The words of the year in Japan
2022 Japanese Buzzword: Baseball
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.
Japan’s 2022 year was specially impacted by the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the background of the lingering Coronavirus 🦠, even if it was directly mentioned by only 2 words. International politics are barely represented with only one reference to Ukraine, and the words’ selection overall does not show an exciting year, even if sport is still a safe field.
村神様 (Murakami-sama) is the word of the year 2022
Again, the word of the year relates to Japan’s national sport, baseball, and focuses on Munetaka Murakami of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows professional 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. He notably performed 56 home run. His fans refer to him as "god" or "godly," replacing the second character of his name 上 (kami, "up") by 神 (kami, "god") to highlight his talent.
The rest of the Top 10: an eclectic selection
2. キーウ (Kiiu)
The name of the Ukrainian capital ranks 2nd, to remind of the war ongoing since February 24. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on March 31 that henceforth all communication would use the Ukrainian transcription キーウ (Kiiu) instead of the former Russian transcription キエフ (Kiefu) to show support to the country under attack.
3. きつねダンス (Kitsune Dance)
On a much lighter tone, Kitsune Dance is a song and choreography performed by the cheerleaders of the Hokkaidô Nihon Ham Fighters baseball professional team, and as viral as Baby Shark. The girls dance cutely, wearing hairy fox ears and a fox tail on their skirts. The moves are easy so anyone can dance to cheer on their team.
4. 国葬儀 (Kokusôgi)
Oddly only ranked 4th, said state funeral was for Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, killed in July 2022 during an election rally. While Japanese politicians were almost unanimously convinced of the necessity of a national homage, the population was not really on the same page, and there were even agitated demonstrations against it. Contrary to its habit, the government ignored the opinion polls showing a strong opposition, which was partly based on the financial burden the state funeral would add to the public finances, and therefore alienated part of the Japanese population.
5. 宗教２世 (Shûkyô nisei)
Shûkyô nisei is a tag for people educated according to the principles of a religion their parents converted to. It was put under the spotlight in the wake of Shinzo Abe’s assassination by a man who accused the Unification Church and the former Prime Minister, who had close ties with the religious group, of ruining his family.
6. 知らんけど (Shiran’ kedo)
"Shiran’ kedo" is a closing phrase used in a relatively carefree way, to avoid being too assertive. Originating from the Kansai area, its use spread to the whole country and the number of people using it is noticeably increasing. According to U-can panelists, people tend to use this phrase more due to the new social habits developed in Covid times, and particularly the one of avoiding meeting people in person, and people all-together.
7. スマホショルダー (Sumahoshorudâ)
This portmanteau word is made from "smartphone 📱" and "shoulder" and refers to a pouch and / or a lanyard to hold one’s smartphone around the neck or on the shoulder and leave the hands free. This word was chosen to highlight the ubiquity of smartphone in society, and especially among young people who use it intensively. The device has almost become an extension of the body.
8. てまえどり (Temae dori)
Temae dori is a reference to the way fresh food is laid out in supermarkets or konbinis’ aisles: quite logically, food with the nearest expiry date is placed at the front. Anti food waste campaigns remind that if the food is to be eaten quickly, it is safe to take the products at the front, as the expired food is thrown away anyway.
9. Yakult (ヤクルト) 1000
It is the name of one of the last products of the Yakult brand, renowned for its probiotic drinks. Yakult 1000 is advertised as having the highest content of Lactobacillus casei Shirota, a beneficial bacteria, in their dietary supplement range. As Coronavirus is lingering, the beverage is considered as a way to boost the immune system, reduce stress, induce a good sleep and help bowel functions. To the point that it is often out of stock.
10. 悪い円安 (Warui en’yasu)
The word describes the historical low level of the Yen 💴, even breaking 30-years old records ($1 for ¥152). Companies listed on the stock exchange do benefit from it, but not households who have to face a rise of the consumption prices due to this "unfavorably weak yen." Inflation is also impacting Japan, though not at the same levels than the United States or Europe.
Special Prize: 青春って、すごく密なので (Seishun'tte, sugoku mitsu nanode)
"A youth disrupted by a lot of restrictions" are words said by Wataru Sue, the coach of the winning team of the high-school Koshien this summer, to praise the young athletes. Not only is it the first time a team originating from the Tohoku area wins the prestigious baseball championship, but it also happened in a time where young people’s life was greatly limited by the constraints due to Covid, and especially the 3 C (or 3密 san-mitsu, 2020’s word of the year).
Sports always under the spotlight
Subjects were not as clearly divided as in 2021, but sport is still an important topic (2 words in the Top 10) with 3 other words related to baseball: 大谷ルール (Ootani rule), in reference to Shohei Ohtani who made history by being selected at both pitcher and hitter positions for the same game in the US major league. Reiwa no Kaibutsu (令和の怪物, "Monster of the Reiwa Era") is the nickname given to Rôki Sasaki (born in 2001), pitcher for the Chiba Lotte Marines, who broke Shohei Ohtani's high-school fastball record (160 km/h) by throwing a 163-kilometre-per-hour (101 mph) fastball. BIGBOSS is an affectionate nickname for Tsuyoshi Shinjô, the coach of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters for the 2022 season, who occasionally dances the Kitsune Dance to cheer on his team.
Coronavirus is directly mentionned by only 2 words (compared to at least 7 in 2021): オミクロン株 Omicron kabu, the Omicron strain identified in Japan from November 2021, and 顔パンツ kao pantsu (face underwear) as the sanitary mask 😷 has become an essential item for going out, as much as an underwear, to the point of feeling "ashamed if not wearing it."
On the political and economical aspects, the ruling government has not been forgotten with 丁寧な説明 (teinei na setsumei) "a detailed explanation," an expression used by Kishida Cabinet to avoid answering touchy questions. A new fiscal system (インボイス制度, Invoice seido, Invoice-based system) that is to be implemented from October 2023 also caught the panelists’ attention. Lastly, a Ministry of children and family (こども家庭庁, Kodomo katei chô) will be initiated from 2023, April 1rst, for child welfare and support to families with children.
Societal matters are varied, such as the notion of re-skilling (リスキリング, skill improvement / continuous education) necessary for a better employability or to acquire new skills in a current job. Discrimination problems, especially prejudice based on the look leading to favoritism of beautiful people (ルッキズム, Lookism), and the OBN (オールド・ボーイズ・ネットワーク, "Old Boyz Network"), criticizing the networking habits in mainly male organizations that end up foster self-segregation. The job of Intimacy Coordinator (インティマシー・コーディネーター), that was brought to light by #MeToo is highlighted as it increasingly becomes an asset of movies or TV shows sets to ensure that everyone taking part in the filming understands what entails an intimate scene, and that actors can work in a safe environment.
On a lighter tone, "nun katsu" (ヌン活, Afternoon lifestyle) is popular among young women who enjoy their tea time in a refined decor, with instagramable patries. Gachi Chûka (ガチ中華 , "Truly Chinese") is an informal word for restaurants serving Chinese regional cuisine in Japan, without catering to the Japanese taste, that are increasingly numerous and attract Chinese expatriates in need of comfort food.
Technology is introduced by the words メタバース Metaverse and オーディオブック Audiobook, the later seeing an increase of users thanks to their availability on smartphones and through subscriptions.
Lastly, to end on the entertainment topic, the panel had also selected: ヤー! パワー! (Yaa ! Power!) the favorite posing phrase of comedian / body builder Nakayama Kinnikun. NHK’s morning drama Chimu dondon, broadcast in 2022 from April to September, appears thanks to ＃ちむどんどん反省会 (#Chimudondon hanseikai, #ChimudondonDebriefed): each episode was diligently commented by the fans on the social networks, and especially on Twitter. Last but not least, SPY×FAMILY, the family action and comedy manga has been serialized in an anime. Anya, the peanut-loving main character brings her childish innocence to a story that interestingly resonates with reality.
This Top 10 sheds new light on Japan, and especially on the way some Japanese see their own country. Jiyû Kokuminsha’s panelists do not hide their disapproval of the ruling government, which can be surprising if we believe in Japanese clichés about the uniformity of Japanese society.
Reading their arguments and analyzing the context offer the discovery of many underlying trends and expressions, that are not always visible to a Western audience, due to numerous obstacles such as language and culture.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 🏅;
- 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;
- ＃MeToo: the famous hashtag ranked 10th.
- インスタ映え (Insta bae): "Instagrammable", to commemorate the advent of the new famous social network;
- 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;
- 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.
- 神ってる (kamitteru): "he’s divine", said about a baseball player who scored two decisive home runs in two consecutive matches;
- 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;
- 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.
- 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:
- 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;
- 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.
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.