The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation’s annual kanji of the year for 2009 is, appropriately, ” ” (shin), meaning “new.” This kanji, chosen by national ballot and announced in December at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu temple, reflects the win of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which ended a half-century of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. But the kanji also reflects a tumultuous year of events and trends, most of them new, though not all good.

The DPJ’s overwhelming election victory was the very definition of new. As with the election of President Barack Obama in the United States, voters rejected the old politics and chose change. Unfortunately, new changes are easier to promise than make happen. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been besieged by allegations of financial abuse and his party has had to backtrack on some campaign pledges. As in the U.S. where old politics blocked the new, the Japanese enthusiasm over a new ruling party has morphed into more than a little disappointment. Making politics new is hard to do.

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