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2008: Kanji of the Year


The Japan Kanji Proficiency Examination Association (日本漢字能力検定協会) have announced their 2008 Kanji of the Year: , meaning both “strange” and “change” (and even “rebellion“).

I had high hopes for this year after the sneering cynicism of 2007’s winning kanji, 偽 (fake), but KotY voters clearly aren’t yet prepared to abandon basket-of-puppies territory. Not that they aren’t representing some sort of Zeitgeist — @nifty got exactly the same results polling bloggers — but when both Obama and Aso qualify as examples of the same phenomenon, it’s clearly “change” defined extremely broadly.

Tansho Miki (丹所美紀) observes [and Scilla Alecci translates], 変 by itself feels much closer to “strange” or “mistaken” than “change,” which, she argues, applies to Aso perfectly.

Runners up included 金 (money), 落 (fall), and 株 (stock), for obvious international reasons; 毒 (poison) and 食 (food), reflecting ongoing popular anxiety over food safety; and 不 (un-), which is straight-up nihilism — those who selected it invoke compounds like 不安 (uncertainty), 不幸 (misfortune), and even 不気味 (creepy).

Related: Pink Tentacle’s essential annual rundown of the year’s top 60 Japanese words.

December 17, 2008

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

5 Responses

  1. Connor Says:

    re: that Pink Tentacle list

    What, no “Golden Eggs”-derived words? Where’s “demoru?” Whither “Chou-senpai?” Yeah, ok, maybe those episodes technically got made in 07, but cmon, 2008 was their year.


  2. G Says:

    love how designboom straight-up lifts the image and text; at least they link…

  3. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    I have to admit, one of my most memorable moments this year was being the only one in a small room full of people who didn’t understand what was so fall-down funny about the word “necessary”.

  4. Connor Says:


  5. Japan Navigator » Blog Archive » From the web on Japan Says:

    […] Kanji of the Year 2008 is HEN, which means both “Change” and “Strange” – fitting, isn’t […]