The kanji an, which denotes safety or peace, best symbolizes the national mood in 2015, a Kyoto-based kanji promotion organization said Tuesday.
The character reflects the claims and counterclaims that rang out nationwide when the Abe administration steamrolled security bills through the Diet this summer. There were major protests over the legislation, which will fundamentally expand the range of missions the Self-Defense Forces can take part in overseas.
The kanji could also be seen as having an international dimension, as terrorist attacks overseas stoked unease.
It was selected based on votes cast by the general public. Of the 129,647 entries received this year, an ranked at the top with 5,632, according to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation.
At Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, where the result was announced, chief priest Seihan Mori handwrote the winning character using a giant calligraphy brush on a sheet of washi (Japanese paper) 1.5 meters high and 1.3 meters wide.
The kanji that came in second was baku (explosive) and third place went to sen (war). It was the 21st annual poll since the event began in 1995.
Last year, zei (tax) was chosen as the kanji symbolizing the year that people faced greater financial burdens following an increase in the consumption tax.