What is the Jikkan jūnishi?

The jikkan jūnishi (十干十二支), also known as kanshi (干支) or eto (干支), is a system of numbering years in groups of sixty, also known as the sexagesimal system. The name jikkan means "ten stems" and jūnishi means "twelve branches". The system was invented in China before 1100 BC as a way of counting years, months, days and hours as well as for fortune telling.

The special birthday at which the cycle is complete is known as kanreki (還暦). See What are the special birthdays in Japan?

Jikkan (十干), the ten stems, are as follows:

Japanese (rōmaji) Japanese (kanji) Arabic numerals
otsu 2
hei 3
tei 4
bo 5
ki 6
shin 8
jin 9
ki 10
Twelve animals of Chinese New Year
Illustration credit: Márcia Novais / CC licence

Jūnishi (十二支), the twelve branches, are as follows:

Animal name Pronunciation 1 Pronunciation 2 Kanji
rat shi ne
ox chū ushi
tiger in tora
hare or rabbit u
dragon shin tatsu
snake shi mi
horse go uma
ram or sheep mi hitsuji
monkey shin saru
rooster tori
dog jutsu inu
boar gai i

These are the same as the animals used on new year's greeting cards. See What Western dates correspond to what Japanese dates?

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