The zodiac animals promise good luck, and images of them can serve as prayers for good harvests and prosperity. This print was meant to protect the home, with a sacred beast displaying characteristics of all twelve animals: the rat’s face, the ox’s horns, the rooster’s crest, the rabbit’s ears, the horse’s mane, the goat’s beard, the dog’s torso with the tiger’s skin, the monkey’s legs, the boar’s and snake’s tails, all enveloped in the flames of the dragon. Above this mythical creature, the animals are named in a rhyme that honors what lies at the heart of a good harvest: “the farmer who rises in the hour of the tiger, before dawn, and works in the fields through the hour of the horse, noon.”
During the Edo period (1603–1868) the zodiac animals were used to divide the day into twelve sections, such as the midnight rat or the noon horse. Even today, the Japanese term for midday is shōgo (literally, “proper horse”), and morning and afternoon are gozen (before the horse) and gogo (“after the horse”).