It was a year dominated by Japan's spats with its most powerful neighbors, China and South Korea, over tiny specks in the sea, and by national soul-searching over nuclear power and the calamity that struck Japan in March 2011. It ended with the stunning political resurrection of the Liberal Democratic Party. In between, there were memorable faux pas on homosexuality, welfare and official sexism.

Rattle those rusty sabers

1. "I want to make sure that Japan does not become another Tibet," said then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara in April, launching a plan to buy three of the disputed Senkaku Islands from their private owner. The 80-year-old warhorse showed throughout the year that he had lost none of his verbal flair for incendiary bon mots, or ability to antagonize Beijing.