The candidates for the top ten catchphrases that defined Reiwa’s first year are here! Who knew bubble tea could be a verb?

Much like last year, Japanese publishers U-Can and Jiyu Kokuminsha have brought us another list of the past year’s hottest hashtags, snappy words, and catchy phrases.

Out of the 30 that they nominated, here’s ten of our favorites that lit up social media throughout the first year of Reiwa.

10. #KuToo

In a similar manner to last year’s #MeToo hashtag campaign, #KuToo, a genius meld of the prior hashtag and the word “shoe” (kutsu) — or is it “painful” (kutsuu)? — dominated Japanese discussion of sexual discrimination at work. With stringent requirements placed on how women dress for work, this slogan honed in on the painful heeled shoes that are a compulsory part of many long-suffering women’s work attire.

9. Tapiru (to go out for bubble tea)

Instagram continued to fill us all with envy with its endless scroll of our friends’ tasty tea times and delicious dinners. But in Japan there’s an undisputed monarch of glamorous beverages: bubble tea, loaded with chunky balls of tapioca. In fact, tapioca is in such high demand that they turned it into a verb, with tapiru meaning to go out specifically to go get a beverage filled with boba pearls.

8. Nikunikushii (“Meaty”)

Continuing on the gourmet theme, it seemed like social media streams couldn’t get enough of meat this year. No wonder so many folks rushed to describe burgers, pizzas and even ramen with this meat-tastic new adjective. Of course, as with any especially beefy word, some preferred to apply it to bodybuilders or muscle-bound hunks too. It didn’t matter what kind of meat was on the menu, so long as it was plentiful and powerful!

7. Paprika

You might be wondering if this list is just all food, drink and spices at this point, but Paprika is actually dominating online discourse for another reason: popular singer-songwriter Kenshi Yonezu, who penned the song “Paprika” for a kids’ group as part of an NHK project to boost morale for the 2020 Olympics. He re-released the song this year with his own vocals and a touch of adult melancholy, and ensured people would be talking about it for a long time to come.

6. Reiwa

This one was a given, wasn’t it? As the official first year of Reiwa, 2019 was hot with discussion as soon as the era was christened. The characters, meaning “beauteous harmony”, are the first era name to be taken from a Japanese classic text rather than a Chinese one, and were chosen after much deliberation on various other choices.

5. Keigen Zeiritsu (Reduced Tax Rate)

October 1, 2019 signaled an increase in consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent, but the news also came with the promise of this “reduced tax rate” where some items remained subject to tax at the 8 percent rate. While this is less a “reduced tax rate” and more of a “keeping the tax the same rate”, the real issue was what items and services fell under the reduced rate. Purchasing a water from the hotel minibar will come with the 8 percent rate, but room service will be 10 percent. No wonder people were puzzling out the insane minutia online!

4. Cashless/Point Kangen (Point Cashback)

Japan is largely a cash-based society, and efforts to encourage cashless spending have had mixed results. But 2019’s tax hike announcement has made people more willing to do what it takes to make up for the slightly-increased prices, paying through phones, credit cards, or other non-cash alternatives to get loyalty points for later spending. Though it might not seem like big news in the rest of the world, it’s a big step for Japan!

3. Yami Eigyo (Shady Business)

It’s no surprise this suspicious phrase cropped up in the rankings, due to an unpleasant scandal involving Yoshimoto Kogyo, one of the biggest and most renowned comedy conglomerates in the country. Several comedians affiliated with the company were found to have been entertaining some unsavory characters for a little extra money on the side, and a number of the celebrities were dismissed as a result. The fact that Hiroyuki Miyasako, who acted in Sega’s Yakuza franchise, was among the disgraced celebrities only added fuel to the fire.

2. Dragon Quest Walk

The Dragon Quest franchise is one of Japan’s most dearly beloved, and the news that an enhanced reality game in the vein of Pokémon Go was on the cards had fans unable to sit still in their seats. While it hasn’t made as much of a splash on the international scene, it’s a common sight to see people of all ages playing even the regular Dragon Quest games on their commutes or at fan meet-ups, so the next option is clearly to go battle cute blue slimes in the wild — and online users can’t stop talking about it!

1. Inochi wo Mamoru Kodo wo (“Take action to prioritize your life”)

This phrase is familiar to those who were out on the streets during the lead-up to the vicious typhoons that buffeted Japan in 2019. This warning is the most severe of the five escalating warnings introduced for rainstorms this year. Lower level warnings insist upon confirming evacuation routes, evacuating the elderly, and then evacuating everyone. However, Inochi wo Mamoru Kodo wo simply asks you to do whatever is possible to keep alive.

What phrase best sums up your 2019? Let us know in the comments!

Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
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