Each year the organization that publishes the Standardized Kanji Test (and the kanji practice for the Nintendo DS) announces the “kanji of the year,” the single character that best sums up the events of the past twelve months. The character is announced at a ceremony at the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, where the head Buddhist priest writes the character on a large sheet of paper while everyone watches. The character for 2011 has been announced, and it’s….kizuna (絆), a word that means “bonds” (as in, the bonds that tie us to one another). 2011 was an unbelievably hard year for Japan, with the Great East Japan Earthquake (as it’s officially known here) causing sadness and hardship for so many…yet it showed us how connected we are with each other, and how good it feels to help someone in need. The kanji for previous years have included atsui (hot) in 2010, a year when many died from the unusually hot summer; shin (new) in 2009, a year of renewal; hen (change) in 2008, covering the many changes that happened that year; inochi (life) in 2006, a year many young people committed suicide; sai (disaster), in tragedy-laden 2004; and matsu (end) in 1999, the end of the 20th century.
The Kanji of the Year for 2011 is kizuna (bonds).