Do you know that every year the Japanese Proficiency Society chooses a kanji to be the “Kanji of the Year”? They choose 10 characters which represent the event of the current year best and then do a poll through a national ballot where the kanji with the most votes wins the award of kotoshi no kanji (今年の漢字 , kanji of the year). Last year, 税 (zei) which means “tax” was the winning Kanji for 2014. And this year, the Kanji of the Year Award goes to… “An” (安, an).
Every year since 1995, the Japanese Proficiency Society ( 財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会, Zaidan hojin Nihon Kanji Noryoku kentei kyokai) vote for some kanji characters that have the closest meaning to what represents the things that have been happening in Japan throughout the year. The Kanji of the Year is announced on Kanji Day (December 12th), but somehow this year (2015) it was announced three days later on December 15th. The date December 12th is chosen for the word of “ii ji ichi ji” ( 良い字一字) which means “a good character”.
Although you might be more interested in 2015’s kanji, it is still interesting to take a look first at the last year winner, 税 (zei, tax)! In relation to the hike in the consumption tax from 5% to 8% and the proposed further hike to 10%, “zei” won over 8,679 votes in 2014. “Zei” was an easy one to explain, since this tax hike clearly impacted Japanese wallets and brought some swings in the economic activity as a whole.
This year winner, 安 (an, yasu) is a kanji character which has the meaning of “peace” and “inexpensive” at the same time. “An” won over 5,632 votes or around 4.3% of the 129,647 ballots. Reported by nippon.com, the kanji “an” represents some of the situation of Prime Minister Abe’s administration steamrolling the new security bills (安全保障, anzen hosho-). This got some protesters concerned over the future of the peace (平安, heian) which Japan has had for over 70 years after the end of World War II. It also seems that some put their vote on the character “an” from the word 不安 (fuan) which means “insecurity” or “unease”. This was due to the conflict and frightening terrorist attacks in many parts of the world. Of these conflicts, two Japanese citizens being beheaded in Syria had the most impact on the nation in 2015.
Following the kanji “an”, here are the second to tenth winning kanji that had more votes: 爆 (baku, explosive), 戦 (sen, battle), 結 (ketsu; tie), 五 (go, five), 賞 (sho, reward), 偽 (gi, deceive), 争 (so, dispute), 変 (hen, change), and 勝 (sho, victory). Some chosen and winning kanji in previous years were definitely obvious, while on the other years some were mysterious and surprising. Some explanations on all winning kanji in the previous years can be read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanji_of_the_year. If you want to see yourself how the winner will be announced next year, you can plan to visit Kiyomizu Temple, the place where priests announce the winner, on Kanji Day.