Japanese News: kanji of the year 北

You probably read or heard about it if you follow the news about Japan: the kanji of the year 今年の漢字 is officially 北・きた.

Link to the NHK article on the subject.

The 今年の漢字 is a kanji chosen at the end of each year by the Japanese kanji proficiency society 日本漢字能力検定協会 to represent the year that is about to end. It is revealed on December 12th in Kyomizu temple 清水寺・きよみずでら in Kyoto. During the ceremony, the chief abbot 貫主・かんじゅ of the temple writes the selected kanji on a large piece of Japanese paper 和紙・わし with a big brush.

I think anyone can easily guess why 北 was chosen. It’s true that concerns about North Korea 北朝鮮・きたちょうせん were very present in the news. Let’s read the article and learn some new words!



The first meaning of 北 in our context is North Korea. The article says that the multiple launches of ballistic missiles from North Korea have created a menace and anxiety.

  • A ballistic missile is “弾道ミサイル”. 弾道・だんどう means “trajectory”, “line of fire”, “path of a projectile”.
  • A “menace” is 脅威・きょうい which also means “threat” and “danger”. If you want to say that something becomes a menace, that something menaces or threatens something, you can say “脅威となる” or “脅威を与える”.
  • The verb 繰り返す・くりかえす means “to repeat”, “to do over again”. I think that this is a very useful word worth remembering. It is often used to say “repeat the same mistake”. The expression “繰り返して” is very useful, too, like in 繰り返して言う” “say over and over again”.


北 also represents the North part of Kyushu that was devasted by heavy rainfalls this year. Even if Kyushu 九州 is in the South of Japan, the two main prefectures that suffered from the flooding were Fukuoka 福岡県 and Oita 大分県, both in the North of Kyushu.

  • 豪雨・ごううmeans “heavy rain”.
  • The article uses two words that I always mix up. It says that that two cities suffered big 被害・ひがい from the 災害・さいがい caused by the heavy rain. So, 被害 means “damage”, “casualties” and 災害 means “calamity”, “disaster”.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The baseball team from Hokkaido “Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters” 北海道日本ハムファイターズ, has drawn attention this year due to two major events:

  • 大谷翔平・おおたにしょうへい is a baseball player from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This year, however, he signed to enter the Los Angeles Angels and thus plays in Major League next year. (Do Japanese rejoice that one of their top players join the American Major League, or do they feel betrayed?)
    • The Major League Baseball is called メジャーリーグベースボール in Japanese but is also often called simply “メジャーリーグ” or, like in our article “大リーグ”.
    • 移籍・いせき means “transfer” (to another team). I remember having learned that word when I read an article about Neymar’s transfer to PSG.
  • 清宮 幸太郎・きよみや こうたろう, another baseball player, joined the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters this year.

I had to ask the help of Wikipedia because I know absolutely nothing about baseball and the article was very concise on the subject.

Other candidates

The second kanji on the list was 政 because of the problems involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen and other scandals involving politicians. Well, I must admit that  I didn’t follow these scandals at all, so I think it is better to link to this article from the Japan Times that presents the Moritomo Gakuen scandal.

  • 不祥事・ふしょうじ means “an inauspicious event” but can be translated simply by “scandal”. A very useful word to know to read the news!

The third candidate was 不 because of the instability 不安定・ふあんてい caused by North Korea. Whenever I see this character alone, I can’t help but think of that photography from Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie where the character 不 is painted in red across his body. If they had chosen that character, it would have carried a very negative meaning (what character could be more negative in fact?).

Prime Minister Abe’s choice

The article then goes on, saying that the Prime Minister was asked what would be his kanji for the year. Abe’s answer was 挑 from 挑戦・ちょうせん (challenge). In 2017, there were several challenges to Japan Prime Minister like finding measures to face an ageing population and a low birth rate, the menace of North Korea and of course, the general election.

  • 少子高齢化・しょうしこうれいか means “a declining birthrate and ageing population”.
  • the general election is 総選挙・そうせんきょ
  • and finally, the verb 挑む・いどむ means “challenge sb” or “confront (difficulties)”.


It was a very interesting article I think! The first three selected kanji all carry a negative meaning… Last year, the 今年の漢字 was 金, to wish for a lot of gold medals for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Anyway, I have tried to find what kanji could represent the year 2017 from a French point of view, and it’s a difficult exercise!

On the video in the article, we can see that the Kyomizu temple is still under construction…

おしらせ: Next week is finally the long-awaited Kyoto trip (my second time in Japan). This blog will also take some holiday. There will be no new post next week and I will be back for the Wednesday post on December 27th.