The character “rei” (令) — as used in the era name of Reiwa, which has been translated to mean “beautiful harmony” — was chosen as kanji of the year, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation announced Thursday.
The character garnered 30,427 votes, the largest share out of the 216,325 cast in a poll that covered 1,600 locations nationwide, the foundation said.
Rei, on its own, means “order,” “command” or “auspicious.” But this year’s choice was derived from the name of the new era that began after Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne on May 1. The era name was based on the “Manyoshu,” the oldest known anthology of poetry in Japanese.
In the poll, voters select a kanji character that they believe best represents the breadth of all that transpired in the country over the past 12 months.
Revealing the choice on Thursday, Seihan Mori, chief priest of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, used a massive brush to write the kanji in traditional Japanese calligraphic style on a large piece of washi paper 1.5 meters in length and 1.3 meters in width.
The foundation began naming a kanji of the year in 1995. The first kanji was “shin” (震), meaning “quake” or “shiver,” which reflects the fear people felt at the time following the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system. Last year, the kanji “sai” (災), meaning “disaster,” was chosen after a string of calamities devastated large parts of the country. Torrential rains in western Japan, a large earthquake in Hokkaido and typhoons made for a difficult year but inspired heightened public awareness and better disaster prevention measures.
In 2018, “kita” (北), meaning “north” was chosen in reference to North Korea’s repeated missile tests.