Kanji of the Year

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

While you are studying final exams, you should throw one more Kanji into your flashcard deck - 税 pronounced zei or mitsugi, meaning “tax” in English.  You might not think you need it, but in Japan it was voted the Kanji of the Year and presented this week at Kiyomizudera in Kyoto and chosen by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society as the single character deemed most evocative of the events of the last 12 months.

The twentieth Kanji of the Year took a total of 8,679 votes, or 5.18% of the total 167,613. The reasons for its selection are clear: on April 1 this year the government raised Japan’s consumption tax for the first time in 17 years, bringing it from 5% to 8%. Meant to bolster funding for the country’s future social security needs, this tax hike impacted Japanese wallets and brought about drastic swings in the economy as a whole, with consumers front-loading major appliance, vehicle, and home purchases ahead of April 1 and curtailing spending after the higher rate went into effect. Two straight quarters of negative growth thereafter convinced Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to put off the next planned rate hike, from 8% to 10%, until the spring of 2017.

Last year, after tens of thousands of votes were counted, 輪 pronounced rin or wa and meaning “ring” was selected to represent the nations various achievements of 2013 such as winning the bid for the Olympic games and having Mt. Fuji designated as a World Heritage Site.  This year, the “tax" symbol received the most votes of any other out of the 167,613 votes cast. The runners up included 熱 (netsu) meaning “heat” or “fever” possibly in reference to the Ebola outbreak, and 嘘 (uso) which means “lie” probably aimed at the disgraced scientists involved in the STAP cell scandal over the first half of the year. Needless to say, it would seem people in Japan didn’t have many fond memories of 2014.

In an event held on Friday, Seihan Mori, the head priest at the world-famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, drew the character with a large calligraphy brush, whose bristles were the size of a bowling pin, on a huge piece of “washi” (Japanese paper).You can watch the unveiling here:


What was your Kanji of the year?