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Japan chooses ‘war’ as kanji of the year amid Ukraine conflict and Abe assassination

People in Japan have chosen the kanji character for “war” as the symbol that sums up 2022 – a year marked by conflict in Ukraine and the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The character, chosen in a public vote, reflected Japanese sentiment about the state of the world, as well as heightened anxiety over the weak yen and high cost of living, according to the annual contest’s organisers, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation.

By contrast, last year was dominated by Olympic-themed choices after Tokyo hosted the summer Games in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the shooting of former prime minister Abe, and the rapid yen depreciation and inflation faced in daily life have caused anxiety for many people,” the foundation said in a statement.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot dead while making an election campaign speech in July, allegedly by a man who resented his connections to the Unification church.

Live TV broadcasts of this week’s announcement showed Seihan Mori, head priest at Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto, write the character on a large piece of washi paper with an ink-soaked calligraphy brush. “I hope the ‘war’ ends next year and people can live in peace,” Mori said.

The character, which is pronounced as sen in words such as senso (war) and ikusa (battle) when it appears on its own, was the kanji of choice in 10,804 of the 223,768 entries.

While many people cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, others said their choice had been influenced by North Korean missile launches and the daily struggle posed by rising food prices. Some said they had been moved to select the kanji by sporting drama, including the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Japanese professional baseball and the World Cup in Qatar.

“I was surprised, frustrated, angry and sad by the war in Ukraine. I am also angry at myself for not being able to do anything about it,” said one voter who picked the character.

This year’s poll, now in its 28th year, was not entirely gloomy, however. The kanji for contentment came second, followed by the character for enjoyment. But the inclusion, in fourth and fifth place, of the ideograms for expensive and strife suggested that many will be glad to see the back of 2022.

The kanji for kin, meaning gold or money, won last year’s vote after Japan won a record 27 gold medals at the Tokyo Games. The 2020 winner was mitsu, meaning dense, crowded and close: three situations people in Japan were urged to avoid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The sen character last topped the poll in 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks.

Source : The Guardian