Kanji Clinic #77, The Japan Times, January 17, 2006
"In 2005, the kanji for 'love' conquered all"


For the past 11 years, the Japan Kanji Proficiency Foundation has invited the public to cast votes for the single Sino-Japanese character that best symbolizes events of the preceding 12 months. Previous winners of the Kanji of the Year poll, announced annually on Kanji Day (Dec. 12), have included such downbeat characters as (wazawai, disaster, 2004), (SEN, war, 2001), (doku, poison, 1998), and | (tao-eru, topple, 1997). The latest champion, (AI, love), however, is a considerably more upbeat choice.


was the choice of 5 percent of the total 85,322 poll participants. Many advocates of gloveh mentioned two events from last year involving the Imperial Family in explaining their choice: November saw the glove marriageh (as opposed to an arranged marriage) of former Princess Nori, the only daughter of the Emperor, to civil servant Yoshiki Kuroda; and November also saw the proposal made by a government panel recommending that females and their descendants be allowed to ascend the throne. A formal break in the male-line tradition could someday make Crown Prince Naruhitofs only child, 4-year-old daughter q (Aiko), Japanfs first female monarch since the 18th century.

was given an additional boost in the 2005 poll by the overwhelming success of Aichi World Expo, attended by more than 22 million visitors. is the first character in the Japanese name for the event, n (Aichikyuuhaku, gLove the Earth Expoh).

Some proponents mentioned the gpure [i.e., platonic] love boomh (u[, junai buumu) ushered in by the runaway hit movie gDensha Otokoh (Train Man) and several chastely romantic television dramas imported from South Korea. Others cheered the success last year of three popular female Japanese athletes named gAih: table-tennis whiz Ai Fukuhara, golfer Ai Miyazato, and volleyball star Ai Otomo. The outpouring of aid relief, or what has been called glove in action,h to victims of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina led some to select .

But others named it as Kanji of the Year for quite a different reason: Based on numerous highly publicized violent crimes committed both against and by children in Japan last year, some poll participants sensed a critical need for more love in the world today, choosing as a gesture of hope.

Letfs now explore the remaining Top 10 vote-getters, and in doing so see how well you kept your New Yearfs resolution last year to study more kanji. Try and identify one core meaning for each of the Top 10 in this yearfs Kanji of the Year poll. With the exception of #6 k, all are elementary school-level characters. Answers are at the end of the column.


QUIZ
Example: #1 (AI), g. love

#1 (AI)@
#2 (arata-meru)
#3 X (YUU)
#4 (kabu)
#5 (wara-u)
#6 k (furu-u)
#7 K (saiwa-i)
#8 (musu-bu)
#9 (SEI)
#10 I (era-bu)

a. happiness b. government c. choose d. reform e. laugh/smile f. shake g. love h. join together i. stock j. mail@

The inclusion of #2 (reform), #3 X (mail), #9 (government), and #10 I (choose) all reflect Junichi Koizumifs dramatic final push in 2005-- before his expected exit next September after a five-year stint as Japanfs prime minister -- to effect major structural reform (v, kaikaku) within both the government ({, seifu) and his own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The overwhelming victory of the LDP in the snap Lower House elections (I, senkyo) Koizumi called last September demonstrated public support for his pet project, privatization of the national postal (X, yuubin) system.

Unprecedented merger and acquisition battles waged against incumbent television broadcasters by Internet service provider Livedoorfs CEO Takafumi Horie, as well as by Internet retailer Rakuten, riveted the nation in 2005, as reflected in the #4 vote-getter, (stock).

In addition to , two other cheery characters made an appearance in the Top 10: Voters placed (laugh/smile) in the #5 position, paying homage to a new wave of popular young Japanese television comedians (΂, owarai). Recalling the smiling face of Princess Nori at her wedding, many poll participants chose #7 K (happiness) as their Kanji of the Year, with a wish for her happiness as she begins a new life as a commoner.

Read about last year's Kanji of the Year poll here.

ANSWERS 1.g 2.d 3.j 4.i 5.e 6.f 7.a 8.h 9.b 10.c

Home Previous Columns Book Reviews Other Articles Reader Response Links