Thirty candidates for the buzzword of the year were announced Thursday, covering everything from popular poop kanji workbook to fake news to Hifumin, the nickname for a 77-year-old shogi pro who retired in June after wowing fans for decades with his aggressive playing styles and charm.
In the running for the 2017 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2017 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Awards) are terms that provide a unique insight into the nation’s cultural trends, as well as political and business news of the year.
Included in the shortlist is Insuta-bae, referring to scenes or products that look picture-perfect for the photo-sharing service Instagram. Because so many smartphone users take snapshots of events and daily observations and upload them on the app, more businesses are working harder to come up with photogenic products or hashtag campaigns.
Products that hit the market and sold well made the list, such as Unko Kanji Doriru (Poop Kanji Drills). The popular workbook series features the word unko (poop) in every single example on how a kanji is used in a sentence, as a helpful mnemonic to keep children interested in learning kanji.
Sontaku, meaning acting pre-emptively without direct orders, came to be bandied about, following the Moritomo Gakuen cronyism scandal, in which bureaucrats in charge of approving a new school were suspected of acting in line with the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe without being actually ordered to act that way.
Aufheben, a concept by German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, also made the cut. The word, which has several contradictory meanings such as “lift up,” “suspend” and “cancel,” was until recently not in the lexicon of most Japanese, but it took the spotlight after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike used the German word in reference to various plans to repair Tokyo’s venerable Tsukiji fish market. After leaving many reporters and much of the public confused, she said: “It means to stop once and go one level up next.”
In announcing the list, however, the organizers of the buzzwords contest said this year’s selections were “lackluster,” with few words’ usage lasting more than a few months. The annual year-end contest has been held since 1984.
“The words that buzzed this year were not energetic enough; they were lackluster,” the contest organizers said in a statement. “Compared with other years, many of this year’s buzzwords were sadistic and negative.”
Amid the dismal trend, the organizers cited 9.98 and Fujii fever as a silver lining. The former is the time recorded for a 100-meter running race by Yoshihide Kiryu, a student sprinter who clocked 9.98 seconds in September, becoming the first Japanese to break the 10-second barrier. The latter refers to the excitement over 14-year-old shogi prodigy Sota Fujii, who made history with a streak of 29 consecutive wins in professional matches that lasted from last December until July.
The words were selected by Jiyukokuminsha, the publisher of the annually printed encyclopedia “Gendai Yogo no Kiso Chishiki” (“The Basic Knowledge of Current News Terms”), and the secretariat of the award-giving event.
A five-person selection committee, including academic Kang Sang-jung, poet Machi Tawara and cartoonist Mitsuru Yaku, will choose the top 10 words, including the grand prize winner.
The awards will be announced Dec. 1.
2017 Buzzword of the Year candidates
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike used this German word, a concept of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hege, which has several contradictory meanings such as “lift up,” “suspend” and “cancel.” She left reporters and much of the public confused, as she deployed the word in reference to various plans to repair the aging Tsukiji fish market. She followed up by saying, “It means to stop once and go one level up next.”
Insuta-bae インスタ映え (scenes or products that look picture-perfect for Instagram)
Instagram has taken off in Japan and now many smartphone users can take everyday snapshots and upload them on the photo-sharing platform. It has become such a popular software that many companies are coming up with photogenic products and starting hashtag campaigns.
Utsunuke うつヌケ (getting out of depression)
This is the title of a book published by cartoonist Keiichi Tanaka about his personal battle with clinical depression and how he overcame it.
Unko Kanji Doriru うんこ漢字ドリル (poop kanji drill)
This kanji workbook series, which features the word “unko” in various learning drills, has sold over a million copies since its release in March. The series engages children by using the word “poop” as a mnemonic for using certain kanji in sentences.
enjō 炎上 (something that causes a wave of backlash on social media)
Many TV commercials and promotional videos came under fire for airing what some considered vulgar or sexist. A YouTube tourism video by Miyagi Prefecture, featuring well-known model and actress Dan Mitsu in a kimono, contained sexually suggestive scenes, including one in which the camera zoomed in on her parting lips. Critics say the creators of the videos, many of which were withdrawn after negative public reactions, were knowingly exploiting the viral potential of their controversial content.
AI supīkā AIスピーカー (AI speakers)
Artificial intelligence speakers, also called smart speakers, featuring cloud-based AI and voice recognition, received considerable attention this year. The voice-controlled devices can be integrated with multiple items including household appliances, music systems and security products. Entries in this growing market include Line’s Clova, Amazon’s Echo speakers and Google’s Home.
9.98 (jūbyō no kabe) 9.98（10秒の壁) (the wall of 10 seconds)
Yoshihide Kiryu, a Toyo University student, became the first Japanese sprinter to break the 10-second barrier, clocking 9.98 seconds in the 100-meter dash at an intercollegiate meet in Fukui Prefecture in September.
kyōbōzai 共謀罪 (anti-conspiracy law)
An amendment to the law on organized crime took effect. To gain more public support for this legislation, the charge got a new name as “preparatory crime of terrorism and others.” Also dubbed the “anti-conspiracy law,” the legislation to criminalize the planning of a range of crimes was rammed through the Diet despite protests from citizens.
One of many shopping centers being built in the ramp-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Ginza Six opened on April 20 to much fanfare. The interior boasted motifs and sculpture by world-famous artist Yayoi Kusama.
Kūzen zetsugo no 空前絶後の (unprecedented/like no one before/ unlikely to happen in future)
This is the catchphrase of Japanese comedian Sunshine Ikezaki. He became a star thanks to his self-introduction gag, “Kūzen zetsugo no,” which means unprecedented, like none the world has seen before or would ever see again.
Kemono furenzu けものフレンズ (Kemono Friends)
Kemono Friends is a media franchise that has become a huge hit both as an animation and a videogame. Set in a fictitious park, the series follows the adventures of wild animals, who have transformed into young girls.
35-oku 35億 (3.5 billion)
“3.5 billion” is the signature catch phrase of female Japanese comedian Blouson Chiemi (pronounced in Japanese as Buruzon Chiemi), who skyrocketed to popularity this year. Performing to the background song “Dirty Work,” by U.S. singer Austin Mahone, she would usually end her comedy act with the punchline referring to how the world’s population is 7 billion, and men account for half of the figure.
J-arāto Jアラート (J-Alert)
J-Alert is the government’s satellite-based, warning system that is activated for emergencies, such as extreme weather or military attacks. This year in particular the word appeared frequently in the news as North Korea fired several missiles around or over Japan. It was decided that the Nippon Series baseball games would be suspended if the J-Alert warning was issued.
jinsei hyakunen jidai 人生100年時代 (An era in which you can live 100 years)
On Sept. 8, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi set a goal aimed at creating an economic and social system toward an era in which people can live to 100. Japan’s centenarian population reached 65,692 in 2016. Japan is second in the world’s longevity rankings for both men and women, thanks to the advanced medical standards, improved standard of living and continued peace in the country.
suimin fusai 睡眠負債 (sleep deficit)
This refers to the phenomenon of accumulated sleep deprivation. Seiji Nishino, a Japanese professor well known for his sleep research, says when lack of sleep accumulates, it could lead to certain risks such as dementia.
sen-jō kōsuitai 線状降水帯 (linear rainbands)
This is a weather phenomenon that causes heavy regional rainfall in which the formation of belt-like cumulonimbus clouds, stretching across wide areas, brings torrential rainfall. It is especially common during warmer months between April and September. In recent years, linear rainbands caused several disasters in Japan, including July’s torrential rain in northern Kyushu.
sontaku 忖度 (proactively anticipating a person’s wish before an explicit order is given)
This year has seen a reappearance of the word in the lexicon. For about four months beginning mid-March, it topped the ranking of most frequently searched terms in online dictionaries and has been used in marketing strategies by brands nationwide. It appeared in reports on a recent Moritomo Gakuen scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie, in which the probe questioned whether Abe made explicit orders concerning the discount of national land.
chīgāū dārō! ちーがーうーだーろー！(YOU’VE. GOT. IT. ALL. WRONG!)
One of the insults former Lower House LDP lawmaker Mayuko Toyota hurled at her secretary — abuse that cost Toyota her Diet seat in the recent elections. She made headlines after her case was sent to the prosecutors in late October on suspicion of assault and causing injury to the former secretary. In an audio file released by the secretary and widely circulated online, Toyota also screeched “baldy” and “You should die!”
“Tōken Ranbu” 刀剣乱舞 (“Wild Dance of Swords”)
An online game series launched by DMM.com and Nitroplus featuring a personified figure of the weapon, which offers players a chance to train a group of handsome young swordsmen, which has been enjoying popularity mainly with women.
hatarakikata kaikaku 働き方改革 (Work style reform)
This is a catch phrase introduced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to push forward reforms for work style in Japan. In August, Abe, who had promised to abolish irregular employment, appointed Katsunobu Kato as minister for work-style reform and tasked him with policies aimed to increase minimum wages and placing a legal cap on overtime hours. Abe’s call for reforms was spurred by the outcry following the suicide of an overworked 25-year-old female employee at Japan’s major ad agency Dentsu in December 2015.
hando supinā ハンドスピナー (fidget spinner)
Fidget spinner, billed as a cure for stress and anxiety, which was introduced to the American market in late 2016, became a must-have item of 2017 in Japan. NSK Micro Precision Co. made headlines in August by releasing a high-priced variation of the toy that could spin for 12 minutes or more.
Hifumin ひふみん (nickname of retired shogi player Hifumi Kato)
The oldest top-ranked shogi player Hifumi Kato, 77, made headlines on June 20 when he announced his retirement after being defeated by Japan’s youngest professional shogi player, 14-year-old Sota Fujii, in the prodigy’s inaugural match. A 9-dan master who also debuted when he was 14, Kato was called “the first genius since the era of (Japan’s first) Emperor Jimmu.”
feiku nyūsu フェイクニュース (fake news)
U.S. President Donald Trump took credit for inventing the phrase “fake news,” and he has certainly popularized its use with tweets about unfavorable media coverage. The term has also come to describe unsubstantiated claims, or outright disinformation, that spread quickly through social media. Examples of fake news include spurious claims that the pope supported Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that Hillary Clinton financed terrorist groups.
Fujii fībā 藤井フィーバー (popularity of shogi prodigy Sota Fujii)
Fourteen-year-old shogi prodigy Sota Fujii made waves with his all-time record for 29 consecutive victories, a winning streak that lasted from last December until July. In his inaugural match he defeated oldest top-ranked player 77-year-old Hifumi Kato. His fame kickstarted a craze for shogi-related goods, sparking some to call the phenomenon “Fujiinomics.”
Puremiamu Furaidē プレミアムフライデー (Premium Friday)
Premium Friday, launched in February, is a nationwide public-private campaign designed to encourage people to leave work early on the last Friday of every month and thus rev up spending and curtail the nation’s long working hours. Despite the government’s push, the campaign gained little traction.
posuto shinjitsu ポスト真実 (post truth)
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post truth” as the “Word of the Year” as it was often used in the context of last year’s U.S. presidential election and the U.K.’s referendum on leaving the European Union. Oxford Dictionaries defines the word as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Ma no ni-kai-sei 魔の２回生 (the curse of second-term Diet members)
Those scandal-tainted second-term LDP members include Mayuko Toyota who drew attention from the public over her alleged verbal and physical abuse of her secretary, and Toshinao Nakagawa, who resigned as vice minister of economy, trade and industry in April following revelations of his extramarital affair.
Maru-maru Fāsuto 〇〇ファースト (~ First)
U.S. President Donald Trump popularized the “America First” slogan in his campaign speeches and policies. He was followed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who named her upstart political party Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), with an agenda aimed prioritizing the interests of Tokyo residents. This policy motto has shifted to highlighting lawmakers’ practices of putting their own interests first. Koike’s coinage of “athletes first” also made it into last year’s buzzwords of the year list.
Yūchūbā ユーチューバー (Youtubers)
A word referring to personalities who monetize their videos uploaded onto “YouTube” channel as a source of income. Popular YouTubers, with millions of subscribers, consider their routine of sharing YouTube videos their full-time job. Among Japanese YouTube channels enjoying popularity is “MosoGourmet,” which has 2.2 million subscribers and features daily culinary tips including lunch-box ideas and recipes for family meals, such as “How to make a Giant Oreo Cake!”
wanope ikuji ワンオペ育児 (Solo child-rearing and completing all household chores alone)
This abbreviated combination of the words “one” and “operation” was originally used to describe the operations at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores where employees take responsibility and perform all types of work. Recently it has seen as surge in usage, especially online, in reference to women juggling work with child-rearing and all household chores.