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'Tax' is Kiyomizu Temple's Kanji of the Year

On December 12, "tax" was chosen as the Kanji of the Year for 2023 at the Kyoto temple, recognizing the rise in costs of living and the threat of new taxes.



Chief Priest Seihan Mori of Kiyomizu Temple writes the Kanji of the Year for 2023 - "Tax" in calligraphy on December 12. (© Sankei by Yukia Watanabe)

Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto — a favorite among tourists — announced its character for the year on December 12.  "tax," pronounced most commonly "zei" in Japanese, is written as 税. 

At just after 2 PM, chief priest Seihan Mori wrote the kanji of the year in powerful calligraphy strokes. The washi paper serving as the calligraphy canvas was 1.5 meters high and 1.3 meters wide. 

Organized together with The Japanese Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation since 1995, the Kanji of the Year has become a December 12 ritual reflecting on societal trends and events. 

After drawing the word "tax" in Kanji, the three priests of Kiyomizu Temple chant a prayer on December 12. (Screenshot.)

Popular Characters in 2023

Kiyomizu Temple collects submissions from all over the country and the most prevalent one becomes the kanji of the year. 

"Tax" was the top kanji for 2023 with 5,976 votes. This year's selection reflected the rising cost of living, along with income tax revisions and new rules for invoices. As well, the kanji directed media attention toward the possibility of tax increases under the Fumio Kishida administration. 

Commenting on this year's kanji, chief priest Seihan Mori said, " I felt once again that people have a very strong awareness of taxes. They are watching the tax situation closely," according to NHK. 

He added, "The world is full of disquiet. But I hope that next year the character for 'peace' (和) will be chosen so that the people of the world will be at peace."

Other kanji that made it into 2023's top ten also reflect the ongoing conversations in Japan. "Heat" (暑), selected due to a record-breaking hot summer, is one. Another popular character is "tiger" (虎), paying tribute to the success of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team that won the 2023 Japan Series tournament. 

Kiyomizu Temple draws a large crowd for the annual December 12 reveal of the kanji of the year. (Screenshot)

'Tax' as an Enduring Concern

The year 2023 also marks the second time that "tax" has been chosen, the first being in 2014. That year consumption tax rose for the first time in 17 years, to the current rate of 8 percent. 

In 2022 the kanji of the year was "battle" or 戦, reflecting the enormous impact of the war in Ukraine. The war had just started in February that year. 

In the ceremony's history, the most selected character has been "gold" or 金. This kanji has been picked four times, including on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Author: Arielle Busetto

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