Happy Year Of The Snakelet!


Japanese (and Chinese) astrology is based on what year you’re born, not what month. The years cycle through twelve animals, each with different strengths and weaknesses: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, wild boar.

It’s tough to make a snake appealing, but they give it a damn good try here in Japan. Naturally, over the past three days, I’ve seen everything from lucky red underwear to beer emblazoned with cute ones, funny ones, elegant ones, snakes with flowers, snakes with smiles, and this one, the jointed bamboo snake toy! (Why a child would wish to play with a jointed bamboo snake is a mystery to me, but the one depicted on my new kitchen dish towel is apparently a Traditional Plaything, go figure.)

None of this sugarcoating, however, changes the fact that everybody knows that girls born in the Year Of The Snake grow up to be scary women. The birthrate dips every time this zodiac year rolls around, as couples put off rolling the gender dice.

Read a novel set in Tokyo

In the wake of a deadly earthquake, fans erupt in a frenzy of mourning when it’s discovered that their favorite pop star is among the dead. But when Detective Kenji Nakamura is sent to investigate a death at a local shrine, he finds evidence that suggests the impossible: How could the head priest have been murdered by…read more