Every year since 1995, the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society has held a national vote to determine which kanji character best represents the given year. Once the ballots are tallied, they hold a special ceremony at Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera temple on December 12th. While these kanji have no real impact on anyone outside of Japan, it’s always a fascinating thing to behold as the kanji chosen by the people can provide a glimpse into what happened in Japan in a particular year.
December 12th has passed and Seihan Mori, the head abbot of the temple, has painted the fated character, which for 2020 is: “密” (“mitsu”).
— Twitter モーメント (@MomentsJapan) December 14, 2020
Perhaps some explanations are in order…
By itself, mitsu translates into density, which is the keyword that the Japanese government used to help people through the pandemic of 2020. In the United States, you might’ve gotten sick of the phrase “social distancing” but in Japan, residents were told to avoid the three densities or the three C’s as it was translated into English: Closed Spaces, Crowded places, Close-contact settings. When put into that context, it makes sense that this was the kanji chosen by the residents of Japan, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom; some other kanji that ranked in the top ten were a bit more fun.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba made a huge splash in Japan this year, so it’s only fitting that two kanji from the series’ title 滅 (metsu or Destruction) and 鬼 (ki or Demon) would place in the seventh and ninth spots on the list, receiving a total of over 10,000 votes between them. Sadly though, most of the others were disease-related.
Still, however, this has been a trying year for pretty much everyone around the world as this year’s top kanji tells us. Let’s all hope that the kanji of the year for 2021 will be a bit less “doom and gloom” and more “rays of frickin’ sunshine,” because we could all definitely use it.