Every year, Japanese citizens vote for a Chinese character (or kanji) to describe the events of the year and display it at the temple above.
This year’s character?
Safe. Secure. Stable.
When asked about the choice of character, many Japanese were quick to turn it into a negative.
“I think of 不安 (restless, worried),” said one woman. “With the state the world is in, everything feels so uncertain.”
Others said the decision of the character 安 was a result of the recently passed security law (or the 安全保障法制), which has allowed Japan to actively participate in wars as a military power, much to the chagrin of the Japanese nationals.
Some also said it was a wish for safety, or 安全, especially in lieu of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
The runner up was 爆 (baku), or explosion. This character was chosen in context with a newly coined word, 爆買, which literally means “an explosion in shopping.” This can be seen by the record number of Chinese tourists going to Japan and, essentially, buying up the whole country (electronics, high end merchandise, and now real estate).
Finally, third was place was 戦 (ikusa), or war in English. The Japanese chose this character to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, as well as the Hiroshima bombings.
Last year the kanji of the year was 税 (zei)…. or, in English, taxes.
Yes, taxes was the word of the 2014 year. The Japanese don’t get much more blunt or direct when it comes to venting their frustrations with this character, as consumer tax was raised up to 8% in 2014 (and could possibly go up to 10% in 2016).
The Japanese have been choosing a kanji of the year since 1995, when the first character was 震 (shin), or shake, in memory of the victims of Osaka’s 1995 Earthquake.
Every year, Japanese citizens are polled to choose a character they think best fits the events of the year. The character is then drawn onto a large canvas by a calligraphy master and displayed in the halls of Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto to wish in the new year.
When I first heard the kanji of the year was “安,” the first thought that popped into my mind was:
In both Chinese and Japanese, the character 安 is associated with peace, stability and safety.
“This year, we hope everyone finds peace, safety and stability,” the head of the commission stated. “We think of the refugees. We think of the terrorist acts. We think of wars in the middle east. We want everyone experiencing distress and strife to find safety. To find peace.”
Here’s hoping 2016 will bring more safety, more stability, more peace, and more reassurance to the refugees suffering in the middle east and Africa. To the families of the victims of terrorism. To wars around the world. To the cold, to the hungry. To everyone.
Is there a word that best describes your experiences in 2015? What word, or character, would you pick for 2015?
If you would like to read more about the kanji of the year (in Japanese), find more information here.