This Year in Japanese

Anime, Baseball, COVID, and More: The ABCs of This Year’s Most Popular Japanese Terms


The lighthearted joy of baseball fans and heavier topics like economic woes and troubling ties between politics and religion all informed this year’s most popular words and phrases in the Japanese language. A look at the list of this year’s nominees.

What People Are Talking About

Jiyū Kokumin Sha on November 4 announced its nominees for the words or phrases of the year for 2022. The publisher of Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (Basic Knowledge on Contemporary Terminology), an annual guide to the latest terms in use in the Japanese language, has made this widely watched contest a key part of its publicity efforts, and once again picked 30 terms that have become an integral part of the Japanese language this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic once again inspired many of the terms on the list, from the “omicron strain” of the virus to “face underwear,” a term for the surgical masks that remained de rigueur in 2022. Baseball, though, was a significant presence on the list, with Japan’s Major League slugger/pitcher Ohtani Shōhei making an appearance, alongside domestic stars like home-run king Murakami Munetaka and the “Big Boss” himself, former player and current manager of the Hokkaidō Nippon Ham Fighters Shinjō Tsuyoshi, also making the list. Economic woes, political turmoil, and popular entertainment all show up among the words, making this a comprehensive set of the words on everyone’s lips in 2022.

Below is the list of all 30 nominated terms or phrases, along with our brief explanations. The finalists and the winning word (or words) for the year will be announced on December 1, Japan time.

Nominees for the Words of 2022

インティマシー・コーディネーター — Intimashī kōdinētā. These “intimacy coordinators” work on film and TV sets, bringing a specialized approach to the problem of building trust and ensuring consensual agreements among actors and directing staff when scenes call for highly sexual content.

インボイス制度 — Inboisu seido. The calculation and reporting regimes for Japan’s consumption tax are set to change from October 2023, with an “invoice system” requiring business operators to issue and retain qualified invoices to ensure more accurate tracking of tax collection and payment. The new system is expected to present small businesses in particular with fresh reporting and record-keeping burdens, and has been criticized as hard to understand.

大谷ルール — Ōtani rūru. Ohtani Shōhei, the Los Angeles Angels slugger/pitcher double threat, enjoyed the creation of a new “Ohtani rule” freeing him from a previous Major League Baseball requirement that a pitcher shift to another defensive position in order to remain in the batting order after being pulled from the mound. Ohtani and other pitchers can now remain in the lineup as designated hitters even if they do not take the field on defense.

オーディオブック — Ōdiobukku. “Audiobooks” have gradually gained popularity among Japanese readers, particularly during the smartphone era, when more and more readers are opting to listen to their titles while commuting or doing household chores. Mimikatsu, “ear-based activities” aimed at self-improvement through consumption of language-learning or current-affairs content, was another buzzword during the year.

OBN. The ōrudo bōizu nettowāku, “old boys’ network,” refers as in other countries to the webs of personal relationships, mainly among men, shaping workplace culture and determining winners in the corporate and governmental worlds. In organizations where OBNs wield particularly strong influence, decisions can be made behind closed doors, leaving women out of the process entirely, some point out.

オミクロン株 — Omikuron kabu. The “omicron strain” of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first detected in November 2021 in South Africa. Considered more virulent than previous strains, it triggered the sixth wave of COVID-19 infections in Japan, although its heightened capacity for spreading was offset by the reduced severity of symptoms in patients contracting it.

顔パンツ — Kao pantsu. The term “face underwear” appeared as an expression of the idea that appearing in public without a mask on one’s face was embarrassing in the pandemic era.

ガチ中華 — Gachi Chūka. The phrase 街中華 (machi Chūka), meaning “your friendly neighborhood Chinese restaurant,” has gained currency recently as a description of the ramen-and-fried-rice places that cater to Japanese tastes. Gachi Chūka, meanwhile, are the gachi, or “full-on,” restaurants to be found in Ikebukuro and other districts where Chinese gather to enjoy their own country’s cuisine. Such restaurants are increasingly popular in a time when travel abroad is less possible.

キーウ — Kīu. The Ukrainian capital once commonly spelled as “Kiev” is now Kyiv, a rendering more in line with its pronunciation in the Ukrainian language. As the Russian invasion of the country drags on, the city has been more in the news than ever, and Japanese media outlets have changed their katakana representation of its name from キエフ (Kiefu) to this new version.

きつねダンス — Kitsune dansu. The Hokkaidō Nippon Ham Fighters cheerleading squad, the “Fighters Girls,” performed this “fox dance” to the tune of the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis’s 2013 hit “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).” The dance moves and catchy music were a smash hit at the ballpark, where fans were out of their seats to join in the moves during Fighters home games.

国葬儀 — Kokusōgi. “State funerals” were in the news this year when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided that former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō would receive one. The prewar State Funeral Order, which specified such ceremonies for emperors and empresses, along with suitable personages nominated by the prime minister, became invalid in 1947, and the present Constitution offers no basis for them in the modern era. There have nevertheless been a handful of state funerals for prime ministers, with Abe’s the latest. (This term was also in the news in connection with the rites for Queen Elizabeth II.)

こども家庭庁 — Kodomo katei chō. The “Agency for Children and Families” is slated to begin operations in April 2023 as a new external organ of the Cabinet Secretariat. June this year saw enactment of a new Children’s Basic Law, spelling out fundamental principles for protecting children’s rights. Observers note that as the Education Ministry retains oversight of children’s education, this new agency represents a vertically divided approach to administration in the area of young people’s interests.

宗教2世 — Shūkyō 2-sei. “Second-generation believers” are the children born to members of certain religions; they are raised in an environment strongly colored by the faith and beliefs of their parents and other family members. The sociologist and religious studies specialist Tsukada Hotaka coined the term, which has come into wider use in the wake of former Prime Minister Abe’s killing; the gunman arrested at the scene states that his mother was deeply involved in the Unification Church, whose ties with Abe apparently moved him to carry out the shooting.

知らんけど — Shiran kedo. Meaning “I guess,” or “it’s not like I know anyway,” this phrase, tossed out at the end of a statement, is a way to evade responsibility for the content of what the speaker just said. Widely used by Japanese speakers in the Kansai region in recent years, it made its way to Tokyo and elsewhere in Kantō, where young people in particular have taken to it as a way to turn the entire thrust of the argument presented so far on its ear.

Spy × Family. Endō Tatsuya’s manga series kicked off in March 2019, and was brought to the small screen as an anime series in April this year. A master spy pursues his target through the creation of a fake family, with the daughter enrolled in the same school as the child of the politician in question, but unbeknown to him, his new wife is a top assassin, and the adopted child has telepathic abilities letting her see both her adoptive parents’ true natures. The comedic touches in the plot and a number of popular catch-phrases made Spy Family one of the year’s big hits.

スマホショルダー — Sumaho shorudā. These over-the-shoulder carrying cases for smartphones were popular items among people of all ages. Types range from simple covers to those with multiple pockets that double as a wallet or small bag.

青春って、すごく密なので — Seishuntte, sugoku mitsu nanode. Residents of Japan have been urged during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid san mitsu, or the “three Cs” of confined and enclosed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings. Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School baseball coach Sue Wataru, however, highlighted the strain this has been on younger generations when he stated poignantly that “youth is up close and personal” in an interview after the team became the first school from the Tōhoku region ever to win the prestigious summer national baseball championship.

#ちむどんどん反省会 — #Chimu dondon hanseikai. This hashtag was popular among fans of public broadcaster NHK’s morning drama Chimu dondon who wanted to stay abreast of the latest thrilling developments via “follow-up meetings” after each new episode of the show. The drama followed a young Okinawan woman as she navigates a steady stream of trials and tribulations, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

丁寧な説明 — Teinei na setsumei. A “thorough and careful explanation” is what Prime Minister Kishida Fumio promised to provide the public concerning the decision to hold a state funeral for former premier Abe Shinzō, which drew backlash from many circles of society.

てまえどり — Temaedori. This movement to reduce food loss urges shoppers to choose perishable items at the front of display shelves, which are typically nearer their expiration date than those at the back, if they intend to consume them shortly after purchase. The phrase combines the words temae (in front of) and toru (to take).

ヌン活 — Nunkatsu. Enjoying a luxurious afternoon tea at a swanky hotel was all the rage among certain sets of people. The trend was in part a reaction to feelings of confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, with individuals looking be more “active” (katsu) in the afternoon (nun, from “noon”).

Big Boss. Japanese baseball legend Shinjō Tsuyoshi gave himself this moniker upon his return to Nippon Professional Baseball as the manager of the struggling Hokkaidō Nippon Ham Fighters.

村神様 — Murakami-sama. Yakult Swallows slugger Murakami Munetaka had a stellar season, smacking 56 home runs and becoming the youngest player ever to claim the triple crown, consisting of highest batting average, most home runs, and most runs batted in. Fans of the 22-year old eagerly discussed his godlike performance on social media, swapping the last character of his family name 村上 with 神(kami), meaning “deity,” and adding the honorific title sama for extra impact.

メタバース — Metabāsu. Metaverse services, which convergence virtually enhanced physical and digital realities, are receiving growing attention as Japan boosts investment in Web3 and other IT technologies in an attempt to realize a digital transformation.

ヤー!パワー! — Yā! Pawā! Comedian Nakayama Kinnikun drew followers to his TikTok account with videos featuring his energetically delivered catch phrase “Ya, Power!”

ヤクルト1000 — Yakuruto 1000. The probiotic drink Yakult 1000 has been a runaway hit since becoming widely available at stores in October 2021. Containing a distinct strain of lactic acid bacteria, it has steadily garnered new converts who claim it has such health benefits as lowering stress and improving sleep.

リスキリング — Risukiringu. Reskilling, particularly in IT and other digital fields, is gaining attention at companies looking to train employees to different jobs and among workers wanting to boost or change their careers.

ルッキズム — Rukkizumu. “Lookism,” the tendency to judge others by their appearance or physical characteristics, is a growing concern in society, particularly on social media, where negative comments and other abuse aimed at a user can do serious harm.

令和の怪物 — Reiwa no kaibutsu. Fans of Lotte Marines pitching phenomenon Sasaki Rōki dubbed him the “monster of Reiwa” after the current era name for his exploits on the mound. On April 10, he threw the first perfect game in Japan in 28 years, becoming the youngest Nippon Professional Baseball player to achieve the feat. He nearly accomplished a record repeat in his next appearance on the mound, but was pulled by the manager at the end of the eighth inning to protect his pitching arm.

悪い円安 —Warui en-yasu. Finance Minister Suzuki Shun’ichi declared the weakening yen as “bad” for the Japanese as economic factors like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased uncertainty around the globe. The currency fell to a 32-year low against the US dollar, venturing into the ¥150 range briefly in October. The yen’s rapid decline has worsened inflation, impacting household budgets by pushing up the cost of things like energy and daily necessities.

(Originally written in English. Banner photo, clockwise from left: the Fighters “fox dance,” © Jiji; Murakami Munetaka celebrates his fifty-sixth homer, © Jiji; a woman in “face underwear,” © Pixta; Abe Shinzō’s state funeral, © Jiji; the yen falls to under 150 to the dollar, © Jiji; a bottle of Yakult 1000, © Kyōdō Images.)

Japanese Words of the Year language