One Kanji Character Captures a Year of Uncertainty in Japan


The unveiling of the official kanji of 2015. Bottom right caption reads: The official kanji for 2015 is ‘an’. Top left caption reads: New security legislation, fears of over terrorism [were main themes of 2015].  Image source: Kyodo YouTube channel.

The character 安, or an, has been named as the kanji that best symbolized Japan's national mood in 2015.

Kanji are Chinese characters used to write Japanese and can be pronounced several ways. The character 安 is typically pronounced as an, a, or yasu, and typically means “peaceful” and “feeling at ease”, or “inexpensive.”

The character was selected by Kanken, a kanji promotion organization, based on a vote by members of the public and announced at the iconic Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto.

The character 安 (an) dominated the news in 2015, stemming from the contentious Legislation for Peace and Security, popularly known as 安保 (anpo), that the Abe government rammed through Japan's Diet in the summer and fall.

The legislation effectively spelled the end of Japan's Peace Constitution and 70 years of postwar pacifism, spreading a sense of unease in a country already rattled by the murder of two Japanese nationals by ISIS at the start of the year.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose name also happens to incorporate 安, the 2015 kanji character of the year, was quick to capitalize on the announcement by posting a bilingual message on Twitter:

One Twitter user gloomily pointed out:

As the “kanji character of 2015,” 安 can be interpreted ironically, I guess.

Another Twitter user managed to capture what must be the feelings of many Japanese people with a clever play on words that parodied the Japanese prime minister's last name, Abe (安倍):

While the choice of this year's kanji would seem to flatter Abe (安倍) and his Security Legislation (安保, anpo), all I feel at the end of the year is a “doubling of uncertainty.” (不安倍増, fuanbaizo).

Spotlight, a Buzzfeed-esque site that curates Japanese memes, created a 11-point listicle about the many ways in which the character 安 represented the year 2015.

Besides the Peace and Security Legislation (安保法案, anpo hoan) and Prime Minister Abe (安倍総理, Abe Sori), Spotlight pointed out the character 安 symbolized 2015 in a variety of different ways, including cheap oil (原油安, genyu yasu) and a rapidly cheapening yen (円安, enyasu):

JPY Nominal effective exchange rate (2005 = 100). Source: Wikimedia.

Japanese yen nominal effective exchange rate (2005 = 100). Source: Wikimedia.

Spotlight also noted that 2015 was a year when many Japanese realized that their salaries are very low (給料安い, kyuro yasui) and that 安 really represents uncertainty (不安, fuan) rather than peace:


Wages are low, and many people are choosing not to get married. The birthrate is not rising, while taxes are going to go up. Will we still be able to rely on old-age pensions in the future? And what if there is a terrorist attack? The future of Japan is ‘full of worry’ (不安, fuan)!

However, according to Spotlight, not all was doom and gloom.

At the top of the list was Japanese comedian Yasumura Akarui (安村あかるい), whose name not only features 安, the kanji character of the year, but whose catchphrase “Don't worry, I'm wearing [clothes]” (安心してください、穿いてますよ, anshin shite kudasai, haitemasu yo) became a pop-culture meme in 2015.

"Don’t worry, I'm wearing." by TONIKAKU AKARUI YASUMURA

Tonikaku Akarui Yasumura. Image source: Yoshimoto R & Co Ltd. Official YouTube channel.

Other Japanese netizens had fun with the 2015 character of the year.

One Twitter use posted a three-panel comic (full-size image here) that poked fun at how little the stylized calligraphy used in the reveal resembled the actual character 安:

Panel 1 (right to left): 
Heroko: So ”安” is the kanji of the year for 2015.
P-head: Oh, that's supposed to be “安”? It's too hard to read.

Panel 2:
Heroko: The part on the right looks weird.
P-head: Eh?

Panel 3:
Heroko: It looks just like an eringi mushroom!
P-head: Now you're going too far…

Twitter user @egoism_com posted a video of a more conventional way of writing 安:

Here is the kanji character of 2015.

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