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The Chinese zodiac, moreover, is not equated with constellations, as is the occidental zodiac.
However, Chinese astrology does in fact incorporate numerous concepts from the Hellenistic zodiac and from Indo-Iranian astrology, including the Nine Luminaries & the 28 Lunar Mansions.
The Zodiac’s popularity in Japan peaked during the Edo Era (1600-1868 AD), by which time each of the 12 animals were commonly associated with one of eight Buddhist patron protector deities (four guarding the four cardinal directions and four guarding the four semi-directions; the latter four are each associated with two animals, thus covering all 12 animals). The shrine is the still-popular Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine 銭洗弁財天宇賀福神社 in Kamakura, which is especially popular and reportedly most effective for worshippers on snake days. Some days, like the snake day of the twelve month in the old lunar calendar, are considered unlucky.
At many Japanese temples even today, visitors can purchase small protective amulets or carvings of their patron Buddhist-Zodiac deity. On this particular day, people were advised not to work the fields or get married. Each consists of three lines and each is associated with either the yin or yang principle.
In Japan, the lunar calendar was abandoned in 1872 in favor of the solar, but even today many temples and shrines continue to use lunar dating for important festivals and events.
In the lunar calendar, the new moon (1st of the month), the half-moon of the first quarter (7th or 8th), the full moon (15th), and the half-moon of the last-quarter (22nd or 23rd), are considered sacred days and known as Today, however, the situation is more complicated, for the lunar calendar is used by some locations, while the solar calendar is used by others.
The Western (Greek/Roman) calendar is based on the annual path of the sun through twelve star constellations, known as the solar year.
In China, where Buddhism was introduced in the 1st & 2nd centuries AD, the 12 Zodiac animals became associated with Buddhism’s 12 Heavenly Generals as early as the Sui Dynasty (581-618). To determine your exact animal sign and Buddhist patron based on the Chinese lunar calendar, see below lunar chart. Ennichi are thus days with special significance to one particular deity.
Most scholars believe the Chinese Zodiac originated well before the Historical Buddha’s birth in India (who was born around 500 BC).
In China, the earliest depictions of the 12 Zodiac animals appear in tomb-ceiling paintings dated to 533 BC . In addition to the Eight Buddhist Deities and 12 Zodiac Animals shown above, there are Zodiac traditions involving other popular Japanese deities.
The natural way of telling one constellation from another is to notice the pattern of stars in each one.
It was inevitable that as time went on, people would begin to make complicated pictures out of these patterns.