 寅 (+) 1962 1974 1986 1998 2010
Rabbit 卯 (-) 1963 1975 1987 1999 2011
龍 Dragon 辰 (+) 1964 1976 1988 2000 2012
蛇 Snake 巳 (+) 1965 1977 1989 2001 2013
馬 Horse 午 (+) 1966 1978 1990 2002 2014
Sheep 未 (+) 1967 1979 1991 2003 2015
猴 Monkey 申 (-) 1968 1980 1992 2004 2016
雞 Rooster 酉 (+) 1969 1981 1993 2005 2017
狗 Dog 戌 (-) 1970 1982 1994 2006 2018
豬 Pig 亥 (-) 1971 1983 1995 2007 2019

Certain Branch/Stem combinations have special significance, especially the year of the Fire Horse (hinoeuma) which is feared for its double dose of Yang Fire. In the most recent Fire Horse year, 1966, the number of births in Japan dropped precipitously compared to the previous and following years, attributed to widespread reluctance by parents to produce hinoeuma children, especially daughters (superstition states that hinoeuma women will murder their husbands)[1].

In-game references

The zodiac-based clock cycle of twelve "double hours" appears in two different places in Ōkami: the face of Gen's clock tower in Sei'an City (Aristocratic Quarter), which shows only the four intervals marked in color below; and the floor of the round elevator room in Wawku Shrine, which has a more elaborate layout.

The Wawku Shrine elevator floor has two nested rings of symbols. The outer ring is labelled with the "branch" kanji shown above to indicate the twelve "double hours". The inner ring is a repeating sequence of Japanese numbers that starts with 九 (9) at midnight and noon, then counts downward to 四 (4) before restarting. In the chart layout below, all of the inner-ring numbers are listed directly underneath the animal/branch information.
Clock chart

The twelve "double hours" are divided into two sets of six periods each: Rabbit to Monkey, starting at sunrise; Rooster to Tiger, starting at sundown. Within each set, all six periods are divided equally, but vary in length throughout the year: during the summer, each "double hour" period in daylight hours is much longer than each "double hour" at night, and vice-versa during the winter. The only times when all twelve "double hours" are of exactly equal 120-minute length are on the spring and autumn equinoxes.

The Rat and its element of Water are associated with the direction of North, but is shown at the bottom of the cycle, both here and on Gen's tower. (Unlike modern Western maps, traditional Asian maps were typically oriented with South as "up".) The hour hand on the 24-hour dial would roughly indicate the position of the sun, with noon at the top and midnight at the bottom.

Gen's clock face shows the 24-hour dial described above, but when restored to movement, its hands move as if mounted on a Western 12-hour dial; instead of rotating one complete circuit for each day/night cycle, they rotate two complete circuits. If mapped onto a 12-hour dial with the Horse at 12 and the Rat at 6, the hands' movement would approximately place day between 6 am and 8:30 pm (more than one complete circuit), and night between 9:30 pm and 5 am. Each "missing" hour at dawn/dusk presumably elapses during the corresponding cutscene.


  1. Clyde Haberman (15 January, 1987). "Japan's Zodiac: '66 Was A Very Odd Year". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 March 2011. 

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