Usagidoshi: Year of the Rabbit

Happy New Years everyone! 2023 is now upon us, giving us the opportunity to start off fresh and put new ideas to the test. But first, I will stick with my normal pattern and open the year with an article covering this year’s zodiac sign, which is the rabbit! To be more specific, it’s water rabbit. Let’s go over the specifics of this year’s sign, traits that those born under the rabbit zodiac possess, and well known rabbit-inspired Japanese phrases that advise us on real life topics.

USAGI, THE RABBIT SIGN

The word for rabbit in Japanese is “usagi” (兎), and represents the 4th Zodiac sign of the 40th 12 Animal Zodiac cycle (十二支, Jūnishi). However, as mentioned in other posts with like topic, this was done for phonetic purposes, as well as to make digesting the complexity of the Zodiac cycle easier for the masses. Before this, the rabbit (as well as the other animals) had no connection to it. Even the Chinese character for this Zodiac sign is different from the standard one used for this animal. Below are the details.

  • Chinese character: 卯
  • Pronunciation: u / usagi¹
  • Meaning: To force through, to challenge

Thus, this Zodiac year is pronounced either “udoshi” or “usagidoshi” using the Chinese characters “卯年”². Also, the meaning mentioned above is in relations to the stages a plant seed goes through. Imagine a sprout pushing through the outer coating of the seed, as it struggles to grow into a big plant. This is the real meaning behind this Zodiac sign.

TRAITS OF THE RABBIT

How does both the original meaning of the plant and the image of the rabbit relate to human characteristics? This Zodiac sign represents the period where we grow through proper nutrition, by taking chances, and achieving success by not giving up. This is critical for little kids, as they learn many things that can vastly help with development, such as studying math to learning how to ride a bike. Adults can also be inspired by this as well. Also, if we add the imagery of a rabbit, where we can grow physically & succeed at our goals in leaps and bounds, as long as as we don’t shy away from trying.

Rabbit takes center stage in 2023

Other traits thought to be possessed by people born under this sign are inspired by the rabbit imagery, which includes being gentle yet warm, quiet yet graceful, and delicate yet fine. By nature, people of these traits are thought to uphold a prosperous environment. There is a phrase in Japanese used to describe this, which is “kanai anzen” (家内安全), which means “peace & prosperity in one’s household”. By nature, positive lifestyles of these individuals include caring & get along with others, while not being overtly hostile or aggressive even in competitive situations. However, possible negative lifestyles that should be avoided are being self-centered and inconsiderate to others’ needs, self-preservation that causes flight & the abandonment of others when danger arises, and being overtly sensitive to the point where one is offended at the slightest sign of disrespect. Of course, all these are prospective views on these traits, and not necessary accurate for everyone born under the rabbit Zodiac sign.

ZODIAC + HEAVENLY STEMS

Here are some other facts regarding the rabbit Zodiac sign and its practical use in Japan’s society in the past.

  • Number: 4th sign
  • Direction: East
  • Time: Around 6 am / within the 2 hour period 5 am ~ 7 am
  • Month: 2nd (based on the old calendar)
  • Ying/Yang: ying (dark)
  • Element: wood

There is also the 10 Heavenly Stems (十干, Jikkan), which work in conjunction with the Zodiac cycle. For this year, the sign “mizu no to” accompanies the rabbit Zodiac sign. Here’s some important details about this.

  • Number: 10th sign
  • Chinese character: 癸
  • Reading: mizu no to / ki
  • Element: water (dark)
  • Image: small water / light rain / mist
  • Meaning: to moisten the warm earth / ending and beginning

Since both the Zodiac and Heavenly Stems go hand-in-hand, the full reading of this year’s sign is “mizu no to-udoshi” (癸卯年), or “year of the water rabbit”.

COOL RABBIT PHRASES

There are some interesting old (and new) Japanese phrases that use the rabbit to teach lessons or give advice. There are many out there, but for this article we will go over a few. Along with the Japanese phrases and their meaning in English, I have also included the direct translation of each phrase as a bonus for those interested in how they read in their native language.

・Nito wo oumono wo itto wo mo ezu (二兎を追うものは一兎をも得ず, one won’t be able to catch a single rabbit if you chase two at the same time)
MEANING: Trying to accomplish 2 goals at the same time is fruitless, as you won’t succeed in either one.

・Datto no gotoku (脱兎の如く, like a fleeing rabbit)
MEANING: Run swiftly to the point where you can’t be caught.

・Usagi shi sureba kitsune no wo kanashimu (兎死すれば狐之を悲しむ, the fox will be sad when the rabbit dies)
MEANING: People of the same kind, whether it be class, field of work, and so on, generally suffer the same misfortunes. If one person fails, then the next person will lament as they too are bound to suffer the same fate.

・Enmoku toji (鳶目兎耳, black kite eyes, rabbit ears)
MEANING: A black kite is known for having long-range vision, while a rabbit has very sharp hearing. A person complimented as having both traits is said to be skilled at information gathering, like a spy.

・Usagi no wana ni kitsune ga kakaru (兎の罠に狐がかかる, the fox gets caught in the rabbit’s trap)
MEANING: Just when things look bad, a turn of events grant a person great luck.

・Usagi no hirune (兎の昼寝, a rabbit’s nap)
MEANING: This relates to the famous story where the rabbit lost a race to a turtle because it took a long nap, underestimating its shelled adversary. There are two ways to interpret this, the 1st being to keep one’s guard up and not underestimate the opposition, while the 2nd being a person who naps too much.

CONCLUSION

This is a quick, yet compact overview of this year’s Zodiac sign. There are points that we can take and use to be successful this year. Stay tuned, for there will be a couple more articles coming out that will cover the rabbit theme.


1) This kanji is not pronounced as “usagi” originally. However, to match with the times and the rabbit image, it is now ok to use this pronunciation.

2) Nowadays, it is not uncommon to write “usagi” in usagidoshi in kana, for ease of reading. Kana is another written form used in Japan, which consists of 2 styles, the first being hiragana (平仮名), and the second being katakana (片仮名). Either writing below is fine:

  • うさぎ年 (hiragana)
  • ウサギ年 (katakana)