Who knew that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would also spawn so many neologisms?

Another year means another round of reflecting on the ways that human language has evolved yet again. Japan especially loves to look back and pay homage to each new crop of newly coined expressions and the trendiest of Japanese slang through various lists, from educational materials publishers U-Can and Jiyukokuminsha’s annual Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (New Words and Buzzwords Awards) to fashion magazine Egg‘s Japanese Buzzword Awards.

Speaking of which, this year’s nominees for the New Words and Buzzwords Awards were just announced on November 4, with the top winner set to be announced in early December. Let’s take a look at ten of the top nominees that could be found everywhere around Japan and might just be crowned before the end of the year.

10. Gonzeme/Bittabita / ゴン攻め/ビッタビタ

Ryo Sejiri, a 24-year-old skateboarder and TV announcer, coined these new expressions in his excitement while commentating for the inaugural Olympic street skateboarding event this past summer. The first phrase is derived from the sound of banging or clanging (gangan) and the word for attack, referring to when a skater unleashes a particularly cool move. The second is a play on the Japanese word pittari which expresses the feeling when a skater executes a trick with perfect precision.

▼ The new slang is now even showing up in skateboarding-themed ads for KFC!

9. Kaeru ai / カエル愛

21-year-old Sena Irie is the reigning women’s Olympic featherweight boxing gold medalist. Besides her love for boxing, Sena also really, really likes frogs. Seriously. She finds the amphibians cute and has even taken athletic inspiration from their ability to adapt to various circumstances for survival. She’s told the media that she wants to do something related to frogs over her lifetime. I’m personally very happy to have finally found a kindred spirit in our mutual kaeru ai (“frog love”).

▼ Here’s a sampling from Days 58-61 of Sena’s intensive frog research that she regularly posts on Twitter.

8. Oyagacha / 親ガチャ

Gachagacha is the noise that those ubiquitous-in-Japan capsule toy machines make when rattling down the slot. Oyagacha refers to the “parent lottery,” or the fact that you can’t choose your own parents–much like how you can’t choose your own capsule toy prize. That lack of choice can affect a lot in life, from the circumstances of your upbringing to whether your dad pins the hopes of the world on your shoulders without telling you and throws you down to fight the ultimate android creation made up of cells from the world’s strongest warriors.

▼ I’ve often wondered whether Gohan feels a sense of oyagacha since–let’s be honest–Piccolo raised him, not Goku.

7. Oshikatsu / 推し活

The term oshikatsu (literally “fan life”) describes planned activities or endeavors with the goal of supporting your favorite idols or characters. Popular examples include: going to their live events, buying up lots of their merchandise, taking pilgrimages to connected “sacred sites,” visiting collaboration cafes, or even wearing clothes in a specific color scheme to emulate a favorite idol’s member color. It’s hard work being such a devoted fan!

▼ This is a line of color-themed stationery supplies designed specifically to appeal to oshikatsu.

6. Epejiiin / エペジーーン

Japan won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in fencing in the men’s team épée event this summer. An épée is the largest and heaviest of fencing weapons while jiin refers to a feeling that pierces the heart (not a bad tie to fencing). Epeejiiin (with the second half’s vowel sound especially drawn out) is the nickname for the men’s fencing team as shared by team captain Kazuyasu Minobe because they want to touch others’ hearts through their sport. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now also slang for any time you’re trying to imbue others with your enthusiasm for something.

▼ Here’s Koki Kano, another one of the OG Epejiiin team members.

5. NFT

The next two entries are not newly coined words or slang, but rather buzzwords that were omnipresent on the Japanese Internet and news over the past year. An NFT refers to a non-fungible token–a non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger (aka blockchain) that can be sold and traded as a kind of certificate of authenticity. They’ve been especially popular among musicians and artists throughout the pandemic as a means to publish their works. Even meme NFTs exist–this summer, the meme Doge NFT sold for a record-breaking amount.

▼ “Many money, much amaze”

4. SDGs

The SDGs are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The UN has called for a global partnership to reach these goals by the year 2030. It’s likely that the SDGs gained considerable traction in Japan this year due to the endorsement of worldwide K-Pop mega-group BTS.

▼  Is there anything in Japan that BTS hasn’t touched, including themed coffee?

3. Umamusume / ウマ娘

Just when you thought Weird Japan couldn’t get any weirder, uma musume, or “horse girls,” have joined the races with their horse ears, tails, and galloping skills. The Uma Musume Pretty Derby franchise released a smartphone game and a second anime season earlier this year, making us all wonder if there will be a tie-in with Kemono Friends in the not-so-distant-future.

▼ We’ll just leave the Uma Musume Pretty Derby second season trailer here for your…contemplation.

2. Usseewa / うっせぇわ

Ah, at last we come to the rudest phrase on the list, which is a slurred form of urusai wa, or essentially, “shut the hell up.” The catchphrase was made popular by Japanese singer Ado’s October 2020 song “Usseewa” which could be heard in stores all over Japan this year. It’s a youth anthem of sorts that continues to drive Japanese parents across the country up the wall.

▼ “Usseewa” by Ado (2020)

1. Squid Game / イカゲーム

Known as Ika (“squid”) Game in Japanese, this nine-episode South Korean Netflix show swept the globe upon its release in September. Despite its relatively short existence in 2021, its overall cultural impact has put it in serious contention to be the overall winner of this year’s awards. Ah, there’s nothing like watching a lighthearted story about a bunch of adults playing children’s games for a big prize…

▼ Here’s the official trailer in case you’ve somehow been living under a rock for the last two months.

While we’re all waiting to see which of the nominees will take the New Words and Buzzwords Awards crown, you might also take the time to contemplate Japan’s 2021 Kanji of the Year, which is also set to be revealed next month.

Source: Jiyukokuminsha via ITmedia
Top image: Pakutaso
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