Long time ago, there was a god that lived in a mountain.
One December 30th, this god sent a letter to each animal, and they got it the following day.
The letter said:
The morning of January 1st, I wish you come to my palace to congratulate me for the new year and according to the order that you arrive, from the first to the twelveth, I will designate your importance among the animals, giving a year to each one.
The animals were very nervous with this event, and were expecting the day with a lot of excitement. Everybody thought: "I must arrive as first no matter what happens! This way I can be the leader of all animals!" but only one animal, the lazy cat, forgot what the letter said and asked the rat about it.
The rat, instead of telling him that they should arrive in January 1st to the place, lied to him saying that the day was January 2nd, so the cat gave his thanks and went to sleep.
When Jnuary 1st arrived, at morning the Ox thought "I'm slow walking, so I'll go out first" and began his trip when it was still dark.
The rat, who lived in the ceiling of the farm where the Ox lived saw him live so he decided to jump on his lap and thought: "This way I avoid the long walk and it's very confortable here!"
The Ox, without realising, kept on walking approaching the palace and for his surprise, nobody else arrived yet.
When the light of the sun of new year appeared, the ox appeared first in the designated place, but when the door opened, the rat jumped and entered running and screaming "God! Happy new year!"
The rest of the animals arrived, and the god welcomed them.
"The first place is for the rat, then the ox, the tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and lastly the pig.
So that way, the celebration began with the elected animals. In that moment the cat appeared, and very angry said "So you have beaten me!" refering to the rat.
The rat decided to run when he saw the cat, who wouldn't contain his madness because he wasn't selected, that's why until now the cat still chases the rat.
干支 ETO - The cicle of the 60 years (The 12 animals of the chinese horoscope)
According to the old traditions, the life cicle lasts 60 years, and then we are reborn.
When someone is born, is born under the influence of one of these symbols of the zodiac which was originally chinese then passed to Japan and the rest of Asia.
Actually, the designation of the years by the names of an animal was originally a "poetic" way to count years, but now is used for adivination and horoscopes.
鼠 - Nezumi - Rat - 子: 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996
牛 - Ushi - Ox - 丑: 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997
虎 - Tora - Tiger - 寅: 1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998
兎 - Usagi - Rabbit - 卯: 1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999
龍 - Tatsu - Dragon - 辰: 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000
蛇- Hebi - Snake - 巳: 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001
馬 - Uma - Horse - 午: 1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002
羊 - Hitsuji - Sheep - 未: 1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003
猿 - Saru - Monkey - 申: 1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
鶏 - Tori - Rooster - 酉: 1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
犬 - Inu - Dog - 戌: 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
猪 - Inoshishi - Pig - 亥: 1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
If there's someone who doesn't wanna tell his/her age, you can probably ask their animal in the zodiac.
干支を教えてください - Eto wo oshiete kudasai - Please tell me your ETO
何年ですか - Nanidoshi desu ka? - Which is your year?
But the questions are a bit evil lol.
For example, this year that just passed was the year of the dog:
戌年 - Inudoshi
戌 - Inu - dog in ancient kanji... commonly, it is written 犬
年 - toshi - year
If for example the answer was:
私は戌年です - Watashi wa inudoshi desu - I am from the year of the dog, then you can think that the person has 12, 24, 36 years approximately.
Well, the year that is coming up is 亥年, the year of the pig, so...
Happy "inoshishi" year