Japanese buzzwords of the year nominees reflect myriad influences and issues

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Thirty candidates for buzzword of the year, announced Wednesday, highlight the numerous scandals that rocked Japan’s amateur sports, the brutal summer of natural disasters as well as the country’s response to the worldwide #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

The words nominated for the 2018 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2018 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Awards) are terms that provide a unique insight into the nation’s social trends, as well as the political, business and sports news of the year.

Included on the list was “akushitsu takkuru,” meaning illegal tackle, which refers to a May incident in which a Nihon University American football club defender made an illegal late hit on the Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback at the order of then-head coach Masato Uchida. The scandal rocked the nation’s college football world.

“Until now, buzzwords related to amateur sports portrayed the sportsmen in a positive light but this year, since around May, we’ve witnessed various harassment scandals in amateur sports, which is a new thing,” the organizer’s spokesman commented by phone.

Nara hantei” (Nara judgment) was also listed, representing the scandal involving the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation chief allegedly pressuring referees to give favorable treatment to fighters from his native Nara Prefecture.

“Normally, more sports-related buzzwords emerge when the Olympics and the soccer World Cup are held the same year, but negative phenomena in the sports world eclipsed this year’s sporting events,” the spokesman said.

He said, however, that some buzzwords reflected the successes of Japanese athletes on the global stage.

Naomi-bushi” (Naomi-esque) was coined amid the growing popularity of tennis star Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese player to win the Grand Slam, to refer to her soft and polite way of speaking, which contrasts the ferocity she displays on court.

Osako hanpa nai-tte!” (“Osako’s unbelievable!”) was used to praise Samurai Blue striker Yuya Osako, who had a strong performance in the 2018 World Cup.

Sodanē,” essentially a shortened form of sō da ne — meaning “that’s right!” — was popularized by Japan’s female curling team during the Pyeongchang Olympics, which gained them fans on their way to a bronze-medal finish.

The organizer said that both “hanpa nai-tte” and “sodanē” had the most staying power among the 30 candidates — buzzwords are normally forgotten after three or four months.

Among the nominees were also words referring to this year’s disastrous events that hit the nation in the summer, including “burakkuauto” (blackout), which occurred in Hokkaido following a major earthquake, and “saigaikyu no atsusa,” meaning disastrous heat waves.

Also among the nominees was “#MeToo,” a U.S.-born movement against sexual abuse that Japan has been criticized for being slow to embrace. Female journalist Shiori Ito, who went public with allegations of having been raped by a high profile journalist linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was the first to use the #MeToo hashtag in Japan.

The top 10 words and the overall winner will be announced on Dec. 3, following a screening by a seven-member selection committee including academic Kang Sang-jung, Japanese linguist Hideho Kindaichi and poet Machi Tawara.

The buzzwords 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.

The annual year-end contest has been held since 1984.

Full list of 2018 Buzzword of the Year candidates

A Kanagawa Prefectural Expressway Traffic Police Unit official hands out leaflets calling for the abolishment of tailgating at the Tomei Expressway
A Kanagawa Prefectural Expressway Traffic Police Unit official hands out leaflets calling for the abolishment of tailgating at the Tomei Expressway’s Ebina service area on June 1. | KYODO

Aori unten あおり運転 (tailgating)
Traffic accidents caused by reckless driving, such as tailgating and cutting off other vehicles, has been on the rise these past few years. Police have been on alert over road rage cases, particularly following a 2017 fatal accident that resulted from a frustrated driver’s actions. The driver, angered when a man in a van criticized the way he had parked his car at a parking area of an expressway in Kanagawa Prefecture, chased the van and stopped in front of it. The van was hit from behind by an oncoming truck, killing the man and his wife. The police recommend people affected by dangerous driving to move to a safe place like a parking area and make an emergency call to the police.


Defensive lineman Taisuke Miyagawa trains with his Nihon University Phoenix teammates for the first time since his controversial tackling incident in May.
Defensive lineman Taisuke Miyagawa trains with his Nihon University Phoenix teammates for the first time since his controversial tackling incident in May. | KYODO

Akushitsu takkuru 悪質タックル (foul tackle)
Refers to a May 6 incident in which Nihon University American football club defender Taisuke Miyagawa made an illegal late hit on Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback Kosei Okuno at the order of then-Nihon head coach Masato Uchida. The incident became a national scandal, with Miyagawa taking the unusual step of speaking at the national press club. The coaches involved were banned for life and Nihon University’s team was suspended for a season.


Esports players compete during last year’s Tokyo Game Show in Chiba.
Esports players compete during last year’s Tokyo Game Show in Chiba. | JASON COSKREY

E-supōtsu eスポーツ (esports)
Short for electronic sports, this refers to competitive video gaming. With each game considered as a separate sport, athletes vie for prize money in tournaments. Esports was introduced as a demonstration event at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August and will be a full medal event at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. After lagging behind the West for many years due to regulations limiting prize pools and preventing esports athletes from turning professional, Japan began to embrace esports with new laws enacted earlier in the year. This has let to a small boom in domestic esports competitions, with many companies seeking to capitalize on the opportunity. Sporting organizations such as the NPB and J. League have also teamed up to co-sponsor tournaments, and the 2019 National Sports Festival in Ibaraki will feature an esports program.


“(Osako) hanpa naitte!”「(大迫) 半端ないって!」(“Osako’s unbelievable!”)
A phrase used to praise Samurai Blue striker Yuya Osako by supporters, originally coined by a defeated opponent from his high school soccer days. The phrase was emblazoned on a gate flag (two-stick banner) by popular soccer blogger UG-san several years ago and has since become a meme, appearing on T-shirts and a popular novelty Twitter account. Osako, who transferred to Werder Bremen this summer, had a strong performance in the 2018 World Cup, even scoring the game-winning goal in Japan’s group stage opener against Colombia.


“Ossanzu Rabu” おっさんずラブ (“Ossan’s Love”)
“Ossan” roughly translates as “uncle,” or a middle-age man. “Ossan’s Love,” an extremely popular comedy-drama, focuses on the lives of three men. It’s being hailed as groundbreaking — for mainstream TV — as it addresses issues such as same-sex relationships and even flirts with older man/younger man themes.


A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai in September.
A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai in September. | REUTERS

GAFA ガーファ (acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon)
The big four tech companies that — for better or worse — are having a significant impact on society. All of these companies were in the news this year, often over legal issues linked to privacy and big data. GAFA has been mentioned recently in trade ministry reports, signaling the Japanese government’s intent to regulate these companies’ influence on citizens.


A signboard shows the name of Coincheck Inc. on Feb. 2. Police have questioned a Japanese man in connection with last month
A signboard shows the name of Coincheck Inc. on Feb. 2. | KYODO

Kasō tsūka/dāku uebu 仮想通貨/ダークウェブ (cryptocurrency/dark web)
Refers to the the popularity of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in Japan and the crackdown on the industry following a hacking attack in January in which cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc. lost NEM coins worth ¥58 billion, with the possibility that another more than ¥500 million-worth may have been converted into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on the darknet, where cryptocurrency activity is hard to track.


A whiteboard set up at Akita Station is seen Wednesday filled with messages of gratitude for the baseball team of Kanaashi Nogyo High School, which represented Akita Prefecture in the National High School Baseball Championship and finished runners-up on Tuesday.
A whiteboard set up at Akita Station is filled with messages of gratitude for the baseball team of Kanaashi Nogyo High School, which represented Akita Prefecture in the National High School Baseball Championship and finished runners-up. | KYODO

Kanaashi Nō sempū ⾦⾜農旋⾵ (Kanaashi Nogyo sensation)
Longshot Kanaashi Nogyo High School, representing Akita Prefecture, caused a sensation at the National High School Baseball Championship in August, finishing as runner-up behind powerhouse Osaka Toin. At the 100th Koshien, the little-known school beat veteran Yokohama in the third round with a come-from-behind three-run home run, and pulled off a first-ever game-ending two-run suicide squeeze against Omi in the quarterfinals en route to becoming the first Akita school to make it to the final in 103 years — gaining legions of fans across Japan in the process.


“Kame-tome” カメ⽌め (“Don’t stop the camera!”)
“Kamera o Tomeruna” (literally, “Don’t stop the camera!” and shortened in Japanese to “Kame-tome”) is a clever film-within-a-film paean to not only B-movie zombie flicks but also the art and business of filmmaking. Directed on a shoestring budget by Shinichiro Ueda and featuring a cast of unknowns, this indie film, titled “One Cut of the Dead” in English, has been a runaway hit since its June release and even garnered standing ovations on the international film circuit.


Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki | YOSHIAKI MIURA

“Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru Ka” 君たちはどう⽣きるか “How Do You Guys Live”
“Kimitachi wa dō ikiruka” (“How Do You Guys Live”) is the title of a critically acclaimed Japanese novel written by Genzaburo Yoshino in 1937. The comic version of the book was published last year and has already sold 2 million copies. The story is about the coming-of-age of a junior high schoolboy nicknamed Koperu-kun as he deals with his classmate relationships, and through them, comes to understand how the world works. The story gained additional attention when Academy Award-winning director Hayao Miyazaki revealed that he is in the process of making a feature-length animation based on this story.


Tatsumasa Murasame
Tatsumasa Murasame | SATOKO KAWASAKI

Kinniku wa uragiranai 筋⾁は裏切らない “Muscles Never Betray (You)”
“Muscles Never Betray (You)” is a slogan made famous by the popular NHK workout show “Minna de Kinniku Taiso” (“Muscle Exercises for Everyone”). In this 5-minute program, three buff beefcakes from different fields — an actor, a Swedish landscape gardener/bodybuilder, and a lawyer — crunch their abs on round-shaped podiums under the direction of hunky professor Michiya Tanimoto.


Seniors exercise Monday during a health promotion event for Respect for the Aged Day at Koganji Temple in Tokyo
Seniors exercise Monday during a health promotion event for Respect for the Aged Day at Koganji Temple in Tokyo’s Sugamo neighborhood. The street near the temple is known as a popular shopping area for seniors. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

Gurei hea グレイヘア (gray hair)
This term is used to describe a growing number of Japanese women in their 40s and 50s who have stopped dying their hair and now simply enjoy keeping it looking good as it grays naturally. Gray-haired ladies have recently been featured in numerous women’s magazines and the gray-hairstyle book “Paris Madame Grey Hairstyle,” which was published in 2016, recently became a bestseller after 1.3 million copies were sold.


Keisei Electric Railway Co. employees ask stranded passengers to transfer to the JR line Friday morning at Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station after Keisei was hit by power outages likely caused by seawater residue carried by Typhoon Trami.
Keisei Electric Railway Co. employees ask stranded passengers to transfer to the JR line Friday morning at Narita Airport Terminal 1 Station after Keisei was hit by power outages likely caused by seawater residue carried by Typhoon Trami. | KYODO

Keikaku unkyū 計画運休 (planned suspension)
Keikaku unkyū, which translates as “planned suspension,” was widely implemented for trains in Tokyo and the surrounding region for the first time in preparation for Typhoon Trami, which wreaked havoc across the Japanese archipelago in September. East Japan Railway Co. suspended all trains services in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area from 8 p.m. on Sept. 30 as Tokyo prepared for the storm and to avoid potentially chaotic situations.


A Kyodo News survey showed that only 13 of 113 major firms polled are considering adopting the
A Kyodo News survey showed that only 13 of 113 major firms polled are considering adopting the ‘high-level professional system,’ a key pillar of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s labor reforms, which will come into effect in April. | BLOOMBERG

Kō-puro ⾼プロ/⾼度プロフェッショナル制度 (short for kōdo purofesshonaru seido: high-level professional system)
This term refers to a controversial system, which exempts specialists such as financial dealers or analysts with an annual income of more than ¥10.75 million from work regulations and allows them to be paid based on their work performance rather than hours they worked, thus eliminating overtime pay. This exemption, which is supposed to enable flexible work styles, was temporarily shelved amid criticism from opposition parties that it would instead lead to long working hours. But with a push from Japan’s business community, it was eventually enacted in June as part of new work-style reforms. It will come into effect April 2019 for large companies, and small- and medium-sized companies the following year.


The Lower House chamber passes a bill during its plenary session on Tuesday that establishes a framework for integrated resorts that include casinos.
The Lower House chamber during its plenary session in January. | KYODO

Gohanronpō ご飯論法 (rice reasoning)
Gohanronpō — “rice reasoning” — is a new phrase describing the tactic of dodging a question by intentionally misinterpreting it. The term originates from a situation in which one is asked whether he/she ate “gohan” today (which can mean either “rice” or “meal” in Japanese) and the person responds with “no” because he/she had bread with his/her meal. Although the answer is technically correct, it evades the spirit of the question. This term has been spreading on Twitter since Mitsuko Uenishi, a professor at Hosei University, used it to point out that many politicians use tactics like this to avoid answering questions.


Women shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas in Tokyo on Tuesday as Japan suffers from a heat wave.
Women shield themselves from the sun with umbrellas in Tokyo in July. | AFP-JIJI

Saigaikyū no atsusa 災害級の暑さ (disastrous heat)
This refers to this summer’s unprecedented heat-wave that brought record-breaking temperatures and killed 65 people just in a week in July and sent thousands to hospitals. The summer proved to be the hottest on record since 1946 with an all-time high of 41.1 degrees Celsius being logged in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture. The meteorological agency categorized the phenomenon as a natural disaster.


Commuters cross a road in the central business district of Tokyo on June 27. A poll shows most big and midsized Japanese firms favor a more open immigration system to offset the country
Commuters cross a road in the central business district of Tokyo on June 27. | BLOOMBERG

Jitahara or jitan-harasumento 時短ハラスメント/ジタハラ (“short-time” harassment)
This refers to pressure employers put on their workers amid Japan’s work-style reforms aimed at reducing overtime and maximizing productivity. Such problems have emerged along with Abe’s reform of Japan’s working culture, which was introduced in late June with an aim to limit overtime to 60 hours per month. A case of a 48-year-old car dealer from Chiba Prefecture who committed suicide in December 2016 resulting from his struggle to boost his workers’ productivity within shorter working hours and to juggle his own work and family life is an example of this phenomenon.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks in Tokyo on Thursday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe | AFP-JIJI

Shushō anken ⾸相案件 (prime minister’s matter)
This refers to a scandal surrounding documents related to the Kake Gakuen and Moritomo scandals involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that shook his administration. In the Kake scandal, Abe has faced claims, which he has denied, that he favored school operator Kake Gakuen — run by his longtime friend Kotaro Kake — for a special deregulation project in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. One of the documents to emerge was an April 2015 memo produced by Ehime Prefecture officials that quoted Tadao Yanase, then an executive assistant to Abe, as telling prefectural officials that a Kake Gakuen project is “the prime minister’s matter,” an apparent reference to the issue being pushed by the highest level of government.


Los Angeles Angels announced Tuesday Shohei Ohtani will undergo Tommy John surgery next week.
Shohei Ohtani | KYODO

Shō-taimu 翔タイム (Sho time)
Pitcher-cum-hitter Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels made a splash in his rookie season in Major League Baseball, prompting sports commentators in North America to refer to his appearance as “Sho-Time.” The two-way player from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters hit 22 home runs as a batter and garnered a 4-2 record as a pitcher.


Haruo Obata is honored by the town of Hiji, Oita Prefecture, on Monday for his actions and spirit of volunteerism.
Haruo Obata is honored by the town of Hiji, Oita Prefecture, in September for his actions and spirit of volunteerism. | KYODO

Sūpā borantia「スーパーボランティア」(super volunteer)
This term was coined to honor the bravery of 78-year-old Haruo Obata, a volunteer who in mid-August found a 2-year-old boy missing for three days in the mountains of Suo-Oshima, a town on Yashiro Island in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Obata joined the search operations soon after helping flooding and landslide victims in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, one of the worst-affected areas following July’s torrential rains across western Japan that left more than 220 people dead.


LS Kitami skip Satsuki Fujisawa (center), flanked by teammates Yurika Yoshida (left) and Yumi Suzuki, launches a stone during Sunday
LS Kitami skip Satsuki Fujisawa (center), flanked by teammates Yurika Yoshida (left) and Yumi Suzuki. | KYODO

“Sodane~” 「そだね~」(“That’s it”)
Essentially a shortened form of 「そうだね」”(“that’s it” / “that’s right”) with a very Hokkaido dialect intonation. Viewers picked up on Japan’s curling team as sounding very feminine and casual, which gained them a lot of fans on their way to a bronze-medal finish in Pyeongchang.


Da Pump up the jam: J-pop act Da Pump
Da Pump up the jam: J-pop act Da Pump’s version of ‘U.S.A.’ goes all in on Heisei Era nostalgia and 1990s Eurobeat.

Dasakakkoii ダサかっこいい (roughly, “so lame it’s cool”)
This coinage was inspired by the hit song of the summer, “U.S.A.” by dance-vocal group Da Pump, or more specifically the parapara-esque dance that accompanied the song. Harkening back to the dance hits of the ’90s (the hit was a semi-cover of a Joe Yellow’s 1992 song of the same name), the dance became an internet video meme along the lines of “Harlem Shake,” with various groups performing the dasakakkoii choreography.


TikTok (short-video app)
Launched by Chinese company Bytedance in 2016, TikTok was made available in Japan in 2017. It has skyrocketed to the top of the list of most-downloaded apps on Apple’s iTunes store. Similar to the defunct Vine app, TikTok allows users to share short videos and has generated a number of silly memes and home-grown influencers. Primarily an Asian sensation, TikTok is estimated to have 500 million users worldwide. According to TechCrunch, Bytedance is valued at $75 billion, making it the world’s most highest valued startup.


U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka speaks at a news conference in Yokohama on Thursday morning.
U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka speaks at a news conference in Yokohama in September. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

Naomi-bushi なおみ節 (roughly “Naomi-esque”)
Naomi-bushi was coined amid the growing popularity of Japanese-Haitian tennis player Naomi Osaka and refers to her gentle and polite way of speaking — a contrast with her ferocity on the court. In September, Osaka was the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam at the U.S. Open.


Akira Yamane
Akira Yamane | KYODO

Nara hantei 奈良判定 (Nara judgement)
This refers to a series of incidents in which Japan Amateur Boxing Federation President Akira Yamane allegedly pressured referees to give favorable treatment to fighters from his native Nara Prefecture. Yamane announced his resignation in early August following multiple allegations of misconduct, including the improper use of grant money and his relationship with a former gang leader.


 

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Hyokkorihan ひょっこりはん
Hyokkorihan is a bespectacled comedian who became popular for his gag in which he moves around to music and nonchalantly pops his face out from behind any obstacle, saying, “Hai, Hyokkorihan” (Hey, I’m Hyokkorihan). He is often dressed in blue tights and a white tank top with a red bow tie stuck on it.


People gather to charge their mobile phones during a blackout in Sapporo on Sept. 6 after a powerful earthquake hit Hokkaido, triggering landslides as well as causing the loss of power.
People gather to charge their mobile phones during a blackout in Sapporo on Sept. 6 after a powerful earthquake hit Hokkaido, triggering landslides as well as causing the loss of power. | AP

Burakkuauto ブラックアウト (blackout)
The term was repeatedly seen in news reports and social media posts after a massive power outage swept over the entire island of Hokkaido in the wake of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck the region on Sept. 6. The blackout, which lasted for several days, caused over ¥13 billion in financial damage to Hokkaido retailers and production companies. Dairy producers and livestock farmers were among the industries most severely hit by the secondary effects of the quake and many such companies were forced to dispose of products after their refrigerators stopped working amid the outage.


“Bōtto ikitenjanē-yo!” 「ボーっと⽣きてんじゃねーよ!」 (“Don’t sleep through life!”)
This is the signature phrase used by Chiko-chan, a large-headed, CG-augmented character on NHK’s popular weekly variety show “Chiko-chan ni shikarareru!” (“Chiko-chan Will Scold You!”). Featuring the voice of male comedian Yuichi Kimura, Chiko-chan is a 5-year-old girl who scolds grownups with this phrase when they give vague answers to questions about things that are taken for granted.


The #MeToo movement may have left a mark in Japan as the president of NH Foods Ltd., a Nikkei 225-listed company, resigned over a case of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo movement may have left a mark in Japan as the president of NH Foods Ltd., a Nikkei 225-listed company, resigned over a case of sexual harassment. | BLOOMBERG

#MeToo
Originally a U.S.-born campaign against sexual abuse and harassment, the hashtag became a global movement that even picked up steam in Japan. The country — where issues surrounding sexual harassment and rape have long been trivialized — faced criticism for being slow to embrace the movement. Female Journalist Shiori Ito, who went public with allegations of having been raped by a high-profile journalist with ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was the first to use the #MeToo hashtag in Japan.


The Japan women
The Japan women’s curling squad is delighted by the euphoria of collecting the bronze medal in February. | KYODO

Mogumogu taimu もぐもぐタイム (snack time, literally “chewing time”)
LS Kitami, the women’s curling team that earned bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics, garnered worldwide attention for their halftime snacking. The team frequently deployed sugary sweets and fruits to keep their energy levels up, and there was even some media purse-clutching over Korean strawberries actually being of Japanese origin with Zen-noh supplying Japanese strawberries for a March tournament.

Assistance from Sarah Suk, Chisato Tanaka, Jesse Johnson, Dan Orlowitz, Tom Hanaway and Mark Thompson.

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