The 十二支 - the signs of the zodiac

The 十二支 (じゅうにし), or Earthly Branches, were one of the early Chinese ways of measuring time. By observing the orbit of Jupiter through the heavens over the course of a year, early astronomers divided the heavens into twelve sections. The symbols were then used in various contexts for measurement or counting, including months of the year and navigation. Today, the Earthly Branches are combined with the Celestial Stems in Taoism. The 十二支 roughly correspond to the Western signs of the zodiac.
For more information on the 十二支, see the Wikipedia entry.
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