It’s no secret that COVID-19 has engulfed the lives of everyone around the world in 2020.
In Japan, many organizations and media come up with rankings at the end of the year: most influential person, most popular words, songs, new expression, and so on, to express some of the trends in that period.
“U-can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho” (U-can Prize for New Words and Popular Words of the Year) is one of the most publicized prizes, and looks at what new expressions and buzzwords were influential during that calendar year. Started in 1984, the prize is in its 37th year.
Before announcing the winners, various members of the selection committee took the time to explain how this year’s edition of the prize was different from other years.
With COVID-19 dominating the news this year, it’s no surprise overall that many expected the word of the year to be COVID-19 related.
One of the selection committee members, Professor Hideho Kindaichi, even commented that he had become “sick and tired” of COVID-19 related words.
But there are so many, which one was going to win?
The Winner is ‘3Cs’
In Japanese known as “三密” (mitsu no mitsu), is translated in English as the “the three Cs”, and was used early in the year by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to prompt citizens to avoid “closed places, close conversations, crowded spaces.”
A slogan for everyone from politicians to regular people on the street, it became a simple way of remembering to avoid situations known to contribute to spread of the infection.
The thinking behind the slogan was born from advice of the COVID-19 government committee, led by experts such as Professor Hitoshi Oshitani and Professor Shigeru Omi. The influence of the word also came at a point in time when it was not yet common in the conversation to talk about the virus being airborne and the importance of providing good ventilation in spaces.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who participated to the awards ceremony through a video call, commented:
“The fact that ‘三密’ is chosen is a testament of how widely the word is used in the population. We even managed to make a game out of it. I would like for people to keep thinking of the ‘三密’ even going forward.”
Hideho Kindaichi, a linguist and professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo, commented on how the effectiveness of the expression led to its popularity in usage:
Japanese is a language which allows us to summarize several concepts in one single word. In that sense, I think ‘3密’ encapsulates this characteristic of the Japanese language.
Top 10: A COVID-19 Dominated Year
Although there is only one winner, the committee announced the top 10 buzzwords and expressions of the year, all of which are memorable, and each in some way related to the shared experience of living through the global COVID-19 pandemic.
They included in no particular order:
- “Crash Landing on You”: The TV series made in South Korea which talks about a love story between two lovers, one from South and one from North Korea. The series has been a constant in the top 10 on Netflix in Japan through most of 2020.
- Atsu Mori (Atsumare Doubutsu no Mori): This short expression marks the Japanese name for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the game published by Nintendo in March which took us into a magical world at a time many were stuck at home.
- Abenomask: In a full state of emergency in Japan, and with a rampant shortage of surgical masks, the government announced it would be distributing washable – reusable – fabric masks to all citizens in Japan. Though many welcomed the news with relief, there was some controversy when the delivery was delayed, and some displayed imperfections.
- Amabie: Part sea creature and part bird, the creature was originally a Yokai (omen, ghost) to pray for the end of epidemics, and was happily revived in light of COVID-19. It sparked SNS campaigns to share the positivity of the message, as well as a copious flow of goods and amulets to wish for a speedy recovery from the pandemic, in Japan and globally.
- Online maru maru: anything and everything, from classes, to online drinking parties. This was a key feature of lifestyle during the state of emergency in Japan, and lockdowns all over the world.
- “Kimetsu no Yaiba”: in English known as Demon Slayer, it is the title to a series that started as a manga, and then an anime series, and now a full-feature film. It has been a social phenomenon of the post-summer months of 2020. One of the few films released during the pandemic, the movie is part of a franchise which produced box office sales competing with everlasting classics such as Spirited Away (2001).
- Go to Campaign: Unveiled in July 2020, the ambitious tourism-boost plan was designed to salvage the particularly hard hit tourism industry in Japan. However, given the unpredictable nature of the spread of the virus, the campaign has been adjusted several times in order to keep the COVID-19 infections under control, making its merits and demerits a hot topic of conversation.
- Solo Camp: while many might have the idea of Japan being predominantly living in large cities in tiny apartments, the pandemic spurred a search for peace and quiet in nature through camping, solo camping, and even glamping.
- Fuwachan: dressed in unique bright colors and gushing with a bubbly personality, the YouTuber with more than 750,000 followers has been a companion for many while staying at home, and brought a smile to many during the pandemic.
The trend of the words chosen this year is a testament of how much our way of life has changed during this pandemic.
Kan Sang-jung, a political scientist who has taught at Tokyo University commented thus on the choice of words this year:
This year basically started and ended with Corona. Words that were used by the politician and in a public space, and have exploded close to home. But despite that, other concepts like Amabie, Crash Landing with You, even when we weren’t staying at home, entered our lives and were successful. It showed perhaps now more than ever that people were craving entertainment, and even roman (romance) in their lives.
At JAPAN Forward, we will be publishing end of year wrap-ups based on the words of the year and other trending themes during the last weeks of the month to sum up our readers’ preferences through the lens of popular culture over the past year.
Make sure to stay tuned and follow our content to find out more about what stories were trending in Japan during 2020.
Author: Arielle Busetto