In Japanese there are a few words when talking about directions. While the word hōkō (方向) is used to indicate direction, the general word used in conjunction with location is hōi (方位). Another word with similar meaning is hōgaku (方角). The Japanese equivalent of the word “compass” would be hōi.
Much like how the 12 Zodiac signs were incorporated in different practical uses in ancient times, were they also used in determining direction. As a standard, the 12 zodiac signs mark cardinal directions. This matches with modern compasses.
The Zodiac names are used to describe the direction one is heading, where to meet, where a place is located, and so on.
The pictures above are digitally-drawn examples of what ancient compass designs would’ve looked like. Similar to how compasses are today, there are those designed in a circular fashion in order to read directions in a 360 degrees fashion. An example of this is shown in the left pic. There was also variations designed to make reading 45 degrees and 90 degrees easier, such as the pic on the right. The 12 Zodiac signs are adapted numerically for marking directions near perfectly, even for 45 degrees. To indicate 45 degrees, 2 zodiac signs are joined together, forming a new sign that includes both zodiac signs’ names.
Below are the components found on a compass that uses the 12 Zodiac signs. Containing both the Japanese and English names, you can use to following to compare and understand how to read such compasses. The 2 pics above can be utilized to better your understanding.
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = North
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Kita (北)
ZODIAC = Ne/Nezumi (子)
ANIMAL = Mouse
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = Northeast
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Kita-higashi (北東)
ZODIAC = Ushitora (艮)
ANIMAL = Ox & Tiger
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = East
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Kita (東)
ZODIAC = U/Usagi (卯)
ANIMAL = Rabbit
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = Southeast
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Minami-higashi (南東)
ZODIAC = Tatsumi (巽)
ANIMAL = Dragon ＆ Snake
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = South
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Minami (南)
ZODIAC = Uma (午)
ANIMAL = Horse
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = Southwest
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Minami-nishi (南西)
ZODIAC = Hitsujzaru (坤)
ANIMAL = Sheep & Monkey
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = West
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Nishi (西)
ZODIAC = Tori (酉)
ANIMAL = Rooster
DIRECTION (ENGLISH) = Northwest
DIRECTION (JAPANESE) = Kita-nishi (北西)
ZODIAC = Inui (乾)
ANIMAL = Dog & Boar