“Once upon a time, on a day near the end of the year, God told all the animals: ‘You must come to see me for New Year’s greeting on the morning of the New Year. I will make the first twelve the champions of all the animals for the following twelve years.’
“All the animals were determined to get first place and waited eagerly for New Year’s Day. The Cat, however, forgot which day he should visit God, and asked the Rat, who lied and told him that it was the following day.
“On New Year’s Day, the Ox set out on his way even before dawn, as he walked slowly. Watching the Ox leaving the cattle house, the Rat who lived in the loft secretly jumped on the back of the ox. Unaware of the rat on his back, the Ox arrived at the gate of God, but no other animals had arrived yet. So, he was pleased and waited, believing that he was the first.
“When the gate opened, however, the Rat jumped off his back and ran through the gate. This is why the Rat is the first year, followed by the Ox. The Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar arrived shortly after. The Cat arrived one day late, so did not make it into the list. The story goes on to say that this is why cats always chase rats.
“The rat in the Zodiac represents ‘prosperity of descendants’ and ‘social success’.
“In Japanese, a rat is ‘nezumi’ in romaji and is written as ‘鼠’ in kanji. In the Japanese Zodiac, however, a rat is often called ‘ne’ and is written as ‘子’.
“Rats are charming, smart, ambitious and hard-working. They have a tremendous capacity for pursing their goals. On the other hand, they can be cunning, calculating, and tight with money.
“Rats are most compatible with dragons and monkeys. If these three come together, it generates a great positive power. Rats also have a mutually beneficial relationship with oxen. Horses are the least compatible with rats.”