After a year of earthquakes, torrential rains, floods, typhoons and torrid heat, the Chinese character meaning “disaster” ( 災: “wazawai” or “sai”) was named as Japan's “2018 Kanji of the Year”. Chinese characters are known as kanji (漢字) in Japan.
This year's kanji was selected by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society based on the results of a nationwide poll conducted earlier in the fall. Of the 193,214 entries submitted from all Japan, “wazawai” received the most ballots at 20,858.
Throughout 2018, Japan endured a steady series of hammer blows, including:
- A massive snowfall that all but shut down towns along the Japan Sea coast for nearly a week
- An earthquake in June that seriously damaged some parts of Osaka and neighboring cities
- Widespread deadly flooding in July after much of western Japan received incredible amounts of torrential rain that broke all historical records
- Record-breaking heat for much of the summer that resulted in thousands of deaths
- Another earthquake in September, this time in southern Hokkaido, that left millions without power for up to three days and disrupted the economy of the island
- The strongest typhoon in 25 years, which shut down Osaka's main international airport for nearly a week
In a news release, the Kyoto-based Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society explained that “disaster” was a suitable symbol for 2018 in Japan because the kanji character touched people's lives in different ways:
Each December, the Kanji of the Year is announced at historic Kiyomizu-dera, a temple and UNESCO world heritage site in Kyoto, first established 1,300 years ago. Reverend Mori Seihan, the chief abbot of the temple, typically unveils the Kanji of the Year by writing it in traditional calligraphy, captured in this video of the 2018 ceremony:
As Japan prepares for the abdication of its current emperor in May 2019, thereby ending the Heisei Era as it makes the transition to a new emperor, the second most popular Chinese character in this year's poll was “hei” (平). “Hei” is one of two kanji that make up “Heisei” (平成), the name of the reign of the current Emperor of Japan, who is typically known in the rest of the world as Akihito:
This article, written by Nevin Thompson, was published on Global Voices on December 15, 2018