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Japanese Methods of Representing Dates - 2

The Zodiacal System

This method also presents the year-date as two kanji, but in this case each pair is derived from a regular permutation of two sets of signs. The zodiacal system operates on a sixty-year cycle.

The first set of ordinal signs are termed Jikkan or the Ten Stems representing the elemental signs. They are shown below:

list of the Ten Stems

The second set represents the Japanese Zodiac and is termed Jūnishi or the Twelve Signs.

list of the Twelve Signs

The kanji pair is derived from the JIKKAN and the JŪNISHI as follows:

Year 1 of cycle = KINOE + NE     Kinoe kanjiNe kanji(i.e. the first kanji from each table)

Year 2 of cycle = KINOTO + USHI Kinoto kanjiUshi kanji(the 2nd Jikkan and 2nd Jūnishi)


    Year 10 = MIZUNOTO + TORI Mizunoto kanjiTori kanji(the 10th Jikkan and 10th Jūnishi)

    Year 11 = KINOE + INU            Kinoe kanjiInu kanji(the 1st Jikkan and 11th Jūnishi)

    Year 12 = KINOTO + I                Kinoto kanjiI kanji(the 2nd Jikkan and 12th Jūnishi)

    Year 13 = HINOE + NE              Hinoe kanjiNe kanji(the 3rd Jikkan and 1st Jūnishi)

    Year 14 = HINOTO + USHI       Hinoto kanjiUshi kanji(the 4th Jikkan and 2nd Jūnishi)

.....and so on. Using this combination method there are sixty possible dates. A list of the kanji combinations throughout the whole Zodiacal Cycle is now available.

To find the western equivalent of zodiacal dates it is necessary to know the beginning year of each cycle. From 1024 they are as follows:

1024         1084         1144         1204         1264
1324         1384         1444         1504         1564
1624         1684         1744         1804         1864
1924         1984         ****         ****         ****

The year given by the kanji pair is added to the beginning year of the relevant cycle (again as the cycles have no year zero it is necessary to subtract one to obtain the CE equivalent)

It can be seen from the above that for a given kanji pair a year may be located within a cycle, but there is no indication of the particular cycle being used. Consequently when a zodiacal date occurs without an accompanying nengō, it is necessary to use other methods to identify the particular cycle. These methods include gaining clues to the period from the form, construction and various stylistic features of the blade and nakago, and locating the active period of the smith who may be figured in the mei.

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