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What's the Word?

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Japanese Word of the Year


From pop culture and politics to book titles, any subject is fair game if a word has caught the imagination of the public enough to generate a new meme.

I should really say memes, because some cases have generated more than one.

Take for example the continued workaholism in Japan.  This has led to two buzzwords in the running:  Suimin fusai (sleep deficit) which a Japanese professor, known for his research on accumulated sleep deprivation, says could lead to long term health problems including dementia. To help counter this, Puremiamu Furaidē (Premium Friday), a public-private campaign that met with little success, was promoted to encourage workers to go home early on the last Friday of every month.

Another case is the 14 year old shogi prodigy, Sota Fujii, hitting a record of 29 consecutive triumphs between December and July. This generated Fujii fībā (Fujii fever), the sudden craze for the game of shogi, and Hifumin, the nickname of legendary ninth level shōgi player, Katō Hifumi, who decided to retire after losing to Fujii. Hifumin had also launched his six decade career as a professional shogi player at the age of 14.

On the social side, there is Insuta-bae, the phenomenon of purposefully designing settings and arranging products for a perfect Instagram picture.
Utsunuke (getting out of depression) is the title of a candid book by the cartoonist Keiichi Tanaka on his battle and recovery from the “dark tunnel” of depression.

And posuto shinjitsu (post-truth) the recent phenomenon of many online posts and media selectively interpreting facts based on subjective, personal opinions.

In education is the widely popular Unko Kanji Doriru (Poop Kanji Drills), where every kanji character is used in a sentence with poop. It seems kids everywhere are motivated by their age-appropriate, giggle-worthy obsession.

Then there is jinsei hyakunenjidai (the era of living 100 years). By 2016 there were 65,692 centenarians in Japan. Given the tendency of the elderly to discuss their bowel movements, perhaps we have come full circle to where we will all once again be obsessed with poop. :)

But the 2017 winner is sontaku, a word rarely used until this year. It refers to performing anticipatory acts to ingratiate oneself to superiors. This year it has frequently been used to refer to a scandal relating to a nationalist-school operator that implicated Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and his wife.

The runner-up is Insuta-bae mentioned above.

by Diana K. Rowland



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