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January 15, 2024

A Rollicking and Powerful Year of the Dragon 2024 (Ep. 140)

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Reading Time: 8 Minutes
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Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Happy New Year! This is Thersa Matsuura and you’re listening to Uncanny Japan, Season 8. We just moved from the year of the Rabbit to the Year of the Dragon and I want to tell you all about it. 

What does it all mean? 


Hey hey! 

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An Audio Gift for Everyone Who Has Pre-ordered My Book

 I have a surprise for everyone who pre ordered my upcoming book: The Book of Japanese Folklore, by Thersa Matsuura, to be published by Adams media, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. 

As a thank you, if you’ve already preordered or are planning to, email me a screenshot of that or if you ordered from a bookstore just the name of the store because it would be nice to know which stores it gets into. A lot of preorders, I just learned, also helps the book get into more brick and mortar stores. 

So email me at: thebookofjapanesefolklore(at)gmail.com It’s literally that, the title of the book, and I will send you an MP3 of an audio story I translated, gently reimagined, and narrated. It’s called “The Wife Who Didn’t Eat,” a creepy little folktale with some commentary about it at the end. It’s 45-minutes long and a nice thing to listen to as you walk the dog, or scrub the bathtub, or drift off to sleep. 

So again help me get those pre orders up, “wow” the people in charge, and I’ll send you a charming but weird folktale with some extra insight into what it all means. The email address is: thebookofjapanesefolklore(at)gmail.com

All this information will be on the uncannyjapan.com website as well.

The Year of the Dragon 2024

Now that we have successfully given a warm hug to 2023, kissed it on the forehead and shown it the proverbial door AND been thoroughly calmed and de-sinned by the Joya no Kane – deep-toned temple bell (last episode), let’s embrace this new year with renewed energy and hope. 

But what should we know about 2024 going in? Well, it’s the sixth year of Reiwa which means nothing to anyone except the old farts at the city office in Japan who insist you write it on all your forms. It’s the way of counting years based on the emperors’ reigns and can be quite cumbersome and confusing. 

Jūnishi: The Twelve Animal Zodiac

But more importantly, 2024 is the year of the Dragon. The mnemonic device used to remember the 12 zodiac animals or jūnishi is: ne ushi tora u tatsu mi uma hitsuji saru tori inu i. Nezumi, ne is rat. Ushi, is cow. Tora is tiger. U stands for usagi and means rabbit. Tatsu is another word for ryu and dragon. Mi means snake. Uma is horse. Hitsuji sheep. Saru monkey. Tori chicken. And I is inoshishi or wild boar or pig. 

What is one thing you notice about this list? Which one of these things is not like the other? Why! It’s dragon, of course. All the other animals are real animals that you can run into today. But the dragon is the only mythical creature in the bunch.   

The 12 Animals and Their Times and Directions

It’s number five in the list and I’ll tell you why in a minute. But did you know all twelve zodiac animals have a direction? The dragon’s is slightly east of southeast. And they all have their own time of the day, too. Remember Episode 52: Putting a Curse on Your Enemies (Ushi no Toki or Koku Mairi)? And remember I just said that ushi means cow, right? Well, Ushi no Toki Mairi is the Hour of the Cow. The cow’s special time is between 1am and 3am. The scariest time of day. 

The dragon’s time, though, is from 7am to 9am. So “waking up and having your morning tea or coffee” time. Next time you’re sitting there eating your power flax and chia seed yogurt breakfast, fondly remember the ryū or tatsu – which probably isn’t thought about often enough – and imagine starting your day like a dragon.

The dragon’s energy is yang. Which makes perfect sense. Definitely more yang than yin. Yin and yang is pronounced “in” “yō” in Japanese. If you ever need to say that. 

The Five Elements

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Okay, you have twelve animals that cycle every twelve years, but they also get assigned one of five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and those cycle through, too. So apart from being the year of the Dragon, 2024 is more specifically the year of the Wood Dragon. 

The Wood Dragon

An aside, if your birth year ends in 4 or 5 then you were born in a wood year and you should be, if you listen to ancient Chinese and Japanese wisdom, patient, compassionate, and understanding. Imagine the roots of an extremely old tree extending deep into the earth. That’s your vibe. You know what, I’ll do the next episode on these elements and personality types, because they’re fun. What element are you?

But for now you should be thinking about Wood Dragons. Basically, you have the most powerful creature in the animal zodiac combined with the more grounded caring aspects of the element Wood which is a very nice coupling. This year’s characteristics are: vigorous vitality and substantial growth. Because the dragon is the only mythical creature in the pack, it brings both power and prosperity as well. If you’re born in the year of the monkey, rooster, or pig, then you’ll be extra lucky this year.

The Race of the 12 Animals

Did you know that the order of the twelve animals is because of a race that was held by the Jade Emperor? The race began and the order the creatures crossed the finish line was the order they’d be in the twelve year cycle.

Why is the rat first? You might ask. It doesn’t seem very fast? Short answer: It cheated. But related to today’s show, why is the dragon in fifth place? It’s easily the fastest of all the animals.

Well, the one story I read that I quite like is that during the race, the dragon was indeed first, but along the route it noticed some villages that were suffering due to a long drought. The dragon, able to control water in all its forms, stopped to make a little rain and help the poor villagers. This act of kindness and altruism caused it to fall behind in the race. How noble! 

Another story says the snake and dragon were neck and neck and at the very last minute the snake – in awe of it’s majestic opponent – let the dragon cross the finish line first. 

Some Dragon Phrases

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Okay, let me end with some neat little dragon-related phrases you can sprinkle throughout the year. 

The first one is ryūtōdabi, which means dragon head, snake’s tale. And basically describes starting something with excitement and vigor but piddling out and not ending strong. Don’t let your 2024 be ryūtōdabi.

Number two, Kumo wa ryū ni shitagau, kaze ha tora ni shitagau 雲は龍に従い、風は虎に従う . English is: clouds follow the dragon, wind follows the tiger. It means something like under a truly illustrious and wise ruler there will follow wise advisors. Or if the leader possesses virtue, wise advisors will naturally appear. I think the world right now needs more great leaders. Let’s hope for Kumo wa ryū ni shitagau, kaze ha tora ni shitagau/clouds follow the dragon, wind follows the tiger.

Three! Ryū no agito no tama wo toru. Remember Chinese and Japanese dragons are often seen holding mystical balls or jewels in their claws or mouths. Well, this phrase means, seizing the pearl from the dragon’s jaw. It is used when you take an extremely dangerous risk in order to attain your goal. 
Four! Ryū  no hige wo naderu or petting the dragon’s beard or whiskers. As you can imagine this is doing something very dangerous. Don’t go petting dragon whiskers, ya’ll.

And five. I’ll end on this one because I like it a lot. It goes, Ryū no mizu wo eru gotoshi. Just as a dragon gains strength from water to ascend into the sky, this phrase describes someone or something gaining even more momentum or achieving great success by seizing the right opportunity or timing. 

And that is my wish for all of you. 

Remember if you pre ordered The Book of Japanese Folklore send me a screenshot at thebookofjapanesefolklore(at)gmail.com. And I’ll hook you up with the wife who didn’t eat. Or I mean not her specifically because that would be bad. But my version of her story. 

Please consider Patreon. For only 5 dollars a month there’s the monthly bedtime story and weekly blog post about some interesting cultural or language thing you don’t often hear about. Occasional recipes, soundscapes, stuff like that. 

Thank you for listening and happy New Year. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu. 

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About The Uncanny Japan Podcast

Speculative fiction writer, long-term resident of Japan and Bram Stoker Award finalist Thersa Matsuura explores all that is weird from old Japan—strange superstitions, folktales, cultural oddities, and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures she digs up while doing research for her writing.

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