The word of the year 2021: Shohei Ohtani

The words of the year in Japan

2023 Japanese Buzzword: Baseball

⏱ 13 minutes

How did the Japanese perceive 2022? Let's look for hints with the Word of the Year selection, unveiled each early December by Jiyû Kokuminsha, the publisher of the annual Gendai Yôgo no Kiso Chishiki ("Encyclopedia of contemporary words") in association with U-Can, another publisher and provider of distance education courses. Since 1984, about thirty words are analyzed, among which ten of them are chosen at the end of the year to constitute the U-Can shingo-ryûkô go top 10 ("U-Can Top 10 of neologisms and trend words").

The jury was composed of six panelists: intellectuals from the academic world, arts, press and entertainment sectors, and Jiyû Kokuminsha’s encyclopedia publication director. The 10 words or expressions of the final ranking are chosen for what they show of Japanese society at the moment.

True to the tradition set over the previous years, 2023 is highlighting baseball again. Societal questions hold a bigger share in the selected words, in the wake of the several sexual assaults scandals in the entertainment industry and even in the Self-Defense Forces. Meanwhile, political topics are of a lesser importance, and the word count linked to lighter topics is growing.

アレ(A.R.E.) is the word of the year 2023

The word of the year is related to baseball the national sport again. It is the slogan of the Hanshin Tigers (formerly Osaka Tigers), the team who won the Japanese championship after a long period without victory since 1985. The letters A.R.E are an acronym for "Aim Respect Empower" and can either be spelled in English or said in Japanese are (this, that), allowing for various puns.

The rest of the Top 10: an eclectic selection

2. 新しい学校のリーダーズ/首振りダンス (Atarashii gakkô no leaders / Kubifuri dance)

The second place is awarded to Atarashii gakkô no leaders, a band of 4 young women dressed as high school girls. Their catchy song, OTONABLUE, reminding of the end of the 1980s’ pop music, has become popular on the social networks and especially on TikTok whose users have fun reenacting the "head dance" (kubifuri dance). The music video’s aesthetics is reminiscent of the 1960s, a period of the Showa Era stirring nostalgic feelings for a lot of Japanese people.

3. OSO18/アーバンベア (Oso Jûhachi / Urban Bear)

OSO 18 is the code name of a bear responsible for multiple cattle attacks in Hokkaido. It was also nicknamed "ninja bear" due to its skills to avoid human scrutiny and traps. It was eventually shot in August, but its journey is symbolic of the behavior change of these wild animals that are increasingly roaming closer to urbanized areas, creating the urban bear phenomenon, fostered by the decrease of human population. As a matter of fact, 2023 set a new record in the number of bears attacks on humans.

4. 蛙化現象 (Kaeru-ka genshô)

This term, literally meaning "turning into frog phenomenon", is inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s tale The Frog Prince, and is about the sudden disappearance of feelings for a loved one due to a trivial reason. This expression seems to be used a lot by the younger generation, who mainly had virtual relationships during the Covid years : they then tend to idealize the Other and to be quickly disappointed when they spend time with them in the real life.

5. 生成AI(Seisei AI)

"Generated by Artificial Intelligence" is highlighting the progresses of the AI in 2023, as it has become able to answer questions, write stories, even taking up the fields of art, cinema and music. The use of an AI certainly has convenient aspects, but it raises more fundamental questions regarding the place of humankind or the risk of spreading fake news through the social networks.

6. 地球沸騰化 (Chikyû futtôka)

Chikyû futtôka is the Japanese translation of "climate breakdown", a term coined by UN chief António Guterres, after the release of environmental experts’ papers showing that July and August 2023 were the hottest months ever recorded. Overall, and despite a steady communication on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Japanese society doesn’t seem very concerned by ecology. However, summer 2023’s unusual heats that lasted through autumn 🍁 may help raising awareness.

7. ペッパーミル・パフォーマンス (Pepper mill performance)

The Pepper Mill Performance is the celebration gesture of Lars Nootbaar, a player of the national baseball team Samurai Japan. After each decisive action of his teammates, he is doing hand gesture as if using a pepper mill to remind them not to relax and continue to "grind". Samurai Japan’s fans love to imitate this celebration gesture.

8. 観る将 (Miru shô)

In 2023, the audience of shôgi competitions, a traditional board game akin to chess, has significantly increased. "Shôgi spectators" indulge in their passion thanks to TV or internet 📶 broadcasting, sometimes live. This enthusiasm has been spurred by Sôta Fujii – also selected in the 30 words of the year – and his record-breaking performances as the youngest prodigy of this discipline.

9. 闇バイト (Yami baito)

Yami baito is part-time job advertised on the social networks as highly paid with a minimal effort. It is actually a scam and the people who are "offered" the job are in fact forced to engage partly or fully in a criminal activity (phone scam, robbery…). Targets of the Yami baito are usually the younger ones like high school or university students, who are either naive, little scrupulous or in a dire financial situation.

10. 4年ぶり/声出し応援 (Yon nen buri / Koe dashi ôen)

The "4 years [without] loud cheering" have ended in spring 🌸 2023, when sport supporters were allowed to resume their ways to encourage their teams as per usual before Covid: shouts, songs and choreographies. The traditional matsuri were also allowed to be held without restriction.

Special Prize: I'm wearing pants!(アイム・ウェアリング・パンツ)

It is Japanese comedian Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura’s gimmick. He made an international impression during the show Britain’s Got Talent with a sketch he has been performing for about 10 years: only wearing a skin-tone underwear with a cherry blossom pattern, he strikes various poses that let viewers think he is naked, then he shouts (in English) "don’t worry, I’m wearing" while showing his "cloth". Yasumura has already been featured in 2015’s U-can Top 10 for the same show, in Japanese.

Sport and society

Sport remains a strong asset of the Japanese buzzwords. Besides the 3 words chosen in the Top 10, the selected words also included 憧れるのをやめましょう (Akogareru no wo yamemashô), Shohei Ohtani’s pep talk to his Samurai Japan’s teammates during the World Baseball Classic, won by Japan in 2023 for the 3rd time in its history. He encourages them to set aside their admiration for the adverse team in order to surpass them and win. The sports category can be enlarged with shôgi, already mentioned earlier with Miru shô and 藤井八冠 (Fujii Hachikan, "8-Crowns Fujii"). Sôta Fujii (born in 2002) is a prodigy shôgi player who won his 8th major title in the professional competition in October 2023, an all-time first in his field.

The topic of the Coronavirus 🦠 is about to disappear, only mentioned 2 times with Yon nen buri / Koe dashi ôen and 5類 (Go rui) to highlight its shifting from a class 2 disease to a class 5 disease in May 2022, making Covid a virus to handle like any usual contagious disease such as flu.

Domestic politics and economics did not stand out. Japanese senator Matsukawa Rui’s nickname エッフェル姉さん (Eiffel nee-san, "Miss Eiffel") is highlighted. She became target of criticism after posting on the SNS a picture of her and her colleagues in front of the Eiffel Tower as she was on a work trip in France. She was reproached of having fun to the detriment of public finances. 2024年問題/ライドシェア (2024 Nen mondai / Ride share, "2024’s Problem / Ride Share") is about the public’s questions on April 2024’s implementation of a working hours limitation for professional drivers, that with the current lack of taxi drivers, may negatively impact the transportation system.

The societal field focuses on sexual abuse (性加害 seikagai, sexual assault) mentioned several times, especially regarding the revelations about Johnny Kitagawa (1931-2019), the founder of the boys’ band factory Johnny & Associates (that has become SMILE-UP in the meantime). A black list (NGリスト/ジャニーズ問題, NG List / Johnnys Mondai) of journalists to boycott during press conferences has even been disclosed in early October, as said reporters were thought likely to question the former boss’ behavior.

The social networks have a share in this social issue, with 頂き女子 (Itadaki joshi, Sugar baby) a prostitution scandal involving young women initiating conversation with middle-aged men on social networks to get money or pricey gifts in exchange of intimate moments. On a lighter tone, X(エックス), Twitter’s new name, created a storm in the teacup of the iconic hair metal band X-Japan fans as "Twitter Japan" was about to become "X Japan". Lastly, ひき肉です/ちょんまげ小僧 (Hikiniku desu / chonmage kozô) is a TikTok trend due to a group of middle-school YouTubers ちょんまげ小僧 / tyonmagekozou: one of the kids introduces himself shouting Hikiniku desu ! ("I am minced meat !"), making everyone around burst into laughter.

New technologies include チャットGPT (Chat GPT), the AI released in November 2022 that gives the impression of conversing with a real human being, and 電動キックボード (Dendô kickboard), the electric kickboard, that can now be used without license from 16 years old and wearing mandatory helmet since July 2023.

TV and entertainment have been widely represented with 別班/VIVANT(ヴィヴァン) a Japanese spy thriller aired on TBS; スエコザサ (Suekozasa) the title of the last episode of NHK drama Ranman dedicated to botanist Tomitaro Makino, and also the name the scientist gave to a bamboo species as a tribute to his wife Sueko. 推しの子/アイドル (Oshinoko / Idol) notes the anime adaptation of popular manga Oshi no ko and its theme Idol, a song by YOASOBI. 新しい戦前 (Atarashii senzen, a new prewar) is the pessimistic insight of Tamori-san (born in 1945) a Japanese comedian and TV host famous for wearing sunglasses in all circumstances. He was talking with another popular Japanese TV personality Kuroyanagi Tetsuko (born in 1933) in her long-running talk-show Tetsuko no heya (Tetsuko’s Room), broadcasted since 1976.

Y2K is the abbreviation of "the 2000s" as the comeback of the 2000’s fashion; 10円パン (Jûen pan) is a cheese bread shaped in a large ¥10 coin, very popular among the younger generation as it is photogenic and instagrammable. It actually costs about ¥500 and is inspired from a similar Korean treat made after a 10 Wons coin.

Lastly, オーバーツーリズム (Overtourism) underlines the sudden comeback of tourists with the end of the Covid restrictions, and the problems that can arise from mass tourism in some places of the archipelago, with negative impacts on the inhabitants and on the environment.

The word of the year 2020: San mitsu (or 3C), sign held by Yuriko Koike (the Governor of Tokyo)

Previous years

Words related to sports are still dominant. Politics are quite important as well, and Japan’s former Prime minister Shinzô Abe’s name was often cited, be it for political controversial decisions, scandals and recently even his death.


  1. 村神様 (Murakami-sama) in reference to Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows professional baseball team. He is indeed, at 22 years old, the youngest player to win the batting Triple Crown, that is to say to be ranked 1rst in the 3 statistical categories of this position in the season.
  2. キーウ (Kiiu), the name of the Ukrainian capital ranks 2nd, to remind of the war ongoing since February 24, 2022.
  3. きつねダンス (Kitsune Dance) is a song and choreography performed by the cheerleaders of the Hokkaidô Nihon Ham Fighters baseball professional team. The girls dance cutely, wearing hairy fox ears and a fox tail on their skirts.


  1. リアル二刀流 (Real nitôryû)/ショータイム (Show-time): Both words ranked first ex-aequo and refer to Shohei Ohtani (born in 1994), a Japanese player in the American baseball major league since 2018. In 2021, he became the first player for over a century to be able to play at the same level as batter and pitcher. Shô-time is a pun on Ohtani’s first name, Shôhei, shortened to "Shô" to which was affixed the English word "time," to create the nickname "Showtime," which is to be expected when he enters the field.
  2. うっせぇわ (Ussee wa) is a song by Ado (born in 2002), released in October 2020 and that quickly became N°1 of sales and streaming. The singer expresses the rejection and the exasperation the younger generations feel towards the never ending injunctions of Japanese society.
  3. 親ガチャ (Oya gacha) is a portmanteau word composed of "oya" meaning "parents" and "gacha" the onomatopoeia from the noise made by a gachapon, the capsule toys vending machine. It means that in the life lottery, destiny is for the most part decided from the moment and the family you were born into, and efforts or willpower will not change much to the situation.


  1. 3密 (san mitsu) or 3C: slogan created by the Japanese Ministry of Health in March 2020 to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus by avoiding the 3Cs: Confined spaces (密閉 mippei); Crowded places (密集 misshû); Close-contact settings (密接 missetsu).
  2. GoToキャンペーン (GoTo Campaign): an extraordinary budget to sustain Japanese economy during the Coronavirus pandemic. The campaigns have globally reached their goal of maintaining a level of activity, but as they encouraged population travel, They are now considered as one of the way Covid-19 further spread in Japan.
  3. 鬼滅の刃 (Kimetsu no yaiba): Demon Slayer, the manga by Koyoharu Kotoge, whose publishing ended in May 2020. The movie (Demon Slayer: Infinity Train 🚅) was released in October 2020 and broke all the Japanese box-office’s records.


  1. ONE TEAM: slogan of the Japanese Rugby Team, the Brave Blossoms, during the Rugby World Cup, to highlight in a positive way the diversity of its members’ origins, with only half of them of Japanese citizenship.
  2. 計画運休 (keikaku unkyû): "planned cancellation" is the security scheme to stop all transportation means before a typhoon 🌀 hits to limit damages. The expression was often employed in 2019, a year when the meteorological phenomenons were particularly powerful and destructive.
  3. 軽減税率 (keigen zeiritsu): the "reduced tax rate" is the temporary measure that aims to smoothe the 10% VAT rise, with an implementation limited to non-essential products in its first stage.


  1. そだねー (sodanee): "that’s right", was used and popularized by Japan’s women curling team, winner of a bronze medal in the 2018 PyeongChang winter Olympics 🏅;
  2. eスポーツ (isupootsu): "e-sport", the electronic sports, as a Japanese won a gold medal in an Asian e-sport tournament in summer 2018. Sodanee and e-sport were the two first entries of 2018 Top 10;
  3. #MeToo: the famous hashtag ranked 10th.


  1. インスタ映え (Insta bae): "Instagrammable", to commemorate the advent of the new famous social network;
  2. 忖度 (sontaku): "assumption", ex-aequo with Insta bae, was used by the founder of Morimoto Gakuen Group, in a fraud scandal of the same name, to which Japan’s Prime minister Shinzô Abe’s name has been linked;
  3. J アラート (J araato): "J ALERT", at the fourth rank, is the national warning system to alert the population in case of danger. It was widely used in 2017, due to North-Korea’s multiple missile launchings.


  1. 神ってる (kamitteru): "he’s divine", said about a baseball player who scored two decisive home runs in two consecutive matches;
  2. トランプ現象 (Toranpu genshô): "Trump phenomenon", ranked at the third place, reflecting the shock of the discovery of the new United States president and his fancy language;
  3. 盛り土 (moritsuchi): "terrace", ranked sixth, reminds of the difficulties in the the fish market's transfer from Tsukiji to Toyosu. It was postponed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to allow the soil decontamination of the new site.


  1. 爆買い (bakugai): is a Japanese slang word meaning "shopping spree" that Chinese tourists encounter when visiting Japan, due to their high purchasing power. It is ex-aequo with:
  2. トリプルスリー (toripurusurii): "Triple Three", accomplished by professional baseball player Tetsuto Yamada with 30% of batting average, 30 stolen bases and 30 home runs over one season;
  3. エンブレム (enburemu): "emblem", at the sixth rank, to recall the choice of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ‘emblem, which much passionated the Japanese in 2015.


  1. ダメよ~ダメダメ (Dame yo dame dame): "No way, no, no!", from a Japanese comic duets’ phrase making fun of the Japanese who are yet to learn to assertively say no, even when their government tried to amend the 1947 pacifist Constitution of Japan, in July 2014;
  2. 集団的自衛権 (shûdanteki jieiken): "the right of collective self-defense", ex-aequo with Dame yo dame dame, and in the same context, is the argument employed by Japan’s Prime minister Shinzô Abe to justify the amendments he wanted to enforce in the Japanese Constitution;
  3. ありのままで (ari no mama de): "The way I am", at the third place, is the Japanese version of "Let it go", the main song from the movie Frozen, released in 2014, and as successful as in the rest of the world.


  1. お・も・て・な・し (O MO TE NA SHI): "hospitality". In 2013, four special prizes were awarded, among which one to "hospitality" used by announcer Christel Takikawa during her presentation speech for the attribution of 2020 Olympics to Japan;
  2. アベノミクス (Abenomikusu): "Abenomics", at the fifth rank, is the name of the economic policy that Prime minister Shinzô Abe has been implementing in Japan since December 2012;
  3. ご当地キャラ (gotôchi kyara): "the local mascot", at the sixth rank, is a reminder of the trend launched in 2007 by Hiko-nyan, the local mascot of Hikone, to have a fictional character represent a city or a region. In 2013, Kumamon, Kumamoto’s mascot hit a record in popularity.
Updated on December 20, 2023 - Top 10 des mots de l'année au Japon