The kanji character 密 (“mitsu”), used repeatedly in calls to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, has been picked as the kanji best describing this year’s social mood in Japan, a Kyoto-based academic organization said Monday.

In making the announcement at the 26th annual year-end event organized by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, chief Buddhist priest Seihan Mori of the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto wrote the character on a piece of paper 1.5 meters in length and 1.3 meters in width with a giant calligraphy brush.

The character garnered 28,401 votes, or 13.65%, out of the 208,025 cast in a poll, the foundation said.

Mitsu,” on its own, means “close” or “dense.” This word has often been used as a way to raise public awareness about social distancing, with experts and government officials calling on the public to avoid the crowded settings.

The phrase “sanmitsu” or the “3Cs” — confined spaces, crowds and close-contact settings — was also selected as Japan’s top buzzword for the year earlier this month.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is credited with raising the profile of the slogan, with her call to the public about the measures so insistent that it even inspired the creation of a viral online game.

“Many people had to always keep in mind ‘mitsu’ in carrying on with our everyday lives,” the foundation said in explaining the result of the poll.

Last year, “rei” was selected after the new imperial era Reiwa commenced on May 1 following the ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the chrysanthemum throne. His father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, had abdicated the previous day, the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.

The foundation began naming a kanji of the year in 1995. The first kanji was “shin” meaning “quake” or “shiver,” which reflected the fear people felt at the time following the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Article first published in The Japan Times on Dec. 14.

Warm up

One minute chat about the year 2020.


Collect words related to kanji, e.g., study, alphabet, test

New words

1) insistent: firmly saying that something must be true or done, e.g., “The scientist was insistent that his research was correct.”

2) poll: a study in which people are asked for their opinions about a subject or person, e.g., “A poll was conducted to find out what people thought of the prime minister’s speech.”

3) commence: to begin something, e.g., “With the end of the year 2020, a new journey has commenced.”

Guess the headline

Mitsu’: Kanji of the y_ _ _ sums up p_ _ _ _ _ _ _ in Japan 2020


1) What does “mitsu” mean?

2) What was the first kanji of the year?

3) What was the kanji “mitsu” meant to raise awareness of?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you think about the kanji “mitsu” being picked?

2) What kanji do you think describes 2020?

3) What do you wish for next year, in 2021?



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