Of Pigs, Wild Boars, and Japanese Inoshishi 

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The wild boar zodiac sign of 2019
The wild boar zodiac sign of 2019

Today we are celebrating the Chinese New Year 2019, featuring the boar, pig or hog as its zodiac sign. It’s going to be a great year, bringing us good fortune, and the boar is considered a highly intelligent and social animal found all over the world.

What does boar, pig or hog mean in English?

The terms boar, pig or hog in English essentially describe the same animal, though there are some distinctions. While a boar is an uncastrated male domestic pig, it also denotes a wild pig of any gender. On the other side, a hog often means a domestic pig.

What are the characters used in Japanese?

Japanese basically uses three different Chinese characters to refer to a boar or hog or pig.

1. 亥 pronounciation: i or gai

2. 猪 pronounciation: i or inoshishi or cho

3. 豕 pronounciation: shi or inoko (used less common)

There is also one for swine or pork meat:

4. 豚 pronounciation: ton or buta

But on the postcards that people send each other at the beginning of the new year in Japan, you will only see the characters 1 or 2, and what people really have in mind are wild boars rather than pigs, which are the main image in China.

Mountain whales to disguise forbidden boar meat

And speaking of meat: When it was forbidden in Japan to consume meat due to the influence of Buddhism, the term (yamakujira)  was coined for forbidden boar meat, literally meaning „mountain whale”. It was supposed to turn „boar meat” somehow into fish that was allowed to be eaten.

Fearsome and reckless as well as a symbol of fertility and prosperity

Back to the boar, Japan also has its own race of wild boars. The Japanese boar (Sus scrofa leucomystax) is a subspecies of wild boar and is native to all of Japan except Hokkaido and the Ryukyu Islands. It features distinctive white whiskers extending from the corners of the mouth to the cheeks.

The Inoshishi as its called in Japan is considered a fearsome and reckless animal in Japanese culture and people born in the year of the wild boar are said to show determination and impetuosity, even leading to words and expressions in Japanese that include references to boars as symbols of recklessness.

猪突: pronounciation: chototsu, translation: hell-bent, headlong rush; rushing recklessly

猪武者: pronounciation: inoshishimusha, translation: daredevil; foolhardy warrior; hotspur

猪口才: pronounciation: chokozai, translation: impertinent; impudent; saucy; cheeky

At the same time, boars are also symbols of fertility and especially prosperity, which was illustrated by its inclusion on the 10 Yen note during the Meiji period.

And on this note, I wish you all a prosperous and dashing 2019.

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