Opinion December 2018

Animal Instincts in the Year of the Boar

According to eto, the Japanese cycle of zodiac signs, 2019 is the year of the boar. The cycle comprises 12 kanji characters, each representing an animal. In order of progression, these are: mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog and boar.

It is something of a national pastime to specu­late on what fate the year’s creature is likely to bring us. Many also like to find out other people’s signs. It can be great fun to learn that a large and burly gent was born under the sign of, for example, the mouse or the rabbit.

Feeling boorish?

Let’s put this to the test and see where it gets us. As we go from dog to boar, are good or bad things in store? I think we can all agree that there is a lot of tension in the air as we move from 2018 to 2019. Trade wars seem to have become a global leitmotif. The grand opera of Brexit keeps getting messier and noisier as the epilogue approaches. And monetary policy looks to be nearing yet another tricky stage everywhere, from the United States to emerging markets.

Is the boar the type of animal that can cope well with these wobbly goings-on? By all accounts, the answer would seem to be no. Greek mythology depicts the Erymanthian boar as an angry, impa­tient and easily provoked animal—a creature that handles stress rather badly.

As for the Japanese image, there is a phrase everybody automatically thinks of when the animal is mentioned: “To charge in a straight line like a boar”. Say “boar” to any Japanese friend and that phrase will pop up straight away—as straight as a boar’s charge, in fact. The idea is that a boar can do nothing else. All it does is charge forward with enormous energy. It does not stop to think. It has no strategy.

Think again

This does not seem a very wise approach in a year of tense uncertainty. An animal that can only hurl itself forward is liable to end up in a heap of something unpleasant. That could turn out to be yet another financial crisis or a never-ending war of attrition in the trade arena. In such a climate, it is better to be equipped with the cunning of a serpent rather than the straight-line footsteps of the boar.

Alas, however, as the eto line-up indicates, the snake will not appear again for some six years. Heaven knows what will have happened in the interim. The boar could well have charged straight into economic oblivion by then. It is an uncomfortable thought, and yet not unrealistic given the nervousness that seems to be building in global markets.

Leader signs

This may be a good point at which to turn to the second national exercise of finding out who’s who in the zoological calendar. Or, to be precise, who’s what.

Let us do this for the people who are causing the economic uncertainty: US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and UK Prime Minister Theresa May. We will also throw in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for all the naughty things—at least to my mind—he is up to in economic manage­ment in Japan. Here is what we find.

  • Trump: dog
  • Xi: snake
  • May: monkey
  • Abe: horse

So, Trump doggedly tries to outwit Xi. Meanwhile Xi resorts to the serpent’s cunning to have the last laugh at Trump’s expense. May needs all the dexterity of a seasoned monkey to flit from precarious branch to precarious branch in her many-faceted battles over Brexit. And Abe should stop sitting on his high horse, refusing more courteously and sincerely to answer the opposition’s questions in parliament.

Trump might be interested to learn that the Japanese like to say that even dogs will eventually get lucky and bump into a pole. That may help Trump wake up a little to the realities of global life. May might like to know that the standard Japanese saying for monkeys is that even they fall off trees. Better be prepared.

Just in passing, I should like to say that I was born in the Year of the Dragon—the only mythical creature in the whole eto line-up. It is invincible. So there.