Welcome, 2021! Kicking off the new year, our 1st post will cover the Lunar Zodiac sign for 2021. Which animal sign is the highlight for this year? What traits are represented by this animal sign? Are there any unique stories, traditions, or phrases related to it? As always, the info and viewpoint will be from how it is interpreted in Japan, unless there are any differences between other countries that is worth mentioning.
COME FORTH THE OX
The zodiac sign for 2021 is none other than the ox, which is called “ushi” in Japan. Pronounces as “ushitoshi” (丑年) in Japanese, this year is the 2nd in the current Lunar Zodiac cycle. According to old folktales, the ox is also the 2nd sign, for it came in 2nd place in a foot race, being outwitted from arriving 1st by the mouse¹. The character that represents the ox sign is “丑”, but just like the other animal signs, this sign originally had no association with the animal image.
If we take this character ushi (丑) and look at its root meaning, it signifies something that bends, wraps around, or clings onto an object. It’s normally seen within specific characters such as himo (紐), which means “rope”. In ancient Chinese text regarding the Lunar zodiac, the ushi character represents a bud that is being produced from a seed, but has not fully gotten through the hard exterior. In a sense, this expresses that hard work & effort is needed to produce the outcome one desires².
2021 IS ALSO THE YEAR OF THE METAL OX
In conjunction with the 12 Animal Zodiac signs are the 10 Heavenly Stem, which is written as “Jikkan” (十干) in Japanese. 2021 marks the 38th year where both work in unison, and we get a combination of ushi (丑) and kanoto (辛). Together, this year is also called “kanoto-ushi doshi”, or “Year of the Metal Ox”. What is so significant about this? Kanoto, which is the 8th sign from the 10 Heavenly Stem, further enhances the traits of the ox (more on this below). Here’s some things to consider:
- As a standard, the 5 Elements and Ying Yang theory are incorporated into this unison
- Kanato’s element is metal, while it is on the ying (dark) side
- Ox’s element is earth, while it is on the ying (dark) side
- Both share similar qualities
Originally, kanoto’s character “辛” stood for “to go against” or “to offend one’s superiors”. However, this meaning is no longer in use, as the purpose of the 10 Heavenly Stem has been revised³.
Most, if not all of this, doesn’t say much in a way that makes it easy to follow or understand for the average reader. Even for myself, I do not fully grasp all the components that consist in these different areas that work hand-in-hand to make the Lunar calendar what it is. As an ancient practice for predicting the outcome in a yearly basis within Asian culture, it is amazing that it is still observed in modern times, let alone make its way into Western societies.
TRAITS OF AN OX
Now that 2021 is here, predictions and forecasts regarding how the year will progress based on the ox sign is out. What are we to expect? What type of traits does the ox represent? Here’s the following:
- The ox sign represents hard working, my-pace mentality, and intelligence
- This depiction lines up well with the use of oxen for labor work throughout history, as they are patient & resilient animals that can accomplish long, strenuous tasks
- People under this sign are said to bear these traits naturally
Those born under the ox sign are said to be hard workers who, once set on a task, are completely focused on it, and will see it through until the very end when it’s complete. While it is commendable, this could also be they become stubborn, and may not sway easily to others’ requests. Also, when needing to work with others, they do so at their own tempo. As a leader, they may make many requests to their employees, but on the other hand they tend not to be a tyrant of a boss. As a bonus, this year being the “Metal Ox” means that those under this sign will also get a boost in popularity, and establish good relations easily. As always, those of the ox sign need to be careful not to overdo it, lest their good qualities backfire and turn against them!
For this year, everyone is encouraged to learn from the ox traits and apply it, even if your sign is not the ox. While the prediction may still be too early to consider fact, the “Metal Ox” unity is said to be a lucky one. Through patience and hard work, individuals are predicted to be successful in 2021. It’s not something we can do on our own, so through good communication and establishing intimate relationships will prove beneficial. Attempting new endeavors during these troubling times can be worthwhile with abit of effort and patience.
MISCELLANEOUS & FUN FACTS
The following are ways in which the ox sign played a role as a cultural fuction throughout Japanese society over the years. First, let’s look at how it was used for conventional means.
- Time = 1 pm – 2 pm
- Direction = North-Northeast (around 30 degrees)
- Month = 12th (according to the old calendar)
- Energy = dark (ying)
- 5 Elements = earth
Next, are some phrases and idioms that are related to, or even inspired by the image of the ox. Note that the majority of these are old, so you most likely won’t hear them used today.
- Ushi no mimi ni kyōmon (牛の耳に経文)
LITERAL: Reciting sutra to an ox
MEANING: Your words have no effect on a person mo matter how many times you explain
- Ushi no ayumi (牛の歩み)
LITERAL: Walk like an ox
MEANING: Someone who walks slow
- Ushi no ayumi mo senri (牛の歩みも千里)
LITERAL: Even the ox walks a very long distance. (senri = 4,000 km)
MEANING: You have to put in your fullest effort in order to get the desired results
- Ushi no kaku wo hachi ga sasu (牛の角を蜂が刺す)
LITERAL: The bee stings the horn of the ox
MEANING: You feel no pain no matter what may occur
- Ushi wa ushi-zure uma wa uma-zure (牛は牛連れ馬は馬連れ)
LITERAL: The ox leads the oxen along, while the horse leads the horses along
MEANING: People of like qualities can easily gather and work together
This about covers the ox sign of the Lunar Zodiac, and the predictions for 2021. Look out for more posts this year related to the ox sign, as I will continue to cover this theme. Let’s work to make this a great year in the long run!
1) This version of the story is featured in the Translations section of this site, which I translated into English. You can read it here.
2) In ancient times, each of the 12 Zodiac signs shared the same theme of a plant’s growth from a seed one way or another. Eventually, this theme was overshadowed by the more popular animal theme.
3) Outside of the Lunar calendar, this character acts as an adjective in the standard Japanese language. It can either be pronounced as “karai” and have such meanings like “spicy” and “salty”, or pronounced as “tsurai” and have several meanings such as “painful”, “difficult”, and “heart-breaking”.