by

Not so long ago when I was in college, I took a class about Japanese culture and society. In one of our books, there was a graph about Japanese birth rates that looked like this:

Graph of Japanese birth ratesI saw the giant dip in birth rates in 1966 and was confused. I flipped around a couple of pages and didn’t see any explanation. Was it some sort of error? Was there a big natural disaster that I didn’t know about? What exactly happened in 1966? Turns out that the explanation was stranger than I could even imagine.

The Other Chinese Zodiac

In Western society, we don’t have too many superstitions associated with dates; there’s Friday the 13, but that’s about it. In East Asian societies, there’s a whole lot more superstitious dates.

Last week, Viet wrote about the six-day calendar, but date-based superstitions dosn’t stop there. The Chinese Zodiac still holds more sway over the Japanese mindset than people realize.

Most people know about the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the 12 animals that comprise it; most people probably even know which animal they are (for the record, I’m a snake). East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia observe the Chinese Zodiac, at least on some level.

The Chinese Zodiac

What lots of people don’t know is that there is another cycle that goes along with the Chinese zodiac. This second cycle goes through five elements: fire, wood, earth, metal, and water, and combines with the first cycle to make combinations like earth snake or metal dragon. Each of these combinations occurs once ever sixty years.

Some combinations have great associations, but others have very negative connotations. The most infamous of all being the Fire Horse (丙午/hinoeuma).

The Infamous Fire Horse

People born during the year of the Fire Horse are notorious for being bad luck. People born during a Fire Horse years are said to be irresponsible, rebellious, and overall bad news.

And for some reason, women are said to be especially dangerous Fire Horses. They supposedly sap their family’s finances, neglect their children, and drive their father and husband to an early grave.

This myth is so powerful that it seriously affects how people behave. Men might avoid marrying a Fire Horse, and families avoid giving birth to Fire Horse children.

In 1966, the year of the Fire Horse, people in Japan (and elsewhere in Asia) really, really tried not to have kids, either because they thought that the Fire Horse myth was true, or because they were worried that others would treat their kids differently because of the Fire Horse myth. Japanese people practiced birth control, and used abortion all in an effort to not have children during the year of the Fire Horse.

The Pokémon Rapidash

Pokémon, or Chinese Zodiac sign?

And if you’ll notice on the graph, there was a bit of a spike in births during 1965 and 67, another result of people avoiding the year of the Fire Horse.

Why wasn’t there such a dramatic dip in 1906, the previous year of the Fire Horse? There are a couple of reasons.

The Japanese census wasn’t as accurate nor thorough in 1906, so people could have kids, hide them from the official record, and pretend that they were born a different year, completely sidestepping the curse of the Fire Horse. Not to mention that birth control and abortion wasn’t as advanced or widely available in 1906.

Fire Horses Of The Future

The next year of the Fire Horse won’t happen for another 14 years, in 2026. Japan has definitely come a long way since 1966, but does the Fire Horse superstition still hold sway over Japanese culture? Only time will tell.

Header Image Source: My Little Koichi

  • Paladin341

    Interesting, my mother was born during the year of the Fire Horse. She doesn’t however sap family finances or drive my grandpa or dad crazy.  Maybe she neglected her children a little bit to pursue her own desires, but other than that she isn’t rebellious.  Interesting find I will say at least.

    (P.S. I am also year of the snake, 1989!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001535919021 Heather Stewart

    oh my gods my mom is a fire horse! O___O 
    how am I supposed to break this news to the family?

  • Mescale

    Whilst riding a combustioning stallion!

  • Angela Thomas

    Can you 

  • Angela Thomas

    Can you let us know how to figure out what years correspond to which of the second qualifiers? I’m a dog, but I’m curious what *type* of dog…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1833344687 Julia Kolb

    interesting! never heard about that!

    what i was wondering: i am a dragon. and this year is year of the dragon, so its kind of my birthday. if i was japanese, would i celebrate this? and how? what is a birthday dragon supposed to do?

  • Paladin341

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_astrology#Table_of_the_sixty_year_calendar

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    There aren’t any special celebrations for the different animals of the zodiac, as far as I know. But you should still have an awesome birthday!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Very carefully. Try not to make eye contact!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I can!

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Sweet. I’m a Light Fire Tiger.. FLAME ON!

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Love the My Little Pony rendition of Koichi. I challenge someone to draw a better picture than this.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Only if it includes Hashi and I making out.

  • Madbeanman

    Aww I have that bittersweet feeling of knowing I amn’t going to read a more amazing article than this for quite some time. You should get a bonus for this! If Koichi refuses Ill happily lead the French branch of your strike. And if you have the French on board s**t is gonna go down!

  • ಠ_ರೃ

     I think not becoming rebellious counts as pretty rebellious.

  • ಠ_ರೃ

     Challenge accepted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/charmoyl Charmoyl Roopen

    My word, that’s one drastic spike!
    What’s scarier though is the birth and death lines crossing each other o_O.
    This needs to be corrected. I must get to japan!

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    yesssss

  • Kiriain

     Challenge considered.

  • Kiriain

     I’m a Wood Pig. Does this mean I burn easily?

  • Kiriain

     As the amount of births goes down in Japan; would that mean in the next Fire Horse year, they could possibly hit zero? I see quite an issue with that.

  • じょじざ じゃてく

    I’m the year a the Ox go figure…

    What is with the lower death rates in 1980?Also…I knew birth rates in japan are low but I din’t know thay droped that low…Whats up with that?

  • ZXNova

    How does the Elemental Zodiac cycle work? (Fire – 火 Water- 水 Wood – 木 Metal/Gold – 金 Earth – 土)

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    It means you are tasty barbeque.

  • Jenisferrr

    :O i’m an earth snake! ===•>~~

  • ZA다ルﻣ

     m-m—moderated?! what did–howdidyou–how in the world does *koichi* get moderated on his own site? if it was so bad that you– of all you so-many-little-tofugu writers –i *really* don’t want to know.

  • ಠ_ರೃ

     I’m more concerned about why it’s going back up. They’ve almost gone back to their numbers during their, uh, methy years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexandra-Franco/896075564 Alexandra Franco

    I must admit, when I saw the header O.o I wasnt expecting this article
    I can only wonder what goes through your mysterious mind

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001535919021 Heather Stewart

    I told her over the phone. She promptly flipped the kitchen table over. 

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Oh, well, see, the birth rate line is going to hit zero in 2023, so when the Fire Horse comes around in 2026 it will actually cause a dip into the negative range.  (What would a negative birthrate be, anyway?  Children getting younger and being sucked back into the womb?)

    What I want to know is, what happened in or around 1974.  The sharp drop-off in the fifties makes sense given WWII and the sociological changes that resulted, but it had leveled out in the sixties at a nice post-industrial developed-country level.  Then around 1974 it started falling off again.  Why?  Why then?  Was it just because the people of child-bearing age then were the ones born during the earlier big post-WWII drop-off?  (That would be just about a thirty-year generation, which is a little high by modern standards but not impossible to imagine, especially back then.)  If so, however, we’d have expected another big drop-off in the 2000s, and I’m not seeing that on the graph.  What happened in 1974 that didn’t happen in 2004?

  • Quufer

    There were a lot of industrial countries that experienced birth rate drops starting in the 70s or thereabouts.  The Pill came into more widespread use, women started entering the workplace in larger numbers, etc.  The Japanese Total Fertility Rate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_demographics, on the “Vital Statistics” table) actually bottomed out in 2005 and has come up slightly since then, but there are fewer young women these days (as a % of the population), and the TFR is still well below the “replacement” rate of 2.1 [2.1 births/woman = steady-state or “replacement” rate].  Japan’s not even the country with the lowest TFR (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate), but it does have the highest % of elderly, having had a really low TFR for longer than the other countries, and almost no immigration.

  • simplyshiny

    I’m a fire rabbit…sounds strangly delicious…according to one source I am adventrous, extroverted, have the potential to be truly rich, a great lover and am prone to tantrums.  Only some of those are true.  Also, I share my fire rabbit-ness with Bob Hope, Leonardo DiCapprio and Tiger Woods…

  • simplyshiny

    I just read a book to a four year old about a kid wanting to go back into her mom’s belly…it was kind of disturbing, actually….

  • KittensArePretty

    Water rooster here, one of the weirder combinations =) 

  • Adam Szlamp

    I finally understand what that Fire Horse in Barefoot Gen means. Thank you.

  • Quufer

     More old people.  They have a tendency to die at higher rates for some reason.  Based on your crystal meth article, I don’t think there are enough drug users to affect death rates much.

  • Water Rat

    I am a proud water rat.

    Thanks for the awsome post!

  • eggdude9

     I’m a Yang Water Monkey. =O

  • Hinoema

    As a proud fire horse, (see usrname, yes, not perfectly spelled, damn LiveJournal) I say:

    “MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!!11!!”

  • sukixrose

    In my geography lesson we are studying population dynamics, and my geography teacher didn’t know why there was a dip, and so promised a prize to anyone who could find out. Thanks to you, I now have candy :D

  • Guest

    I am a Water Monkey & my mom is a Wood Rabbit, with the result that we don’t get along. People with water elements are supposed to be super flexible & creative (like me) and people with wood elements are very inflexible & resistant to change or loss of control (very much my mother). It didn’t occur to me until reading this that our Chinese zodiac signs might be the reason we butt heads a lot…

  • SaraWyatt

    and me. :3
    we’re the best. 
    I’m a Sagittarius Fire Rabbit to be exact. *curtsey* 
    which either means even more adventure, extroversion, luck, sensuality, (pride…)
    or nothing at all because they cancel each other out. : )  

  • Deekay66

    I am a ’66 Firehorse and have always considered myself unlucky. I never win anything and I’ve been married and divorced twice; my last partner was an alcoholic. I am now single with 3 children, unemployed and have no savings and own no property. Is it a coincedence?

  • Drew Reber

    You can all worry about your birth dates and such, but I’m more interested in the mustachioed pony in the header.  Is… is that supposed to be Koichi’s OC pony or something?

  • Nunya Smith

    I’m a Fire Horse and ROCK! Sagittarius too…..even better! :) Independence is extremely important!

  • Shampie

    I was born in the year of the horse and in April (Aries) … my element is fire… Am I a fire horse now?! XD

  • The fugu, I guess

    WOOOO! Water pig!

    So I guess I’m like….a fugu?

  • PassingThrough

    Regarding the statement: “And for some reason, women are said to be especially dangerous Fire Horses. They supposedly sap their family’s finances, neglect their children, and drive their father and husband to an early grave.”
    I am the daughter of such a mother and I agree with this the above statement. In every way she exhibits every charasteristic describing a female born in the year of the horse. Sad to say.

    A Caucasion Writing this from the USA
    .

  • Jack

    I have a Japanese gf thats a Firehorse from ’66 and is NOTHING….LIKE…..THIS..
    She is a more than responsible VERY successful Elementary school teacher that also does extra tutoring on the side for her small town students, in Southern Japan.
    sorry folks..
    Reality, 1; Superstition, 0.
    game on…

  • Rae

    I’ve been told this by my former, Japanese boss and my mother. I found it awesome to know that I am a ‘fire horse’. I hadn’t really heard the whole superstition, but like any other years, there will always be the ones that fit their description and, like me, do not fit it exactly. If you count that I can’t seem to stay at home and only return in order to rejuvenate myself with family (that’s what my mom says), then that was the rebellious side of me:) After my divorce (a few unsuccessful relationships prior), my sign was pointed out as to my situation. My current beau calls me a ‘bitch’ all the time and our life is full of drama–and I’m still in it! Again, mom points out this because of my animal sign. What I find eerie is the part of the family finances. Dad has always provided when I’ve needed financial help–I haven’t drained him because he, too is aware of this ‘fire horse’ curse and makes me responsible for debts I get myself into. This ‘fire horse’ is losing its sizzle though. At mid-life, I seem to be more aware of myself. Thanks for allowing me to share!

  • horsewhisperer

    :) I’m a metal dragon

  • NunyaSmith

    I’m a fire horse and a sagittarius to boot. All I have to say is I ROCK!! I’m very independent, hard working and strive to meet my goals (nothing will stop me). I’m adventureous, have a great sense of humor, fun loving and love having fun. I work hard and play hard. I love peace and harmony. I have a generous heart. I have a passion for people and get a great joy out of inspiring everyone I have contact with. I can be rebellious and the only bad luck I have is the bad luck I put on myself. In general, Fire Horse people ROCK!!!

  • Sadsack.

    I taught a couple social studies lessons last year about the hinoeuma and none of my japanese students knew about it. I had to explain to them about superstition and everything in English. My wife was born in 1980 (she is Japanese) and she fits the description of the Firehorse. I think firehorse babies are born in every year.

  • Carola

    I just had to leave my husband for the same reason,constant drama’s and contantly calling me a selfish bitch, I am now homeless and more than skinned. This is how a lot of women died in Japan in 1906, I am the living curse of the Hinoeuma!

  • Tree

    Kia ora. I’m a Fire Horse woman born in New Zealand. One night I was listening to the chatback radio and an old Chinese woman came on and talked about the Fire Horse. She said men feared a future leader would be born to this sign and it would be a woman, this was supposedly forecasted by the astrologers who were all male. Hence the reason you will see it was mainly girls who were euthanised or aborted.

  • Laurie

    I am a firehorse and I have seen the great great luck in my life, but as I grew older the bad luck incurred on my family has reached a propsterous level that it is a daily occurance in every aspect of my life. I am happy by nature but this bad luck is so often, that I just want to not go on. No happiness has been in my life for so so long. I always wanted the lucky side of the firehorse but as it be, my fate is not getting any better. I am not saying I am negative. Negative things come to me. I wish someone can give me hope that my life will get better and I can be happy. I can’t help when I was born. THe day I was born, the photographer’s went on strike and I didn’t get my newborn picture. THat was the first sign right there. HELP. If I were to write a book about my life, people wouldn’t believe it. 3 flat tires in one day is not unusual for me. I even bought a spare tire for a different wheel and I was going to get it fixed, as I was driving to the tire shop, the tire that wasn’t even supposed to be fixed flattened as I was to get the other fixed. That’s pretty much my life. Bad luck follows me everywhere. I don’t even leave the house anymore. I feel I am in people’s way and I don’t want me to rub off on them. It is a curse indeed!!1

  • gokuwatanabe

    I’m a Fire Horse male. This might explain why my mother never liked me. I always thought it was because I was the second son (my older bro was born just 364 before). I remember my mother being angry with me all the time and getting punished for whatever ( seriousy, I don’t even know) and having the feeling of being afraid of her all the time, when I was a kid. When I became bigger than her I didn’t care anymore. My relationship with her is gone. It’s sad to say and hard for anyone else to understand, except my wife, but I think my mother and I are both better off.

  • Louise Maree

    I am and I BLOODY LOVE IT!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Misheal1Bell Misheal Greenwald

    I am a Fire Horse June 9, 1966 and grew up in SE Asia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Misheal1Bell Misheal Greenwald

    AND PROUD OF THIS

  • http://www.facebook.com/Misheal1Bell Misheal Greenwald

    I am a rarity among the female jewels on this earth. I am as entitled to respect and consideration as you are regardless of false perceptions of mystical imaginings.

  • http://twitter.com/Biosuit Prodijy

    I’m just an earth horse but I can be pretty rebellious and I’m very independent…a bit of a pollyanna as well. Haha, I used to get into a lot of trouble in school but mostly for not backing down from a fight…okay I was kind of a troublemaker. I used to wish I was a fire horse after I found out what one was!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.mezo.5 Mark Mezo

    Im a fire horse, i keep quite about the fact to everyone i meet, i worked in a casino dealing roulette when i was young, the Chinese players knew i was bud luck without even knowing who i am. I was dealing on Chinese new year & the table looked like Manhattan skyline stacked with chips but none on the number four, i span the wheel & flicked the ball & still the chips were piling up, i called “no more bets” at the same time smiling & said “number four” to which every player looked at me in shock, rat tap tap went the ball as it landed, guess what? four black.

    Well the table just erupted, i don’t know what they was shouting at me but ive never seen such an angry & scared group of Chinese people in my life, it was mayhem in the casino with the players all going off to other tables & then pointing back at me, they was dead serious & warning other Chinese to stay clear of me & they did. My table was virtually empty all night which any dealer reading this will tell you its almost unheard of on Chinese new year.

    A Fire Horse is unique in the world, treat it with respect & it can be one of your most loyal & closest friends, but cross him/her at your peril, and that’s all im saying on that subject.

    Don`t fear the horsey with the flames, just give him/her a sugar cube & a friendly pat. :-)

  • Dustorm

    I am a Fire horse. I have lost my husband ,daughter, home’ and much more.all by tragic circumstances I have endured tremendous loses I believe my life was predetermined, My life is rich and full. Because I have chosen to be a woman of substance. No one will steal my rainbow. God tests us all indifferent ways.I am a fire horse I have the power to move mountains. dream the impossible. And to dance in the rain, don’t take itself so seriously. I don’t.

  • lonesomewarrior

    I am a fire horse,born June23,66. I must say for most my life I have had bad luck. And especially now. I can not believe how bad my life is. I have lost everything that meant EVERYTHING to me. I met the wrong man at 14, had four kids with him. He treated me bad for twenty years. I finally left him at 34. Because I left him, he brainwashed my kids into disrespecting me. I now have three grandchildren,who I never get to see. My daughter old man don’t like me, so there goes getting to see my girls. Worst thing ever… is I started therapy in 2011. My therapist has ruined what life I have left. I literally am being occult gang stalked because of her. I am thinking…. is this really real? How can this happen to me. I am so ready to kiss this world good bye.

  • lunaticklish

    My mom is a fire horse, and she’s definitely my best friend on earth. Her family was extremely mean to her, which is an interesting coincidence as they are not Chinese nor do they pay attention to astrology.

  • Blue Pony

    ha it might explain my life………………….

  • Hannah Doherty

    This is really cool! I never knew this.
    Thank you for making my day. (^ ^)

  • herbs

    yes i know that, because i am also a fire horse who has many talents who seems to know a lot of things and can master a lot of things easily, that is the fire horse you can be what you want to be if you want if you just do the right thing. that is the power of being a fire horse.

  • equine

    i was just reading up about the whole fire horse birth sign when i came across this site,now i must say pretty much
    everything that i have read so far has been quite true.all the stuff about bad luck and being rebellious,and although
    i recognize those traits i must say i wouldn’t change it for anything as i also know that being a passionate fire horse also gives me a caring nature and a kind heart,always protective of who we love and will stick up for those who might have a tender personality we are lovers of life and i find that others tend to envy our free spirit and explosive energy
    and i must say i have noticed that when i am treated right like anyone else i am always at my best,and also our insights are incredible….don’t worry all you fire horses out there the gods will soon smile upon you,so make the best of it in 2014 as it is your year after all :)

  • Gwelda Duncan

    I am glad I finally k now

  • Gwelda Duncan

    U r not ! U need to ask god he will show u ‘trotted down by the oppanet

  • Afraid of Firehorses

    My mom is a firehorse and every negative thing said here is true about her!! She neglected me terribly in pursuit of her own lust and desire. She sent my family to the poor house and has made a terrible mess out of everything she touches. Her problem is that she’s such a selfish bitch that she’s willing to hurt everyone around her just to get what she desires. Then, once she has what she wants, she grows bored and wants to chase something new. She is the most selfish, reckless, childish, follow your heart, evil person I have ever met and I hate her. She is bad, bad news and now shoots up heroin under a bridge because she screwed her family over so much that no one will talk to her anymore. She’s a prostitute covered in parasite and I can’t even let her be around her grandchildren. By the way, we are American and I just stumbled upon this myth today!!

  • Afraid of Firehorses

    That’s the problem. “Nothing will stop you” Fire horses hurt everyone in there path to achieve their own selfish desires. What about the people you love? Are you willing to hurt them? Will that stop you? Terrible and evil attitude!

  • SagFireHorse66

    Fire horse babies are born every 60 years. 1906 1966. I’m just learning about all this. I’m a fire horse woman born in 1966 year of the horse with the element of fire. i am also a Sagittarius born in December, fire again!! My birthday is Dec 16,66 My birthday numerology boils down to SIX and even my month/year 12/66 add up to … you guessed it! Six! I may possibly be the anti-christ if you believe in such a thing. This is kind of scary! In so many ways I completely fit the description. My partner was killed in a car accident at the age of 32 completely not my fault, I wasn’t there. I didn’t know my father my whole life but when I met him at the age of 36 he died a short time later of prostrate cancer. I have never read that fire horse girls bring bad luck to their husbands and fathers, but mine are dead. How can I argue with this!!?? Wow,,, this is all blowing my mind right now.

  • Alpinia

    Huh. Someone sure seems to have a lot of sock puppets down there…something to keep in mind while on the political boards. I am a fire horse by the way. Guess all the Japanese will phear me now…BWAHAHAHA!!!!!!

  • firehorsemaleprof

    I’m a male firehorse, worked in Japan, and never knew about the association between the sign and power/tragedy. After reading the description for male fire horses, I’d say that it fits perfectly. I left the country for independence, became a professor, and bad things happen to those that cross me. It’s almost mystical and happens all the time. I had a conflict with all of my neighbors, and one by one they met with tragedies: death of a son, busted for growing, evicted. I had a conflict with an opinion page editor last month and he died of a massive heart attack a week later. I used to think that I could somehow “curse” people, until I read the Chinese zodiac description. What’s also weird is that I never dated a girl my own age, either older or younger. Does this mean I had an instinctive repulsion to female fire horse?

  • paully

    Mark…table 41!!! are you kidding me 4 is the number of DEATH, Chinese and Japanese the word for death is the same sound as 4…in Japan all the baseball players that are 4, 44, 14, 24, 34, Americans! no 4th floor in hotels…no locker in Onsen (bath houses) that contain 4 …seriously you have no idea how superstious people are about 4…gamble at table 4 i think not!

  • Shaydee

    I’m a fire ox!!! Both my element and my animal describe me perfectly (‘o’)/

  • djm31

    my dads year of fire horse and im part chinesse and im year of the dog what does that mean

  • djbethell

    I’m Fire Horse AND Piscean – now that’s a juggling game that takes a life-time to master! But I wouldn’t have it any other way… because I can see everything now!

  • Lucy

    Laurie, I’m a fire horse too! I live in China and I am unbelievable lucky. I have always been lucky for myself and I bring luck to all my friends. My advice? Start studying feng shui and start being positive. Don’t call the negative energy; call the positive energy; repeat to yourself continuously: “I am the luckiest person in the world”. Look around you and see the good things, not only the bad things. Be grateful for what you have; there are always others in this world less lucky, trust me! In your life, everything happens for a reason. Something worst could have happen to you if you wouldn’t have that tire issue. You ARE well protected by your angels; don’t think about bad luck being around you, because that’s the way you bring yourself bad luck!

  • JFME

    I am a double fire horse as my element is fire and I was born in 1966.

  • Evaline Nova

    I’m so glad I wasn’t born in China or Japan in the old days.

  • Evaline Nova

    Buy a monkey! Something you can keep in a cage.