One year ago (that’s 2012), Japan chose their “Kanji Of The Year” and it was 金, aka “gold,” (for the second time since this award has existed). They chose gold for the respectable number of gold medals they got in the London Olympics in 2012, as well as for a solar eclipse, the completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree (I guess it was really expensive?), and a Nobel Prize being won by Shinya Yamanaka who did work with stem cells. Surprisingly, second place in 2012 was actually “ring,” which was this year’s winner. I guess the kanji for “ring” didn’t sit around all year and instead did everything it could to be the best of 2013.
In this post I want to take a look at the kanji that best represented Japan in 2013, starting with #1 and working my way down. There were actually way more than seven “top” kanji, but I thought things started getting a bit shaky so I stopped there. Alright, let’s start with the best. You already know what it is!
#1 輪 (Rin/Wa/Ring)
The kanji 輪 (りん・ring) received 9,518 votes making it this year’s kanji winner. There are a couple of reasons why it was chosen:
- The five rings of the Olympic Games. Tokyo won the bid for the 2020 Olympics this year, so there’ll be a lot of rings all over the place for the next six years.
- The hope for “circle/ring of support” expansion for those in recovery areas after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
So who chose this kanji to be Japan’s number one kanji of 2013? The award itself is actually put out by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society every year and has been going on for the last 19 years. Does the name of the society sound familiar? It should. They’re the ones who created the world’s most terrifying and ultimate kanji test: Kanji Kentei.
They don’t really make the decision, though. People send in votes on what they think the best kanji for the year is. That means there are runner-up kanji to look at. To me, this is a great way to look back on the year to see what happened… not only news, but emotions as well. Since one kanji can mean multiple things to different people based on context, it’s a fun way to take a trip through tiiimmmmmeeee~!
#2 楽 (Raku)
Although this kanji typically refers to concepts such as “ease” or “fun” or “enjoyment,” this time the kanji 楽 is referring to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the Japanese baseball team that won the Nippon Professional Baseball League Championship, besting the evil Yomiuri Giants. It probably also helped that this was their first championship. If only the Mariners could take note. *sigh*
They also had ace Masahiro Tanaka on their team, who went an incredible 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. He came in to close the final game of the championship series after pitching 160 pitches in a loss the day before. In case you’re not a baseball fan, I can tell you now… that’s nuts. So, a combination of Tanaka’s exploits along with being winners of the NPB Championship garnered enough votes for 楽 to come in 2nd place.
#3 倍 (Bai/Times)
If you read our post on the Japanese memes of 2013, you may notice something familiar… Meme #3, “__bai gaeshi da!” This comes from a very popular 2013 TV drama, Hanzawa Naoki. The main character (Hanzawa Naoki) works at the Tokyo Chuo Bank and climbs his way up the corporate ladder. On the way, he meets up with corruption, scandal, and nasty people. People do bad things to him… but, he has a way to deal with it. Anything that someone does to him he returns X amount of times.
yararetara yarikaesu, __baigaeshi da!
If I am wronged, I will return it X times!
This is a tagline all throughout the show. The amount of times he threatens to return the punishment goes up and up. 2x. 5x. 10x. 100x. The guy is nuts, to say the least, though this show did really, really well in Japan, which may explain how the kanji 倍 (which is a multiplier, i.e. 2x, 5x, and 10x) made it to third place.
I can’t imagine what this kanji will do next year for being wronged by only receiving third place.
#4 東 (Tou/Higashi/East)
A lot has happened in the “East” part of Japan. Tokyo (東京, the Eastern Capital) was chosen to host the 2020 Olympics. Also, the Touhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Touhoku means northeast) won the NPB championships. It was all about East Japan this year. None of that west Japan garbage. Eww. Gross.
#5 風 (Fuu/Kaze/Wind)
The kanji 風, aka “wind,” was voted into the #5 slot due to the large number of typhoons the country / world experienced. There were 31 total storms, 13 typhoons, and 5 super typhoons this year (worldwide). It was an unusually bad typhoon season, which I guess is why “wind” is on people’s minds this year.
#6 決 (Ketsu/Decision)
Wow, can’t stop thinking about the Olympics, can you people? The kanji 決 (decision) comes from the decision that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics. It also comes from making it into the World Cup, Mt. Fuji becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and various other decisions being made in or about Japan. If you ask me, voting for this kanji is a cop out, because seriously, there are always decisions being made.
#7 今 (Ima)
Another kanji that came from 2013’s best Japanese memes, 今 (ima/now) comes from 今でしょう and refers to Osamu Hayashi, a teacher who was in a commercial for Toshin High School, which is a cram school focused on preparing students for university entrance exams. In the commercial, Toshin High School shows actual teachers teaching. Osamu Hayashi struck a cord with all of Japan due to his catchphrase:
itsu yaru ka? Ima deshou!
When will you do it? Right now!
This got turned into all kinds of other things, including a commercial for Toyota.
It’s also a good message for people, I think. The idea is to get people off their lazy butts to go do something they should be doing. It’s a good message for any year’s kanji, I think.
Your Kanji Of 2013?
I feel like everybody has their own special kanji of 2013. Imagine you’re your own kanji-using country and inside of you is an entire Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society with a ton of blood vessels, organs, molecules, cells, and so on who vote for their kanji of the year, based off your own life and experiences. What would your kanji of 2013 be? I’ve made a list of Tofugu’s Kanji of the year.
#1 鰐 (Alligator)
WaniKani‘s 1 year anniversary took place at some point, and we finished the main 50 levels. A lot of new features have come to WaniKani too, including client-side reviews (which means near-instant answer validation), vacation mode, new lessons, custom notes, and so much more has been added. There’s a long way to go, but this was the year of the Crabigator for sure.
#2 蟹 (Crab)
Because you can’t have a Crabigator without the crab.
#3 豚 (Pig)
The Tofugu team went to the Philippines to meet up with another member of the Tofugu team, Aya (our incredible illustrator). We ate a ton of lechon, which is made from pig.
#4 熊 (Bear)
2013 introduced the EtoEto Bear, possibly also known as Kumaman, which is the mascot of a product we haven’t quite released yet. There was a crappy little test version of the site where we could get some feedback and try things out, but I think we’ll see 熊 rise in the ranks of Tofugu’s Kanji Of The Year awards in 2014 when he reveals his full form… which could get gross, considering his lack of pants. For now, you see him in a lot of post illustrations.
#5 所 (Place)
We got a place! Or, an office, but I couldn’t really think of a good kanji for “office.” Moving out of my apartment and into an actual place was one of the nicest things we did this year. Plus, giant whiteboard walls and a mural. Hard to beat that.
There you go, kind of boring but we’ll take what we can get. Now think about your own personal kanji of the year. What kanji best represents your year and why? Post the kanji, its meaning, and an explanation in the comments below.