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Calendar in Japan was switched over to the current solar calendar in Meiji 6 (1873) from the old lunar calendar. 

The lunar calendar had been brought to Japan from China in 9th century and was revised in Edo era in 1685 and later on. 

It employed the classification system of Junishi applied to every historical year.

Junishi is represented by 12 animals (including even dragon and snake) in the fixed order of Rat, Cattle, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar that are applied to each year individually in that order. 

Junishi was also used in telling time of a day and direction of locations in addition to the year indications.  However, it is not often used nowadays other than for the year nickname. 

Next year 2007 is the year of Inoshishi.  Those who were born in the former Inoshishi year celebrate their friendly year after every 12 years.  Inoshishi year persons are often said to be brave and stubborn.  2008 returns to Rat year.

Why cat was not included?  According to a fairy tale, God invited animals to a conference but rats informed a wrong conference date purposely to cats so that cats could not join the team.  Ever since that time, cats always chase rats.

    

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