Kanji Clinic #65, The Japan Times, January 13, 2005
"Kanji of the Year sums up disaster-stricken 2004"


A series of particularly ruinous natural disasters in 2004 forced residents of Japan to sit up and take notice of nature's power. These calamities, combined with highly publicized human-induced atrocities exacted by and on Japanese people last year, influenced the choice of the recently announced Kanji of the Year 2004: (wazawai, disaster).

Today let's take a look at this "winner," as well as the kanji comprising Japanese words for some of the year's events that led to its selection. In the Kanji of the Year poll, sponsored annually in late autumn by the Japan Kanji Proficiency Foundation, the public is invited to cast votes for the single character that best symbolizes the preceding 12 months.


The runner-up in the latest poll--which drew a record-breaking 91,000 participants--was (KAN, Korea), largely due to the popularity last year of the Korean television drama gWinter Sonatah and its smooth star Bae Yong Joon. But upbeat choice was no match for gloomy ; the latter garnered nearly 25% of votes cast.

, in its current incarnation, is composed of a variation of the kanji ("river") on the top and ("fire") on the bottom. This river component originally featured a horizontal line running through its middle, to represent a dam. To kanji creators in pre-fire hydrant China, gdisasterh represented a fire raging through rows of wooden houses, a cataclysmic event that stopped the flow of normal life the way a dam stops a river.


Of the 27 䕗 (taifuu, typhoons) that threatened to pay a call on Japan in 2004, a record-breaking ten actually hit the mainland. Typhoon Tokage (Lizard), number 23, the most furious of all, left 92 victims dead or missing in late October. The second kanji in 䕗 means gwind,h and the first, , is a simplified version of E ( plus , the latter being a phonetic component). The Cantonese pronunciation of this kanji compound word, taai fung, incidentally, influenced the development of the English word typhoon, as did the Greek word typhan.

This year's typhoon tempests brought unusually damaging \ (boufuu, violent-wind, gstrong windsh) and J (gouu, magnificent-rain, gdownpoursh). ^ (kouzui, flood-water, gfloodingh) and y (doshakuzure, dirt-sand-collapse, glandslidesh) took the homes and lives of many: In 2004, a total of 220 people died or were declared missing due to damage caused by typhoons and another series of torrential rains that fell in several prefectures in July.

Then, just days after Typhoon Tokage had dissipated, a powerful nk (jishin, ground-shake, gearthquakeh) centered in Niigata Prefecture killed 40, injured 2,900, and led to more than 100,000 people being evacuated from their homes.


In the summer of 2004, the nation experienced ҏ (mousho, fierce-hot, gintense heath), and unseasonably warm weather continued on into December. Many folks wondered aloud what new V (tensai, heaven-disaster, gnatural disasterh) could be on the horizon for future generations as a result of global g (ondanka, warm-warm-ization, gwarmingh).

Aside from V, many advocates of stated that l (jinsai, person-disaster, gman-made calamitiesh) also influenced their choice. Some mentioned the unprecedented number of c (youji, infant-child, gchildh) s (gyakutai, cruel-treatment, gabuseh) cases reported by the media in 2004. The November U (yuukai, entice-abduct, gkidnappingh) and El (satsujin, kill-person, gmurderh) of a second-grader in Nara Prefecture was deemed particularly barbaric by many: The murderer took a photo of the victimfs corpse with her own cell phone and transmitted it to her frantic motherfs phone before dumping the body by a roadside.

A restrained plea for his life in his native language, accompanied by an apology for the trouble he was causing, from the 24-year old Japanese traveler who became a l (hitojichi, person-pawn, ghostageh) of an Islamic extremist group in Iraq made a deep impression on many. Ultimately, Shosei Koda--named ؐ (Shousei, gproof of lifeh) by his parents at birth--lost his life in a devastatingly cruel manner at the hands of his captors, another victim of the most destructive of human disasters: war.

In the final days of 2004, after had already been named Kanji of the Year, over 150,000 people died in the horrific Asian tsunami disaster. Some may agree with the poll participant who speculated that the gods were showing their anger at human-wrought disasters in 2004 by raining a plethora of natural ones upon the land. Others may share a hope for 2005 expressed in the Japanese proverb Ђ]ĕƂȂ(Wazawai tenjite fuku to nasu): "Some good can come out of misfortune."

May your 2005 be filled with many happy hours of kanji learning. I hope you will visit KanjiClinic.com often.


Poll results may be viewed in full at www.kanken.or.jp/kanji/kanji2004/kanji.html
"Fearsome tiger clawed its way to Kanji of the Year"tells about the 2003 Kanji of the Year.

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