Kanji of the year: Wazawai, disasters marked 2018

On December 12, the Kanji of the Year 2018 was announced: 災, whose reading is wazawai or sai and means “disaster” or “misfortune”.

The Kanji Fitness Examination Foundation announces each year in December the “kanji of the year”, chosen through a popular vote to reflect what the last 12 months meant. The citizens voted through the postal mail, on the official website or in ballot boxes to choose a single character, in some cases adding an explanation with the reasons for their selection.

The kanji chosen this year, wazawai, refers to the multitude of natural disasters that affected Japan during 2018: severe earthquakes in the prefectures of Osaka, Hokkaidō and Shimane, a series of typhoons that hit the coast of the country, torrential rains that caused landslides and floods, and high historical temperatures during the summer. The press release from the Kanji Fitness Examination Foundation notes that “As the new year approaches, many expect the next imperial era to bring fewer disasters to bear.”

Wazawai clearly rose as leader with more than 10% of the 193,214 votes counted.

In second place was 平 (hei or taira), a kanji meaning “peaceful” or “flat”, chosen by many for its position in 平 成 (Heisei), the name of which will end when Emperor Akihito abdicates from the throne to end of April 2019. Relying on this “end of an era”, the character of 終 (shū / owaru), whose meaning is “final”, was in third position.

Voters looked at events that took place around the world when choosing a winning character. Some of them took into account the eruption of the Fire Volcano of Guatemala in June and the devastating forest fires that affected Greece and the western United States.

In second place was 平 (hei), chosen by many people for its presence in the name of the current era, but also for being the first character in the hanja script of Pyeongchang, the city of South Korea in which the Olympic Winter Games, and for appearing in the first name of Los Angeles baseball player Ōtani Shōhei.

The third place was for 終 (shū; “final”), which reflects the closure of the Tsukiji fish market, according to one of the comments offered by the voters, in addition to the end of the current imperial era.

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