Five Phases (Wuxing) and the Japanese Lunar Calendar


One of the theories important to the Shirareta Sekai series is the Chinese cosmological theory of 五行 wuxing – or wushing – often translated as the "five phases" or the "five elements". The five phases – wood, fire, earth, metal and water – are connected to each other based on how they nurture (light blue in the image below) and destroy (dark blue) one another and they are associated with seasons, colors, organs, etc.

Combined with yin and yang they form the basis of Chinese cosmology as it was developed in the period of the Warring States (403-221 B.C.) and the beginning of the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.). As a theory wuxing was used as a framework for Chinese history – like the cyclical rise and fall or dynasties –, philosophy and medicine (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 982).

Image of the five phases / elements known as wuxing
The five phases and their relations (I made the image in Dutch, my apologies. "Hout" is wood, "vuur" is fire, "aarde" is Earth, "metaal" is metal and, well, "water" speaks for itself).
In what way does the wuxing theory appear in my books?

For starters, the element "wood" is used for the book cover of "The Return of Layhar" and is associated with the azure Dragon King of the East Sea, Ao Guang (or "Dragon of the East" as he's known in the series). It's also associated with the Eastern direction of the wind. Another important element in the books is "water" which is connected to the black Dragon King of the North Sea, Ao Shun, and the Northern wind direction. Click here for more information about dragons and the Dragon Kings specifically: Eastern Dragons.

However, even more relevant for the first book than the wind direction, is the season with which water is associated: winter. The elements "fire", "metal" and "earth" – and their respective colors, wind directions and seasons – gain importance in the sequels.

Would you like to know more about wuxing and the seasons, colors, tastes, organs, etc. each element is associated with? There's a useful chart on the website of Travel China Guide.

The old Japanese calendar

As can be expected, the world of Shirareta Sekai uses the old Japanese calendar (or at least a version of it). It's a lunar calendar with months comprised of 29 to 30 days (and when necessary a thirteenth month) and the New Year starts at the beginning of Spring, instead of January. Furthermore, the wuxing theory can also be found in the calendar, namely in the eto system.

干支 kanshi, also known as eto, is a system with periods of 60 years in which the wuxing theory meets the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac (Shumacher 2014). Each element has a higher and lower version, the big brother 兄 e and the little brother 弟 to – likely derived from the yin/yang dualism – so that gives a grand total of ten elements (Shumacher 2014). Each year combines an element with an animal.

Elements Animals
kinoe (higher) wood ne rat
kinoto (lower) wood ushi ox
hinoe (higher) fire tora tiger
hinoto (lower) fire u rabbit
tsuchinoe (higher) earth tatsu dragon
tsuchinoto (lower) earth mi snake
kanoe (higher) metal uma horse
kanoto (lower) metal hitsuji goat
mizunoe (higher) water saru monkey
mizunoto (lower) water tori rooster
inu dog
i pig

Like that you'll get kinoe + ne, kinoto + ushi, hinoe + tora, hinoto + u, etc. When you reach inu you return to kinoe and go on to kinoto + i, and so forth. The list goes on in that way until the cycle of 60 years is finished and starts again at kinoe + ne . Because of this there are 60 possible combinations (not 120).

Apart from the eto system, the old calendar included 数え年 kazoedoshi, which meant that everybody was already one year old at birth (JapanKnowledge, n.d.). Moreover, everybody aged on New Years Day, so they all shared their Birthday. Consequentially, if someone was born in January, for example, they were already two years old after a month.

There are many theories about personal characteristics tied to certain birth years (somewhat comparable to astrological ideas). Unfortunately, this can lead to discrimination, as is often the case with the Fire Horse. Notably in the year 1966 (the Year of the Fire Horse) birth rates drastically dropped, because of the belief that women born in that year are dangerously stubborn and independent (China Buddhism Encyclopedia 2014).

It may not be a surprise then that 19 year-old Hana – of "The Return of Layhar" – was born in the Year of the 丙午 hinoe-uma, the (Higher) Fire Horse. That being the case, Ai (15 years old) was born in the Year of the (Higher) Metal Dog, 庚戌 kanoe-inu, Kazuto (21 years old) in the Year of the (Higher) Fire Dragon, 甲辰 kinoe-tatsu, and Saburo (32 years old) in the Year of the (Higher) Water Snake, 癸巳 mizunoto-mi.

Would you like to know more about this topic? Check out the website of Tofugu or that of Mark Shumacher.

  1. Audi, Robert. 1995. “wu-hsing”. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy: pp. 982.
  2. Travel China Guide. 2018. “The Five Elements (Wu Xing)”. Last modified December 3, 2018.
  3. Shumacher, Mark. 2014. “Zodiac calendar & lore.” Last modified July, 2014.
  4. Tofugu. 2014. “The many Japanese calendars”. Last modified on July 15, 2014.
  5. China Buddhism Encyclopedia. 2014. “Year of the Fire Horse.” Last modified March 20, 2014.
  6. “かぞえ‐どし【数え年】”, Digital Dai-ji-sen Japanese Dictionary, JapanKnowledge, , (accessed Dec.12, 2018)

6 thoughts on “Vijf fasen (wuxing) en de Japanse maankalender

  1. Ik zou willen dat ik dit artikel had kunnen lezen voor mijn tentamens 😜 dan was het leren een stuk leuker geweest! Koppig en onafhankelijk past trouwens wel echt perfect bij Hana 😂

  2. Het systeem kent 60 jaar, en 1 jaar is 1 element met 1 dier. Je zegt dat je begint met het element Kinoe en dan verder gaat. Om het systeem te vullen heb je dan inderdaad maar 60 combinaties nodig. Ga je maar 5 van de 10 elementen af? En zijn dat dan de eerste 5 elementen? En wat is dan de betekenis van die andere elementen? Want in totaal kun je dus wel 120 combinaties maken.

    1. Bedankt voor de reactie! Het zijn inderdaad 60 combinaties, en niet 120, maar ik snap de verwarring helemaal, want ik had het verkeerd opgeschreven; mijn excuses daarvoor! De volgorde is niet kinoe+ne, kinoe+ushi, enzovoort, maar kinoe+ne, kinoto+ushi, enzovoort. Op die manier kom je op een cyclus van 60 jaar uit. Ik heb het net in het artikel aangepast. Bedankt dat je me erop hebt gewezen! 🙂

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close