This Year in Japanese

The Words of 2015

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 2015 was for Japan.

As we head toward the end of 2015, it’s once again time for the publisher Jiyū Kokumin Sha to release its list of 50 nominees for “most popular word of the year.” Best known for its popular annual reference Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (Basic Knowledge on Contemporary Terminology), the company each November selects a set of terms that have had an impact on the Japanese popular consciousness over the previous year.

For 2015, the list includes terms from pop culture, including video games, anime, and television shows. It also draws heavily from the nation's tumultuous political scene, with many entries touching on the government's moves to extend Japan's security capabilities and the protests this triggered.

Below we list all 50 nominees and give brief descriptions of their meanings and significance. The finalists and champion will be announced on Tuesday, December 1.

爆買い Bakugai. “Explosive buying” by burgeoning numbers of Chinese tourists in Japan has buoyed the retail sector. Drug stores, electronics shops, and department stores have come to rely increasingly on this spending to improve their bottom lines.

Busloads of tourists flock to Japan’s electronics shops and other outlets, often buying additional suitcases to carry their purchases back home. (© Jiji Photo)

インバウンド Inbaundo. With total foreign tourist numbers set to approach 20 million in 2015—well ahead of 2020, the year set by the government to hit this target—the Japanese economy has been boosted by these “inbound” visitors.

▼Further reading
The Words of 2013
The complete list of nominees for 2013. For the winners, see 2013: The Winning Words.

刀剣女子 Tōken joshi. The online video game Tōken ranbu (Wild Swords Dance), with its handsome virtual warriors, has won droves of “sword girls.” These female fans are also flocking in growing numbers to view swords on display in museums.

ラブライバー Raburaibā. “Love Livers” are devotees of the Love Live! anime, which features schoolgirls who become pop idols. The more hardcore fans have drawn attention for adorning themselves with countless buttons and other merchandise.

アゴクイ Agokui. A light “raising of the chin,” commonly seen in anime and manga as a prelude to a kiss, became a romantic ideal. The pose seems like one possible follow-up to kabe don, a 2014 nominee, the “pounding the wall” pose a man strikes to keep the woman from getting away from his romantic advances.

ドラゲナイ Doragenai. The hit song by Sekai no Owari, “Dragon Night,” gained this nickname in online communities due to the singer’s pronunciation.

プロ彼女 Puro kanojo. Magazine Vivi sparked a storm of protest with its tips on how to be a “professional girlfriend” in a feature article seen as perpetuating outdated gender roles.

ラッスンゴレライ Rassun gorerai. The novelty song by comedy duo 8.6-Second Bazooka, titled with the nonsensical words “Rassun gorerai,” won fans this year.

あったかいんだからぁ Attakaindakarā. Another comedy pairing, Kumamushi, came up with this song whose title means “Because It’s Warm,” winning the duo success in the music world as well.

はい、論破! Hai, ronpa! The phrase “That’s it! Your argument fails!” comes from a sarcastic boss character on the variety show Tsūkai TV sukatto Japan (Thrilling TV, Refreshing Japan). It was one of the year’s most popular ways of winning debates on school playgrounds.

安心してください(穿いてますよ) Anshin shite kudasai (haitemasu yo). As Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura translates his own popular catchphrase into English in a video where he strikes numerous poses seemingly in the nude, “Don’t worry, I’m wearing.” Yes, he does have underpants on.

福山ロス(ましゃロス) Fukuyama rosu (Masha rosu). Fukuyama Masaharu, known affectionately as Masha, finally married at the age of 46 to actress Fukiishi Kazue, leaving female fans with a sense of “Fukuyama loss.” This loss term follows the selection of Tamorosu, lamenting the end of veteran comedian Tamori’s program Waratte ii tomo, in 2014 and Amarosu, following the end of popular drama Ama-chan, in 2013.

まいにち、修造! Mainichi, Shūzō! Former tennis player Matsuoka Shūzō has gained fame since leaving the sport for his high-energy encouragement of fans and TV viewers. In this book, which became a mega-bestseller with a title meaning “Shūzō, Every Day,” he provides daily pick-me-ups for readers.

火花 Hibana. Comedian Matayoshi Naoki displayed his literary chops by winning the Akutagawa Prize in July for the novel Hibana (Spark), which has also racked up impressive sales figures.

結果にコミットする Kekka ni komitto suru. Advertisements for the fitness chain Rizap were inescapable on the country’s TV stations and billboards in 2015. This slogan, “committed to results,” caused some confusion and discussion, as the word “commit” is not common in Japanese.

Japanese rugby star Gorōmaru Ayumu strikes his famous pose before attempting a goal kick in the October 11 match against the United States. (© Jiji)

五郎丸ポーズ Gorōmaru pōzu. Gorōmaru Ayumu was one of the stars of Japan’s impressive showing at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, scoring 24 points in a historic victory against South Africa. The fullback’s stance before kicking, with his hands together and both index fingers pointing upward, became famous as the “Gorōmaru pose.”

トリプルスリー Toripuru surī. In 2015, both Yamada Tetsuto of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Yanagita Yuki of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks achieved the “triple three” of a batting average of .300 or higher and at least 30 home runs and stolen bases in one season.

1億総活躍社会 Ichioku sōkatsuyaku shakai. A new slogan adopted by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō pictured an ideal Japan as a “society in which 100 million people can be active,” but drew criticism for calling to mind wartime propaganda that also used the “100 million people” phrase.

エンブレム Enburemu. The logo or “emblem” for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, created by designer Sano Kenjirō, was scrapped on September 1 following accusations that he had plagiarized the logo for a Belgian theater company.

上級国民 Jōkyū kokumin. In scrapping the logo, the Olympic committee said that while its members understood that designer Sano Kenjirō had not plagiarized the design, there were concerns that ordinary citizens would not. This brought satirical online responses about how “superior citizens” were supporting Sano.

白紙撤回 Hakushi tekkai. Other Olympic woes had come earlier in the summer with the abandonment of the original design for the National Stadium due to spiraling costs. Prime Minister Abe announced the government would “go back to the drawing board.”

I am Kenji — Journalist Gotō Kenji was one of two Japanese hostages executed by the radical group Daesh (the self-described Islamic State) in 2015. During negotiations for his release after the death of the first hostage, Yukawa Haruna, the slogan “I am Kenji” became a way of showing support.

I am not Abe — Stemming from criticism of the Prime Minister’s increasingly active Middle East policy, the slogan “I am not Abe” gradually took on a more general meaning. It famously appeared on a sign held up to the camera by the government critic Koga Shigeaki on his final appearance on a popular TV news program.

粛々と Shuku shuku to. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide’s repeated comments that work on relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma would proceed “steadily, as planned” were criticized by Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi, who opposes the move.

切れ目のない対応 Kireme no nai taiō. The Liberal Democratic Party aimed to create security legislation that would allow “seamless response” to a range of situations, from peacetime to contingencies.

存立危機事態 Sonritsu kiki jitai. Japan and the United States revised their defense cooperation guidelines in April. One major change in the new guidelines allows Japan limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense in “situations presenting threats to survival” of the nation.

駆けつけ警護 Kaketsuke keigo. The ability to offer “armed assistance to remote locations” is another feature of the government’s revised approach to appropriate use of the Self-Defense Forces. Japanese soldiers would be able to come to the aid of United Nations or NGO personnel in cases where their safety was ensured and they were able to respond more quickly than the security forces of the country in question or other military forces.

国民の理解が深まっていない Kokumin no rikai ga fukamatteinai. “The Japanese people’s understanding remains shallow” of the government’s aims in revising security policy, stated Prime Minister Abe during Diet proceedings. This brought him in for fresh criticism from opponents of the proposed security bills, who noted his own responsibility to provide the explanation needed to deepen that understanding.

レッテル貼り Retteru hari. This term appeared frequently in speeches by the prime minister, who blasted his opponents for “mindlessly labeling” him as a militarist for his administration’s package of security bills.

テロに屈しない Tero ni kusshinai. There would be “no giving in to terrorism,” stated government officials in response to ransom demands for the Japanese citizens held captive in Syria.

早く質問しろよ Hayaku shitsumon shiro yo. On May 28, Prime Minister Abe heckled Democratic Party of Japan legislator Tsujimoto Kiyomi as she spoke in the Diet, yelling at her to “Hurry up and get to your question.” He formally apologized for this outburst on June 1.

アベ政治を許さない Abe seiji o yurusanai. There was “no forgiving Abe’s government,” according to the many protestors who gathered in central Tokyo on a weekly basis to march against the security bills and urge legislators to protect the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution.

戦争法案 Sensō hōan. The bills to amend Japan’s security legislation were little more than “war bills,” according to these protestors.

Protestors gather in front of the National Diet on September 18. (© Jiji)

自民党、感じ悪いよね Jimintō, kanji warui yo ne. Anti-Abe citizens got into the act online as well, taking the phrase “the Liberal Democratic Party sure is creepy” as fodder for countless memes on social media.

シールズ — SEALDs. The Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy describes itself as “a platform of emergency actions by students to protect a free and democratic Japan.” Members of this group were key organizers of the series of protests against the security bills passed by the Diet in September.

とりま、廃案 Torima, haian. Shorthand for toriaezu, mā, haian, meaning “well, the first step has got to be rejecting these bills,” this slogan appeared on many signs at the summer’s protests, often in combination with speech bubbles shouting sore na, “yeah, that’s the ticket.”

大阪都構想 Ōsaka-to kōsō. This plan would reorganize the city of Osaka into special wards like those seen in central Tokyo, doing away with overlapping government functions at the city and prefectural levels in Osaka and bringing about an “Osaka Metropolis” similar to the nation’s capital. A proposal to carry out this scheme was narrowly defeated by Osaka voters in a May 17 referendum.

▼Further reading
The Words of 2014
All 50 nominees for 2014. For the winners, see 2014: The Winning Words.

マイナンバー Mai nanbā. Appearing on the 2013 list of candidate words as well, this numerical identification system gives all residents their own “my number” for taxation and benefit purposes. ID numbers are now being distributed to all citizens and long-term foreign residents of Japan.

下流老人 Karyū rōjin. The title of a popular book by social welfare worker Fujita Takanori, who addressed the issue of the “downwardly mobile elderly” with low standards of living. Some estimate that millions of Japanese belong to this group of impoverished seniors.

チャレンジ Charenji. The “challenge” concept is a centerpiece of Prime Minister Abe’s plans for 100 million active members of society. The government seeks to craft policies that will let people take on entrepreneurial and other challenges without fear that they or their families will fall through society’s cracks if they fail.

オワハラ Owahara. The problem of companies applying pressure on job-hunters to stop seeking work in exchange for informal job offers has become known as “ending [job-hunting] harassment.”

スーパームーン Sūpāmūn. A full moon that coincides with the satellite’s perigee, when it comes closest to the Earth, is called a “supermoon.” There were three supermoons in 2015—or six, if new moons are also included in the definition—with the September 27–28 supermoon also featuring a total lunar eclipse in the Americas.

北陸新幹線 Hokuriku shinkansen. A new extension to Japan’s famous high-speed rail network, the Hokuriku shinkansen, connecting Tokyo to Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, began commercial service in March.

ドローン Dorōn. In April a "drone" was discovered on the roof of the prime minister’s residence, having been flown there by a protester against nuclear power. Signs banning drones are now a common sight in the parks of Tokyo.

ミニマリスト Minimarisuto. The word “minimalist” here refers particularly to those people who limit home furnishings to only what is necessary. There is considerable overlap here with the satori sedai, the “enlightened generation” eschewing conspicuous consumption that appeared on the 2013 Words of the Year list.

ルーティン Rūtin. Rugby player Gorōmaru Ayumu had the most famous “routine” this year in Japan, including the pose described above in his build-up to taking kicks.

モラハラ Morahara. A shortened form of “moral harassment,” which is associated with workplace bullying in English, the word hit the headlines in Japan when Mifune Mika, daughter of Mifune Toshirō, used it as a reason for suing for divorce from rock singer husband Takahashi Jōji.

フレネミー Furenemī. The recent English portmanteau “frenemy”—describing friends who are also rivals, or enemies who pretend to be friends—proved popular in Japan too this year.

サードウェーブコーヒー Sādo uēbu kōhī. Like their counterparts around the world, Japanese java drinkers are increasingly interested in enjoying fine-quality “third-wave coffee.”

おにぎらずOnigirazu. A twist on the traditional onigiri rice ball, the difference being that these snacks are “not packed by hand.”

language Japanese words popular culture Words of the Year