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In Ryuu ga Gotoku 8 (aka Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth), when asked about getting with a younger lady, a character says the line "[彼女{かのじょ}]下手{へた}すりゃふた回{まわ}りも年下{としした}だぞ" ("at worst, [she] could be like two dozen years younger than me").

I've never heard this 回り counter for 12-year periods, and I was just wondering:

  • is it a commonly known/used counter? If it matters, the character who said the line was born in the early 80s.
  • is there any reason why 12-years in particular would get its own counter? And perhaps on a related note, is there any reason the counter is 回り (turning, revolving, orbiting, etc.)?
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3 Answers 3

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It is a measurement of time based on the zodiac cycle. There are 12 zodiacs and each year the zodiac changes to the next. Every 12 years the zodiac repeats; two people have the same zodiac sign if they are a multiple of 12 years apart. Thus it is a measurement of a single cycle of 12 years. (Reference)

As Will pointed out, the younger generation seems to mistake it for 10 years. The article proposed this might be because the younger generation is less familiar with the zodiacs, which makes sense to me.

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    Great first answer! (also your link was a little messed up so I fixed it)
    – Mindful
    Jan 28 at 6:29
  • Got it, thank you for the help! :)
    – TGPNG
    Jan 28 at 6:32
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    Among Chinese people, even younger ones, it’s still fairly common to hear someone describe their age to someone from their own age group as, for example, 我属狗 ‘I belong to dog’ = ‘I was born in the year of the dog [2018, 2006, 1994, 1982…]’. I’m guessing by the latter half of this answer that this is no the case with Japanese people (anymore?). Jan 29 at 0:41
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    Virtually all Japanese children are still familiar with the existence of the 12 zodiac animals (干支) themselves. Everyone knows their corresponding animal (Dragon, Rat, etc.), just as they know their zodiac sign (Leo, Virgo, etc.). However, the phrase "一回り (one cycle)" and its relationship to the zodiac animals is not immediately obvious. I think those who interpreted 一回り as referring to 10 years simply failed to make this association.
    – naruto
    Jan 29 at 8:29
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    +1 for the answer. I'm a native speaker in my thirties and am quite familiar with the 十二支 (and 十干 for that matter), but I have always thought 一回り is roughly 10 years. I think I haven't been corrected because roughly 10 years and roughly 12 years are roughly the same, making my confusion rarely a practical issue.
    – Yosh
    Jan 29 at 8:42
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Echoing another comment: the Chinese equivalent to 一回り would be 一轮, which refers to two people of the same zodiac but 12 years apart.

二回り would then be 12x2=24 years of age difference.

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  • Is there a word for the cycle of ten years?
    – aguijonazo
    Jan 29 at 6:11
  • Not really, as much as we like rounded figures like fives, eights and tens, the decade is an imported concept to Chinese. Yet we do hear Confucius’ remarks on the state of mind that a person undergoes every ten years (三十、四十、五十、六十).
    – Tao Liu Yu
    Jan 29 at 16:49
  • Well, I asked because it’s the number of 天干 while twelve is of 地支.
    – aguijonazo
    Jan 29 at 17:10
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In addition to TGPNG's correct answer, I would like to add that I have only ever heard the counter ‑回り (to measure years) used for people's ages. This is probably because the Chinese zodiac is in modern times mostly used in relation to people's birth year, and in that context most people have memorized which animal they are (I'm the year of the tiger). Thus if two people have the same animal, they will immediately recognize that they are some multiple of 12 years apart.

This mode of thinking of birth year in terms of the zodiac goes so far as that the following type of question is fairly common and its intent would be immediately understood:

A: 翔{しょう}くんって何年{なにどし}?
B: 丑{うし}です。

although the naive English translation comes out as an unintentionally hilarious/nonsequitur phrase:

A: What year are you, Sho?
B: [I'm] a cow.

As to why the term 回り, the Chinese zodiac is normally depicted as a wheel of the different animals, so 1回り would be "once around the wheel."

Chinese zodiac
(original image source Wikipedia)

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