This Year in Japanese

The Words of 2013

Politics Economy Society Culture

The publisher Jiyū Kokumin Sha has selected the nominees for its "Words of the Year" award. Read our introductions to 50 terms that paint a picture of what sort of year 2013 was for Japan.

UPDATE: The winning words have been announced. Click here to learn what they were!

Each year Jiyū Kokumin Sha, publisher of the popular annual reference Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (Basic Knowledge on Contemporary Terminology), selects its "most popular word of the year" along with a top-ten list. The terms are those that have captured the popular imagination that year—the words on everyone's lips. Today the company announced its long list of 50 nominees; the finalists and champion will be announced on Monday, December 2.

Below we walk you through the nominated terms. They provide an interesting window on the events and ideas that impacted the Japanese people over the past year.

PM2・5 — PM2.5 is particulate matter of a size smaller than 2.5 micrometers, particularly dangerous for its ability to penetrate deeply into the lung tissue. China wrestles with serious air pollution, particularly in the winter months, and Japan must deal with the PM2.5 pollution that blows over from the continent.

NISA(ニーサ) — NISAs, or Nippon Individual Savings Accounts, patterned after the British ISA system, will become available to Japanese individual investors in January 2014. These allow investment of up to ¥1 million annually with dividends and capital gains exempted from taxation for the first five years.

母さん助けて詐欺 Kāsan tasukete sagi. "Mom, I need help!" frauds are the latest version of scams to target mainly elderly Japanese people. The perpetrator calls the victim claiming to be her child, asking for an urgent transfer of funds to pay for a traffic accident or other emergency.

弾丸登山 Dangan tozan. "Bullet climbs" send climbers up a mountain with ascent speed as the main goal. They're a common way to do Mt. Fuji these days, with tourists taking buses up to the fifth station, climbing overnight, watching the sun rise from the peak, and heading back down that same morning. Officials have urged climbers to avoid this strategy in climbing Japan's highest mountain, particularly during the serious crowding that followed its designation as a World Heritage site.

美文字 Bimoji. Fashionable young calligraphers like Nakatsuka Suitō are helping create a resurgence of interest in "beautiful characters." The ability to handwrite elegant Japanese script has been lost by many who rely more than ever on computers and smartphones to do their writing for them.

DJポリス DJ porisu. The "DJ policeman" guided people across the chaotic Shibuya Crossing with humor and good cheer after they spilled onto the streets on June 4 celebrating Japan's qualification for the 2014 football World Cup.

ななつ星 Nanatsu Boshi. The Seven Stars cruise train is Kyūshū Railways' top-of-the-line luxury addition to the already rich rail touring lineup on the southernmost main island of Japan.

パズドラ Pazudora. Puzzle & Dragons was a breakout hit this year in the mobile gaming scene. Originally released in 2012, by spring 2013 it had become one of the highest-grossing applications on both the iOS and Android platforms.

ビッグデータ Biggu dēta. "Big data" proved to be just as sexy a business concept to Japanese companies in the IT and other industries as it was to their counterparts abroad.

SNEP(スネップ) — Pronounced suneppu, the acronym for "solitary non-employed persons" adds to a long list of terms describing people being left behind in the rapidly shifting economy of recent years.

ヘイトスピーチ Heito supīchi. "Hate speech" became a buzzword following strident anti-Korean demonstrations that took part in heavily Korean districts of Tokyo early this year, and there is growing debate on the need for legislation to counter it.

さとり世代 Satori sedai. The "enlightened generation" describes itself as such for its disconnection from extravagant pleasures and purchases. With little interest in automobiles or designer goods, these young people claim to have seen beyond the era of conspicuous consumption and to be interested in simpler pursuits, like quiet time at home or with small circles of close friends.

ダークツーリズム Dāku tsūrizumu. "Dark tourism" takes travelers to places not on the ordinary circuit of pleasant destinations—Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Ground Zero in New York, and if some Japanese planners have their way, one day the zone around Fukushima Daiichi as well.

ご当地電力 Gotōchi denryoku. Locally produced, locally consumed electric power is being promoted as a way to wean Japanese consumers off of electricity generated by the big EPCOS—particularly the electricity produced by nuclear power.

ご当地キャラ — Gotōchi kyara. These "local characters" are promotional mascots sent out to do public relations for their hometown. We visited a number of them late in 2012.

こじらせ女子 Kojirase-joshi. Young women who "just can't get it right." Amamiya Mami's 2011 book Joshi o kojirasete provided the name for these women, hapless in love and lacking self-confidence.

富士山 Fujisan. Japan's highest mountain was in the spotlight this year for its World Heritage designation. It won this for its value as a cultural heritage site, but the peak certainly maintains its natural beauty as well.

日傘男子 Higasa danshi. Men who aren't ashamed to put up a parasol when the sunshine gets bright. A fair complexion isn't just for women, as far as they are concerned.

バカッター Bakattā. A combination of baka, "fool," and Twitter, this refers to the rash of photographs posted on social media of people taking part in silly—and at times unhygienic—pranks. In several cases, photos of employees or customers lying in ice cream freezers or eating beef bowls in the nude resulted in shuttered convenience stores and restaurant outlets.

激おこぷんぷん丸 Geki-oko pun pun maru. The oko comes from okoru, "to get angry," and prefixes and suffixes are added to increase the rage quotient. If you can read Japanese, have a look at the etymology here. Frequently used in combination with this angry guy:

困り顔メイク Komari-gao meiku. Cosmetics applied to make a young woman's face look like she's troubled; apparently the goal is to inspire a protective response from the man in her life (or the one she wants in it).

涙袋メイク Namidabukuro meiku. Makeup to give you "tear bags" under your eyes—or described more attractively, slightly puffy lower eyelids to make the eyes appear bigger, increasing sex appeal and softness of facial expression.

倍返し Baigaeshi. "Pay them back double!" was the famous line delivered by TV drama character Hanzawa Naoki (actor Sakai Masato) in the wildly popular show of the same name.

今でしょ Ima desho. "Why not now?" is the answer that exam prep school teacher Hayashi Osamu provides to his own question, "When are you going to do it?" This catchphrase has made its way from commercials for Tōshin High School to the national lingo.

ダイオウイカ Daiōika. The giant squid was captured on film in its natural habitat, more than 600 meters below the ocean's surface near the Ogasawara Islands, by an NHK/Discovery Channel joint crew that had spent a decade in pursuit of the footage.

じぇじぇじぇ Jejeje. An interjection of surprise in the Iwate dialect of Japanese made popular on the NHK serialized morning drama Ama-chan (Little Diver).

あまロス Amarosu. Short for Ama-chan rosu shōkōgun, or "post-Ama-chan stress disorder." Feelings of loss felt by viewers after their favorite show came to an end.

ビッグダディ Biggu Dadi. "Big Daddy" is the nickname for Hayashishita Kiyoshi, subject of numerous TV shows since 2006 tracing the drama in the life of his family—a big and complicated one, with a string of wives and 17 children in all, if we're counting right.

ハダカの美奈子 Hadaka no Minako. "Minako Undressed" is the title of a movie released just this month: a fictional account based on the story of Minako, one of the wives of "Big Daddy" above, and the six children she took with her following her divorce.

ふなっしー — Funasshī is one of the most energetic yuru-kyara in the country. While he (she? it?) is the best-known representative of the city of Funabashi, Chiba, there's actually a different official mascot for the municipality. But this rogue creation grew so popular through TV and event appearances that the city eventually had to accept that a leaping, shrieking nashi pear would represent it to the rest of the nation. Funasshī received a formal letter of appreciation from the city government this fall.

フライングゲット Furaingu getto. English vocabulary has been borrowed to create "flying get," meaning "jumping the gun to obtain a product before its official market release." The term has been around for years and became the title of a song by idol group AKB48 in 2011; this year the comedienne Kintarō made it a major part of her AKB48 parody act on TV, bringing it onto this list.

マイナンバー Mai nanbā. A numerical identification system giving all Japanese citizens their own "my number" for taxation and benefit purposes. Efforts to create a unified ID system go back to the late 1960s, when Prime Minister Satō Eisaku tried to establish a system of "player numbers" for everyone in the country. In May this year, though, the Diet finally passed a law to roll out ID numbers beginning in January 2016.

NSC — Japan's version of America's National Security Council will be headed by special cabinet advisor Yachi Shōtarō once its establishment is approved by the Diet.

アベノミクス Abenomikusu, or "Abenomics," is one of the stronger contenders on this list.

3本の矢 Sanbon no ya. The "three arrows" of Abenomics: bold monetary relaxation, flexible application of fiscal stimulus, and a growth strategy aimed at boosting private investment.

集団的自衛権 Shūdanteki jieiken. The right to collective self-defense refers to Japan's ability to engage in combat operations in support of its allies should they come under attack. The traditional interpretation of Article 9 of Japan's Constitution places this off limits, and the current government's efforts to revisit this interpretation are being met with praise from US defense and security officials and unease from Japan's Asian neighbors and domestic pacifists.

特定秘密 Tokutei himitsu. "Specified secrets," or intelligence marked as not for public release. The Abe government is moving to enact a new secrecy law that would expand the scope of the secrecy definition, as well as the government's ability to extend the blackout period. Government claims that this is needed to tighten up Japan's information security are being met by anger from journalists who fear they will not be able to do their jobs as effectively.

汚染水 Osensui. The contaminated water now being collected in massive tanks outside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Numerous leaks of this irradiated water into the soil and ocean have been reported, adding to the criticism aimed at TEPCO's handling of the disaster.

ブラック企業 Burakku kigyō. These "black corporations" are employers noted for their poor treatment of employees. Lists of the blackest of the black are popular reading material among job-seekers who hope to avoid suffering bad work conditions for the sake of a regular paycheck.

限定正社員 Gentei seishain. The traditional idea of the seishain, or regular full-time employee, was of a person with a guaranteed job. But this new "limited regular employee" concept aims to make it easier for employers to take on workers and let them go when they are no longer needed. Enhanced benefits may make it a step up for irregular employees, but people with stable jobs now worry that the "limitations" will be to their job security.

追い出し部屋 Oidashi-beya. The "room for booting people out" is a division within a corporation—almost certainly a black one—where unwanted workers are transferred and left to do mind-numbing drudgery until they quit of their own accord, thus saving the firm the trouble of firing them (and incurring various payments and legal paperwork).

ナチスの手口に学んだら Nachisu no teguchi ni manandara. In a July 29 speech, Asō Tarō spoke of the way in which the Nazis subverted the Weimar Constitution almost without being noticed and took power. His comment on "learning from the methods of the Nazis" was interpreted by LDP opponents to mean that he thought their approach was one to emulate. This may not have been his intended meaning, but the statement was ill-advised in any case.

ネット選挙 Netto senkyo. The first "Internet election," the House of Councillors race in July this year, saw candidates able to use the Internet to reach out to voters for the first time, thanks to an April amendment of the Public Offices Election Law.

アホノミクス Ahonomikusu. Not everyone is a fan of Abenomics. For opponents of the prime minister's economic policy, this term comes in handy: aho, meaning foolish or idiotic, is just the prefix they need in Ahonomics.

引いたら負け Hiitara make. Tōhoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace pitcher Tanaka Masahiro didn't lose a single game this season. After clinching the Pacific League pennant on September 26, he explained why he took his pitches to the strike zone despite the pinch he faced late in the game: "To hold anything back would mean defeat."

二刀流 Nitōryū. In baseball, to "wield two swords" is a rare talent. This year only Ōtani Shōhei, pitcher for the Hokkaidō Nippon Ham Fighters, proved able to both pitch and bat. (Indeed, he debuted in the March season opener as a right fielder.)

スポーツの底力 Supōtsu no sokojikara. Rakuten manager Hoshino Sen'ichi called on the "deep strength of baseball" to inspire his team's fans in the Tōhoku region following the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami disaster. In this list the phrase has been expanded to express the latent power in all sports.

シライ Shirai. Not every gymnast gets a move named after him, but young Shirai Kenzō has already achieved three techniques that bear his name: two floor exercise moves, the Shirai (a back somersault with a quadruple twist layout) and Shirai 2 (a forward somersault with a triple twist layout), and the Shirai/Kim (a vault move involving a Yurchenko triple twist layout), whose name he shares with Korean gymnast Kim Hee Hoon.

お・も・て・な・し O-mo-te-na-shi. The word omotenashi signifies a sense of warm hospitality. With the marks to separate its syllables, though, it calls to mind the presentation by Christel Takigawa at the International Olympic Committee session in Buenos Aires in early September, when Tokyo won the 2020 Olympics. Her drawn-out delivery of the word had much of Japan mimicking her in classrooms and offices for days to come.

コントロールされているKontorōru sareteiru. Another speech at the IOC event came from Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, who stated that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi was "under control." While Tokyo, the host of the games, is not in danger from the nuclear plant, this statement struck many as disingenuous given the steady stream of bad news from the clean-up site.

language Japanese words popular culture Words of the Year