Sai, meaning disaster, picked as kanji that best sums up Heisei Era in insurance firm survey


In a survey conducted by Sumitomo Life Insurance Co., sai, meaning disaster or harm, topped the list of kanji characters representing the Heisei Era.

The result apparently reflected Japanese people’s clear memories of a host of difficulties during the period, including the March 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,400 others, and the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, which have left more than 18,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

According to the survey, 21 percent of respondents picked the character.

The survey was conducted online in early February, covering 1,000 people in their 20s to 60s.

Hen, meaning change, came second, picked by 7.1 percent. Many who chose that character said people’s lives have changed dramatically during the Heisei Era, citing the spread of mobile phones, the advancement of information technologies and the introduction of the consumption tax.

Ran, for disorder or confusion, ranked third, with 6.9 percent of respondents selecting it.

The burst of Japan’s bubble economy in the early 1990s and the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008, which triggered a global financial crisis, were among major events and developments cited as reasons to choose that character.

The Heisei Era started on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Akihito assumed the throne. The era is set to end on April 30, when he abdicates.

The next era is scheduled to start on May 1, in line with the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito, the eldest son of the current Emperor, the same day. The government will announce the name of the new era on Monday.

The list also included several other characters with negative connotations.

Geki, meaning severe or serious, came fifth, and nan, meaning trouble, sixth, while ku, for suffering, and shin, for quake or jolt, both ranked seventh.

Meanwhile, hei, a character meaning peace and used in the current era name, ranked fourth and wa, for harmony, ninth.

They were picked as Japan did not wage war with any other nation during the Heisei period.