That “Are” Thing Named Word of the Year in Japan for 2023Language
Hanshin Wins the Word Championship Too
On December 1, the publisher Jiyū Kokumin Sha announced the 10 finalists for the words of the year for 2023, along with the winning term. Coming out on top this year was are (アレ), meaning “that thing” (the Central League championship that manager Okada Akinobu wanted to avoid mentioning by name) and also used as an acronym for “Aim, Respect, Empower,” a slogan used by the Hanshin Tigers baseball squad as they powered their way to their first Japan Series win since 1985.
In November we introduced the full list of nominees for this year’s prize. In their comments on the top 10, several members of the selection committee noted that 2023 has been a year when Japan finally came out of the pandemic era and entered a time when more attention could be paid to sports (particularly baseball, heavily represented on the long list this year). The manga artist and columnist Shinsan Nameko (Ikematsu Emi) noted that the first half of the year had been marked by the skyrocketing popularity of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar, who played on Japan’s winning World Baseball Classic squad, and the second half by the exploits of Los Angeles Angels double-threat Ohtani Shōhei, who made a splash with his second selection as American League MVP and his appearance with his pet dog.
The comedian Patrick Harlan underlined the theme that Japan was ending its pandemic solitude and getting out once more, commenting on the numerous nominees that indicated a growing willingness to go out and be active in society—even some negative ones, like the itadaki joshi “it’s all mine girls” preying on older men for a financial windfall.
Both the essayist and actress Muroi Shigeru and the manga artist Yaku Mitsuru, meanwhile, noted the absence of one term many had expected to appear on the nominee list: 増税メガネ (zōzei megane, the “tax-hiking guy in glasses”), a name scornfully applied to Prime Minister Kishida Fumio by people unhappy to see burdens growing in an era of stagnant wages.
The Winning Word of 2023
アレ — Are; ARE. This slogan for the Hanshin Tigers this season came from manager Okada Akinobu, who took the team to its first Central League title in 18 years. The letters stand for “Aim, Respect, and Empower,” terms meant to propel the team toward greatness, but also form the Japanese term are (“that thing”), which Okada used in place of “the league championship” in pep talks to keep players’ minds on the immediate task at hand.
新しい学校のリーダーズ／首振りダンス — Atarashii gakkō no rīdāzu/Kubifuri dansu. The musical group Atarashii Gakkō no Leaders, four young women dressed in school uniforms, styled themselves as the “representatives of Japanese youth” this year. In the music video for the 2023 “Otona Blue,” the Atarashii Gakkō members display the “head-bobbing dance” move that earned them significant fame on TikTok and helped catapult them to domestic fame after they had already made a splash in international markets.
OSO18／アーバンベア — OSO18/Āban bea. A male brown bear codenamed OSO18 was responsible for attacks on 66 cattle in Hokkaidō from 2019 to June 2023, when it was shot to death. The elusive aggressor was even hard to capture on video for most of that period. Meanwhile, the increasing appearances of the animals in built-up areas has led to more use of the term “urban bears.”
蛙化現象 — Kaeruka genshō. The “turning into a frog phenomenon” is a phrase that originated in a psychology paper, detailing how a long-term romantic crush can suddenly cool off the moment the other shows an interest. It is a negative play on the happy transformation seen in the fairy tale “The Frog Prince.” In a twist on the original meaning, the phrase took off this year among young people to describe how, for example, minor quirks of behavior in a partner can lead to an instant loss of attraction.
生成AI — Seisei AI. This year saw the release of a succession of tools that can create, for example, text and images based on learning from models. This “generative AI” sparked much talk in Japan, as elsewhere in the world.
地球沸騰化 — Chikyū futtōka. This term, meaning “global boiling,” comes from a speech by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Referring to forecasts that July 2023 was set to break global heat records, he stated that “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”
ペッパーミル・パフォーマンス — Peppāmiru pafōmansu. Lars Nootbaar thrilled Japanese baseball fans with his play in the World Baseball Classic. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, whose mother is Japanese, helped Samurai Japan claim its third WBC title, with his trademark pepper-mill performance becoming the go-to celebration when the Japanese lineup was grinding out hits.
観る将 — Miru shō. This term combines the verb “to watch” with the first kanji in the word shōgi and describes fans who, drawn by the exploits of Fujii Sōta, enjoy viewing matches but do not necessarily play the game themselves.
闇バイト — Yami baito. These “dark part-time jobs” have garnered the attention of authorities and the public following a spate of shocking robberies and other crimes. Criminal groups have turned to recruiting on the internet and through social media, casually drawing young people with promises of lucrative, short-term jobs that turn out to involve crimes, such as robbery or fraud.
4年ぶり／声出し応援 — 4 nen buri/Koedashi ōen. Following the lowering of COVID-19 restrictions, many festivals, fireworks shows, and other annual events resumed “after four years” of being put on hold. Sports fans were especially thrilled as leagues allowed spectators at stadiums to once again chant and “cheer aloud” at the top of their voices.
Special Judges’ Prize
アイム・ウェアリング・パンツ! — I’m wearing pants! Something of a one-trick pony on Japanese TV, the comedian Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura took his “Don’t worry, I have underpants on!” act—in which he strikes poses that make him appear nude, before smiling and announcing his signature phrase—to the global stage, appearing on Britain’s Got Talent almost a decade after first appearing in Japan’s Words of the Year in 2015.
(Originally written in English. Banner photo: Hanshin Tigers manager Okada Akinobu announcing his team’s slogan for the 2023 season in November 2022. © Jiji.)