2010 was a sizzling-hot year for kanji


From June through August of last year, Japan experienced its highest average temperatures on record. So the overwhelming choice of 暑 (atsu-i, sho, hot weather) as Kanji of the Year for 2010 came as no surprise. Day after sweltering day, the nation collectively moaned, “Atsui, atsui!” (「暑い、暑い!」 “It’s hot!”), and then watched in disbelief as the thermometer continued to resist going down with the arrival of autumn.

In the annual Kanji of the Year poll, the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation invites the public to vote in November for the character that best symbolizes the year drawing to a close. Then it announces the top vote-getters on Dec. 12, “Kanji Day.”

Many who voted for 暑 noted that their household budgets were hard hit by astronomical home-cooling costs and the high price of vegetables, which were depleted by the heat. The emotional rescue of 33 Chilean miners, trapped for over two months in temperatures reaching 35, also contributed to the vote-pulling power of 暑.

熱 (atsu-i, netsu), a homonym of 暑 (atsu-i) with a similar meaning, came in at No. 9. 熱 (hot to the touch/hot with excitement) features four bottom flame-strokes, as distinguished from sun (日)-topped 暑, which always refers to weather. Last summer’s record number of heatstroke (熱中症, netchūshō) victims was mentioned by many who chose 熱, as was the nation’s zeal (熱中, netchū) for the World Cup.

The No. 2 ranking of 中 (chū, naka, middle), the first kanji in 中国 (Chūgoku, China) was fueled by the arrest in September of a Chinese fisherman whose boat collided with Japan Coast Guard vessels near the disputed Senkaku island chain. Advocates of 中 also mentioned China surpassing Japan last year to become the world’s No. 2 economy, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, and the Shanghai World Expo.

Concerns about relations with other countries, including Russia, the United States and North Korea, contributed to the selection at No. 6 of 国 (koku, kuni, country). “I think our national identity, more than ever before, was called into question in 2010,” opined one man who chose 国. North Korea’s shocking late-November artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island occurred at the tail end of the polling period; otherwise, No. 14 韓 (kan, Korea) likely would have garnered a spot in the Top 10 as well.

Many factors pushed 高 (taka-i, , high) to the No. 7 position: high temperatures, a hefty tax increase on cigarettes, the high competitive level of Japanese figure skaters at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and, above all, concern about an overly strong yen, i.e., 円高, (endaka, high yen).

Four of the Top 10 kanji reflected general unease at a perceived lack of normalcy both within and outside Japan in 2010: No. 3 不 (fu), a negative prefix in compound words like 不安 (fuan, anxiety) and 不明 (fumei, unknown/unidentified ? a reference to the 230,000 centenarians whose whereabouts could not be accounted for by local governments last summer); No. 4 乱 (ran, mida-reru, disorder) noted particularly in reference to the Diet; No. 5 異 (i, koto-naru, different); and No. 10 変 (hen, kawa-ru, odd/change).

Not all was gloom and doom in the kanji poll. No. 8 嵐 (arashi, storm, comprised of “mountain” 山 and “wind” 風) was chosen not for its meteorological meaning but because it is the name of a wildly popular five-member male song-and-dance group. Their upbeat music, guilty pleasure TV programs, and boy-next-door persona provided soothing balm for a stressed-out nation in 2010.

This year, more than 250,000 participants voted in the Kanji of the Year poll, approximately 100,000 more than last year. Rising interest among the Japanese in kanji was no doubt kindled by the announcement in 2010 of the first government-approved increase in general-use (jōyō) characters in three decades. All in all, 2010 was a hot year for kanji.

May your 2011 include a wealth of kanji-learning pleasure. See you at KanjiClinic.com!

Quiz: Insert each of the Top 10 Kanji of the Year into its compound word.

1. 暑 
2. 中
3. 不
4. 乱
5. 異
6. 国
7. 高
8. 嵐
9. 熱
10. 変

a. 円( ) endaka, yen/high, strong yen
b. 韓( ) kankoku, Korea/country, South Korea
c. ( )形 henkei, change/shape, transformation
d. 砂( ) sunaarashi, sand/storm, sandstorm
e. ( )常 ijō, different/normal, abnormal
f. ( )病 netsubyō, hot to the touch/illness, fever
g. 猛( ) mōsho, fierce/hot weather, fierce heat
h. 動( ) dōran, move/disorder, upheaval
i. ( )国 chūgoku, middle/country, China
j. ( )安 fuan, no/calm, anxiety

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

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