Thursday, December 13, 2007

Do You Know What the No.5 Kanji Is in This Year's Countdown?

The Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Kyōkai (literally, Kanji (Chinese Character) Skills Testing Association - my translation) is a public interest entity whose objective is to promote literacy. Specifically, it conducts tests to determine your kanji skills. Perhaps appropriately, its website does not have any English-language information*.

A successful result is a good thing to have on your resume, and a lot of people (our analog of spelling bee contestants and crossword puzzle lovers) take the test just for fun. The number of people taking the test has grown rapidly, from 1,675,959 (pass 686,388; fail 989,571) in FY2000 to 2,640,812 (pass 1,359,368; fail 1,281,444) in FY2006. But it is this time of the year that the rest of us less diligent Japanese also take notice of the association, when it announces the kanjiof the year**, which it determines by a five-week public poll conducted mainly through FAX and email.

The announcement itself takes place at Kiyomizudera, the illustrious Buddhist temple in Kyoto, in front of its usual crowd of worshipers and tourists. The highlight comes when the venerable head monk of Kiyomizudera ceremoniously reveals the kanji of the year by taking brush to a huge paper screen and writing with flourish.

Yesterday (12 December), the ceremonies took place, and the kanji of the year turned out to be: , or fake***. The head monk was furious, saying, “This is particularly shameful, and my sadness and anger knows no bounds…” In fact, he would have been further incensed if he had had to write the kanji in the next three spots: No.2 , or lie; No3. or food (no, this had nothing to do with Tokyo Michelin and everything to do with the endless string of food processing and retail businesses that systematically faked source and quality of ingredients, production and consume-by dates, and what have you); and no.4 or doubt (no explanation necessary here).

The head monk would have been somewhat mollified, though, by no.5: .

Yes, apologize.

* Even more appropriately, the association is located not in Tokyo, but in Kyōto, the old imperial capitol. The website also has little information on the association itself, which means that it does not receive any government funds.

** This looks like as good a source as any for background information on this year’s choice.

*** No.1 received 18.8% of the votes. By comparison, Nos. 2 through 10 only received 2.69% to 1.33% each. Click through from here.

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