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Thanx to Dhani-kun for borrowing me "The Asian Animal Zodiac" by Ruth Q. Sun

[ RAT ]

the story goes that when Lord Buddha lay dying, he summoned all the animals to his bedside to say farewell. the faithful ox got a head start and was leading the lengthy procession when the rat, scampering along, caught up to him and begged for a ride on his back. the patient, good-natured ox agreed to this. but when they reached the entrance to the pavilion where Lord Buddha lay, the rat suddenly leaped from the back of the ox and raced inside ahead of him, thereby becoming the first arrival at the bedside. as a reward for such respect, the Buddha honored the rat with the first position in the zodiac.
in the Japanese Shinto tradition, the horse embodies the concept of ritual purification and serves the purpose of hearing the confession of worshippers. so white horses were kept at Shinto shrines, and even today white horses bedecked with elegant trappings are paraded proudly at Shinto festivals. but within the shrines themselves, for lack of space, the horses came to be replaced by wooden tablets or by paintings of horses on wood. such paintings, called ema, are still used, and some shrines boast large and valuable collections of ema, many the work of prominent artists.
[ OX ]
only because of the sly trick played upon him by the rat is the ox the second in order in the animal zodiac. outwitted though he was, the slow-moving patient beast never complained. although famous for his gentleness, this animal nonetheless possesses hidden reservoirs of great strength. if he is really irritated or enraged, he can run as fast as bull and become quite ferocious. but such thing would occur only in a rare and unusual situation.
[ RAM ]
the sheep or goat (called the hill-sheep) is the 8th symbolic animal of the 12 terrestrial branches, and the emblem of a retired life. since sheep, goats, and deer are all gregarious moving about in flocks or herds, the year of ram is expected to be marked by excellent cooperation among humans. the goat, like the sheep, is associated with peace on the basis of a homophone in which the Chinese ideograph for goat and that for yang, positive principle of nature, have the same sound.
because the tiger represented such strength, it was felt that he had the power to destroy any other animal by absorbing into himself their evil qualities, thereby rendering them powerless. the common striped tiger was said to live incredible number of years, becoming a white tiger when he reached the age of five hundred, and becoming immortal at one thousand - at which time he also gained the power to transform himself into any shape whatever.
probably the greatest of the Chinese monkey stories is the famous "Journey to the Western Paradise" (Saiyuki). it concerns the myriad adventures of a fabulous and supernatural monkey of amazing strength, charm, and versatility. accompanying the priest and also with a white horse and a sacred pig. As the result of this successful expedition, Monkey was rewarded by achieving Buddhahood himself, becoming a rather unorthodox saint with that mischievous nature still very apparent.
[ HARE ]
the hare and the moon legend migrated from China to Japan; but there, instead of compounding a magic potion, he is said to perform the more practical duty of pounding rice in preparation of the food that is the real elixir of life! the substitution is said to have occurred as a result of a Japanese homophone, in which the characters for "full moon" and "rice cake" have the same sound. the Japanese claim that the hare has the task keeping the moon clean and bright, which he does by polishing in constantly with handfuls of horsetail plants. "hare days" figure in Japanese tradition. the mayudama, a short Xmas tree decorated with cakes in honor of the silkworm, appears on whatever day in January happens to be the "first day of the hare."
[ COCK ]
according to the Kojiki account, when the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami retired to a cave in protest to the violence of her brother, Susano-o, thereby leaving the world in darkness, the cock was brought before the sealed cave to crow. this made the reluctant goddess think that the day had dawned without her presence. her curiosity determine if this could be possible led her to emerge from her hiding place, and the world was bright again. so from that time forward, the cock has been considered the messenger of the sun goddess; at the Grand Shrine of Ise, devoted to the divine ancestors of Japan, gorgeously plumed, long-tailed species of cock are always to be seen around the shrines. the torii (gate) at the entrance to every Shinto shrines is in fact a replica of the cock's perch.
the dragon is the only mythical animal in the Asian animal zodiac, an indication of its importance. it represents fire, authority, and power; the yang (or male) element in nature; the first cause. since the dragon is a mythical creature, he is composed of the most imposing and powerful characteristic of some known animals. like its power, the dragon's wisdom exceeds that of all other animals; he is empowered to transform himself into any size or shape whatsoever, whether it be that of a tiny silkworm or a beast large enough to cover the whole earth and darken the entire sky!
[ DOG ]
the Japanese pay great attention to the dog. they recognize two kinds of dog deities, called inugami: those employed in witchcraft, and those worshipped for protection. there are numerous Japanese dog legends, one of it was a story of a faithful dog named Hachiko, to whom a statue was erected in front of Tokyo's Shibuya Station. Every day for years, rain or shine or snow, Hachiko went to this station at a certain hour to greet his master on his return from work. but finally the master died. unable to comprehend, Hachiko continued his daily trips to meet the train until he himself died of the burden of disappointment, grief, and age Y_Y
the snake, or serpent, has long been associated with the sun, and has been worshipped in both eastern and western cultures. because he sheds his skin, the snake symbolizes death and rebirth, life perpetually renewed and everlasting. this is akin to the rising and setting of the sun. the snake's silence, stealth, slithering physique, his cunning and quickness, and the deadly venom he darts, all seem to make him creature of mystery and supernatural power.
[ BOAR ]
because Japan has traditionally exalted the warrior, it is not surprising that the boar should be idealized for its fighting qualities. in fable, the God of war is sometimes shown riding on the back of a boar. to the Japanese, this animal symbolizes courage and steadfastness, because of the way he charges his enemy directly, never flinching, never turning to run away, but instead striking out determinedly, meeting the antagonist head on, and holding to a fixed position.