We should really rename December 'month of the year in which everyone picks their thing of the year'. (I won't go into the 'word of the year' hoo-ha for emoji-onal reasons.) Pantone's chosen two new official colours for 2016. And Japan has named this year's defining kanji character.
'Kotoshi no kanji' (今年の漢字, 'kanji of the year') has been a thing since 1995. The general public get to vote for which kanji wins. It's intended to sum up the general mood of the year in Japan – 2014's winning kanji 'zei' (税) means 'tax'. In 2013, 'rin' (輪) meaning 'wheel' or 'ring' was chosen to celebrate Tokyo winning the bid for the 2020 Olympics – 'gorin' (五輪) or 'five rings' is the Japanese word for the tournament.
2015's symbolic kanji is 'an' – 安. There are quite a few characters pronounced 'an', but Japan's going with this one. It means 'safety'. There's been a lot of talk about the country's defensive forces this year, and international conflict still looms heavily over all our heads.
It seems a bit ironic that this kanji forms the 'A' in the name of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Is it a hint that he might still be popular? I don't know. Japan is not known as a country that keeps people in power for very long. There was a period during the 90s and early 2000s when the Prime Minister changed roughly every nine months.
Some people are also saying that this choice of kanji treads a fine line between safety and a feeling of mild panic. There are a few reasons for that. Pronounced 'an', this kanji does generally mean 'safety'. But it can also be spoken as 'yasu', changing the potential meaning to cheap, rash, frivolous, or indiscreet. It was clearly important to make the distinction.
On top of that, the kanji is used in 'fuan' (不安) which means 'uneasy'. It's a symbol that evidently resonated with people throughout the course of the year.
I think it also speaks volumes that the second- and third-placed kanji this year were 'baku' (爆) and 'sen' (戦), meaning 'explosion' and 'war' respectively. With fewer than 1,100 votes between first and third, it was definitely a tight race. Almost makes me wonder if this year's been rigged - can you imagine the reaction if 'war' summed up an entire year?
If I had to choose a kanji for 2015, I'd pick 2008's winner 'kawa(ru)' - 変. Yes, it can also be pronounced 'hen' - 'strange', but 'kawaru' means 'to change' or 'to be different'.
This year has been one of massive upheaval and transformation for me. All in a good way, which I'm very grateful for. I'm actually looking forward to what next year's thing will be.