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WIT Life #141: 今年の漢字

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

The end of the year is upon is, which means that it is time for 今年の漢字 (kotoshi no kanji) or the kanji of the year.  It is selected by popular ballot and is supposed to represent the events of 2009.  The announcement was made this weekend at Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple, and the winner with 14,537 votes was 暑 (sho) or hot.  According to Daily Sun, the reason this character was chosen was due to average temperatures this summer hitting historical highs (and many people getting heat stroke as a result) and for the 33 Chilean miners who survived the mine's hot conditions. This year had the most cumulative votes ever with 285,406, and the 2nd and 3rd place picks were 中国の中 or the chuu from Chuugoku (China) and the negating 不 (fu) to represent the instability (不安定 or fuantei) of this year's weather, politics and economy.  The remaining top ten kanji were 乱 (ran)、異 (i)、国 (kuni)、高 (taka)、嵐 (arashi)、熱 (netsu)、and 変 (hen).  Here Wikipedia offers a list of previous years' kanji. In other kanji news, at the end of last month the Japanese government announced a new list of kanji designated for everyday use.  It added 196 characters while deleting five in its first kanji reform in 29 years, and the new total is 2136 characters.  This is Japan’s third post-war update and it is a larger change than the previous one in 1981, when only 95 characters were added.  The current alteration was motivated by taking the increased use of computers and mobile phones into account, as certain kanji are easier to see on these types of displays. Monbukagakusho (the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry or MEXT) will instruct teachers to start introducing the new characters in fiscal year 2012 so that junior high school students will be able to read them and high school students will be able to write them, and high schools and universities will start using the characters in their entrance exams from the 2015 academic year.  One of the new kanji is 鬱 (utsu) meaning the way greenery grows vigorously or a depressed feeling, sure to be one of the more challenging additions.

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