They form patterns that do not change, night after night and year after year.Shepherds and farmers, in prehistoric days, studied these patterns because they served as a calendar.
Although replaced in modern times by the Gregorian (solar) calendar, the Zodiac is still used today (unofficially) as a popular method of divination in many Asian and Western nations.
The Zodiac’s popularity in Japan peaked during the Edo Era (1600-1868 AD), by which time each of the 12 animals were commonly associated with one of eight Buddhist patron protector deities (four guarding the four cardinal directions and four guarding the four semi-directions; the latter four are each associated with two animals, thus covering all 12 animals). The shrine is the still-popular Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine 銭洗弁財天宇賀福神社 in Kamakura, which is especially popular and reportedly most effective for worshippers on snake days. Some days, like the snake day of the twelve month in the old lunar calendar, are considered unlucky.
At many Japanese temples even today, visitors can purchase small protective amulets or carvings of their patron Buddhist-Zodiac deity. On this particular day, people were advised not to work the fields or get married. Each consists of three lines and each is associated with either the yin or yang principle.
Most scholars believe the Chinese Zodiac originated well before the Historical Buddha’s birth in India (who was born around 500 BC).
In China, the earliest depictions of the 12 Zodiac animals appear in tomb-ceiling paintings dated to 533 BC . In addition to the Eight Buddhist Deities and 12 Zodiac Animals shown above, there are Zodiac traditions involving other popular Japanese deities.
In Japan, the lunar calendar was abandoned in 1872 in favor of the solar, but even today many temples and shrines continue to use lunar dating for important festivals and events.