This Year in Japanese

Pay It Forward: The Top New Japanese Words for 2019

Culture Language Society

Japan’s dictionary publishers pick 2019’s new words with a chance of sticking around in popular usage in the Japanese language.

Taxing Times Shape the Language

Taxation had a surprising influence on the Japanese language in 2019, as seen in the words of the year chosen in early December by two of Japan’s top dictionary publishers. October’s consumption tax hike was offset by discounts and reward points for shoppers using cashless payment, giving such systems a major boost. By the end of 2019, Line Pay, first released in 2014, was jostling with similar services like PayPay, Amazon Pay, Origami Pay, Rakuten Pay, FamiPay, and Yūcho Pay. The conspicuous resemblance in their names led publisher Sanseidō to name the suffix –pei as its word of the year.

The new standard consumption tax rate is 10%, but in the two-tiered system, some items like food are still taxed at the former 8% rate. While takeout food is also 8%, the rate for dining in on-site eating spaces is 10%, whether the food is consumed at a fine restaurant or a convenience store eat-in space—something hard for many to accept. Thus, the phenomenon emerged of paying 8% at the convenience store cash register, as if to take out, and then taking one’s food to the eat-in space anyway. This action, dubbed īto-in datsuzei, or “eat-in tax evasion,” was picked as word of the year by the publisher Shōgakukan. It may seem trivial or petty to dodge taxation of a few yen, but after the hike, money does not go as far as it used to.

Japan’s first ever hosting of the Rugby World Cup threw the spotlight on the sport, winning fresh, fervent interest from people who previously knew little about it. There was some condescension shown toward the niwaka fan, or “fair-weather fans,” and Shōgakukan chose this word as a runner-up. Sanseidō, meanwhile, had the first part of the phrase niwaka—literally “sudden”—in second place. Incidentally, there were also many longstanding supporters who extended a warm welcome to rugby newbies.

Sanseidō’s Top 10 New Words of the Year for 2019

  1. ―ペイ–Pei. The suffix “pay” is commonly seen in the names of smartphone cashless payment services.
  2. にわかNiwaka. The “sudden” emergence of numerous rugby fans during the World Cup hosted in Japan prompted much usage of this word.
  3. あおり運転Aori unten. Loosely translated as “reckless driving,” this term refers to tailgating and other malicious activities that may result in serious accidents.
  4. 反社Hansha. This abbreviation of hanshakaiteki seiryoku (反社会的勢力), often rendered euphemistically in English as “antisocial forces,” refers to organized crime gangs.
  5. サブスクSabusuku. A shortened form of “subscription,” as seen for increasingly popular music and video streaming services.
  6. 電凸Dentotsu. A portmanteau combining denwa (telephone) and totsugeki (attack) that means an organized campaign of aggressive telephone calls. It was particularly associated in 2019 with protests against an art exhibition in Nagoya that featured a statue representing wartime “comfort women.”
  7. カスハラKasuhara. When customer complaints go too far, they become “customer harassment,” which this word abbreviates. Bullying of service employees made headlines during the year, adding another hara to the list workers face, including sekuhara (sexual harassment) and pawahara (“power harassment,” or abuse of authority in the workplace).
  8. 垂直避難Suichoku hinan. “Vertical evacuation” may be advisable during a disaster, whether moving to a higher floor of a building before a tsunami or during flooding, or going down to the first floor when there is seismic disturbance or a fire.
  9. 置き配Okihai. Overloaded delivery companies are starting to offer “doorstep delivery,” where parcels can be placed in a designated spot when the customer is not there to receive them.
  10. ASMR. — There has been global interest in “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which is said to be a soothing, tingling sensation in the head triggered by auditory and visual cues.

Shōgakukan’s Top New Words of the Year for 2019

イートイン脱税Īto-in datsuzei [Winner]. Practitioners of “eat-in tax evasion” buy convenience store food taxed at 8%, as if they are planning to take it out, but then proceed to chow down in the eat-in space, meaning that they should have paid 10% consumption tax.

にわかファンNiwaka fan [Runner-up]. Japan had many “fair-weather fans,” whose enthusiasm for rugby came out of nowhere during the World Cup.

闇営業Yami eigyō [Runner-up]. The “shady business” of various comedians who earned extra cash by performing for groups of gangsters was big news in Japan in 2019.

(Originally published in Japanese on December 10, 2019. Banner photo: At a December 3 Tokyo event, Sanseidō announces its winner of the word of 2019 as the suffix –pei.)

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