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The tiger is one of the 12 zodiac animals of the Asian calendar.
A tiger "can run for a thousand miles" and sees things far away, so it is a symbol for strength and good health. In China the tiger was known to ward off evil influence from the mind, so people put up little tiger figures to protect themselves and their families.
Tigers are not native to Japan, but people of old have used their imagination to produce figures according to the tales they have heard and paintings they could collect from abroad. The first real tiger was brought to Japan via the Korean embassy in 1595 as a present to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Japanese samurai).