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TYJ Vertebrates

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This article is in the series Teach Yourself Japanese
8.7. Vertebrates

8.7.1. The Chinese zodiac

You might have heard of the Chinese zodiac. Each year is associated with one of the twelve animals in Chinese custom, and it is used mainly for fortune-telling. Japanese people also know the twelve animals, whether they believe fortune-telling or not. You can calculate the animal of the year when you were born. The year 1996 is associated with the first animal rat, 1997 is to the ox, 1998 is to the tiger, and so on. I was born in 1970, the year of the dog. This order doesn't mean an order of importance at all.













OrderAnimal/speciesDescription
1ねずみ
ne zu mi
Rat, mouse
2うし
u si
Ox, cow
3とら
to ra
Tiger
4うさぎ
u sa gi
Rabbit, hare
5りゅう
ryû
Dragon. This is an imaginary animal, of course. The word たつ "tatu" also means the dragon and is more commonly used for the year of the dragon.
6へび
he bi
Snake
7うま
u ma
Horse
8ひつじ
hi tu zi
Sheep. In China, the year of the goat (やぎ "yagi" in Japanese) is used instead of the sheep.
9さる
sa ru
Monkey
10にわとり
ni wa to ri
Chicken. The word にわ LH "niwa" means yard, and とり "tori" means bird. The latter is more commonly used for the year of the chicken than にわとり.
11いぬ
i nu
Dog
12いのしし
i no si si
Wild boar. In China, the year of the pig (ぶた "buta" in Japanese) is used instead of the wild boar.


Further readings:

8.7.2. Mammals

たぬき
ta nu ki
racoon dog

Note: Raccoon dogs are animals of the dog family native to Japan that look like racoons. They often appear in fairy tales as mischievous animals with magic power. They are often described to be stupid.

きつね
ki tu ne
fox

Note: Foxes often appear in fairy tales as sly animals with magic power.

おおかみ
ô ka mi
wolf

Note: Coming from the adjective おおきい "ôkii" (big) and the noun かみ "kami" (god), this word means great god. Wolves were not considered evil in Japanese culture. Wolves went extinct a few hundred years ago in Japan.

ライオン
ra i o n
lion

Note: Since this is an imported word, katakana are used. Japanese doesn't have the sound of English "l", so it is changed to Japanese "r".

ひょう
hyô
panther

くま
ku ma
bear

しか
si ka
deer

ぞう

elephant

きりん
ki ri n
giraffe

さい
sa i
rhinoceros

かば
ka ba
hippopotamus

らくだ
ra ku da
camel

くじら
ku zi ra
whale

いるか
i ru ka
dolphin

あしか
a si ka
sea lion

あざらし
a za ra si
seal

8.7.3. Birds

からす
ka ra su
crow, raven

はと
ha to
pigeon, dove
すずめ
su zu me
sparrow

つばめ
tu ba me
swallow

うぐいす
u gu i su
Japanese Nightingale

Note: Japanese nightingales are diurnal birds found in the spring.

きじ
ki zi
pheasant

For your interest: The pheasant is the symbol bird of Japan. They are so rare now that people scarcely see a wild pheasant.

かも
ka mo
wild duck

あひる
a hi ru
domestic duck

がちょう
ga chô
goose

いんこ
i n ko
macaw, parrakeet

おうむ
ô mu
parrot

かもめ
ka mo me
seagull


8.7.4. Reptiles and amphibians

かめ
ka me

tortoise

わに
wa ni
crocodile

とかげ
to ka ge
lizard

かえる
ka e ru
frog


8.7.5. Fish

Japan is famous for seafood, and probably Japanese has more words for さかな LHH "sakana" (fish) than any other language. The translation of the words listed here is not precise because English doesn't have many words for fish.

You can eat all of these fish. (I can't. I'm an unlucky Japanese allergic to fish, and I get stomach-ache after eating fish!)

まぐろ
ma gu ro
tuna


うなぎ
u na gi
eel

さんま
sa n ma
mackerel pike
あじ
a zi
horse mackerel

ぶり
bu ri
yellowtail

ふぐ
hu gu
fugu (balloonfish)

For your interest: The fugu is delicious white-meat fish, but eating it can be dangerous because it has deadly poison. You need a license to cook fugu in Japan.

さけ
sa ke
salmon

さめ
sa me
shark

For your interest: Few Japanese people eat shark, except for Chinese shark fin soup, which is one of the three finest Chinese cuisines. (The other two are bird's nest soup and sea cucumber.) The word ふか "huka" also means shark, and it is more often used for shark fins for the soup.

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Takasugi
My name is TAKASUGI Shinji. TAKASUGI is my family name, and Shinji is my given name; a family name is placed before a given name in Japan, as in other Asian nations. My family name is capitalized to avoid misunderstanding.

I have been living in Yokohama since I was born. Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan, which is just 30 kilometers away from the biggest city Tôkyô. It takes 30 minutes to go by train from home to Shibuya, which is the hottest town now in Tôkyô.

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