Dec 29

WIT Life #319: 今年の漢字

Written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03), WIT Life is a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language.  Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

As we approach the end of 2017, many of us are reflecting on what was a less-than-stellar year.  This was also an anxiety-producing year in Japan, as the designation of this year’s kanji as 北 (kita or north) indicates. It came in with 7104 votes out of the total 153,594 cast, and best captures the mood in Japan amid the heightened nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea. North Korea has continued to pursue its nuclear weapons and missile programs despite tough new sanctions, including conducting a sixth nuclear test and launching two missiles over 北海道 (Hokkaido) in late summer.

In regard to the selection of 北, other Hokkaido connections were also referenced by respondents. The island’s poor potato crop this year led to nationwide shortages of potato chips, and there is much excitement for 二刀流 (nitouryuu or combination pitcher/slugger) Shohei Otani of Hokkaido baseball team Nippon Ham Fighters making his major league debut with the Anaheim Angels next year.

Coming in second place with 3,571 votes was 政 (sei/matsurigoto or politics). Political scandals, as well as July’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and October’s House of Representatives election, dominated the news for much of the year.  The third-place finisher was 不 (fu/bu), meaning not or negative. This pick was thought to reflect the 不倫 (furin or illicit affairs) among politicians and celebrities, the aforementioned 不作 (fusaku or poor harvests) impacting farmers, and 不気味 (bukimi or disturbing) crimes such as the murder and dismemberment of nine victims by a 27-year old Kanagawa man.

The list below details this year’s top 10 entries and their respective vote counts. Here’s wishing everyone a happy, healthy 2018 and 良いお年を!

1. 北 (hoku/kita) North 7,104 votes
2. 政 (sei/matsurigoto) Politics 3,571 votes
3. 不 (fu, bu) Not; negate 3,323 votes
4. 核 (kaku/sane) Core; nuclear 3,138 votes
5. 新 (shin/atarashii) New 2,958 votes
6. 選 (sen/erabu) Select 2,880 votes
7. 乱 (ran/midareru) Chaos; disturbance 2,782 votes
8. 変 (hen/kawaru) Change; strange 2,717 votes
9. 倫 (rin) Order; human relationship (used in 不倫, “illicit affair”) 2,538 votes
10. 暴 (bō, baku/abareru) Violence 1,945 votes



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