The top entry is a big surprise considering how large COVID-19’s influence looms in the list.

December is a month for reflection about the year we left unfurled behind us, which is why we get so many videos, articles, and general discussions about what everyone’s Top 10 of a given subject was for that year. Here we are at the end of 2021, a bizarre and lumpy year in all kinds of ways—but no matter how strange the year is, culture and language march on. Each year Japan likes to wrap up with the year as defined by kanji or new slang that summarizes the year.

On November 30, Sanseido, the illustrious Japanese dictionary company, announced its top ranking of “new words,” either brand-new terms or ones that have taken on a new significance, for the year 2021. What sort of results did this wild year produce? Well, there are plenty of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in here…but there are some bright highlights, too.

Let’s take a look at the top five contenders, finishing with the word crowned New Word of the Year 2021!

5. Jinryu (人流, literally “people flow”)

▼ Does this photo give anyone else instant anxiety? Just me?

This word, as you might have guessed, isn’t exactly new—it’s more that it’s gained a much more loaded connotation since 2019 when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Jinryu, which you could also think of “community traffic,” refers to the literal flow of people through certain areas, as in how many people are in one place at a given time in the day and traveling around versus how many remain there at night. In these pandemic-ridden times, though, it’s typically used as a reference point for why the current level of COVID-19 spread might go up or down. Search online for COVID-19 info and you’ll find jinryu information about how many people passed through an area.

The word also caused controversy because, well….it really wasn’t commonly used before now. It was more common to talk about the flow of foot traffic with hito no nagare (人の流れ), so when jinryu cropped up in news reports and daily COVID-19 discussions, many laypeople weren’t certain what exactly it meant.

4. Nagesen (投げ銭, literally “tossed coin”)

This was a pre-existing word too, which did actually refer to the act of tossing coins to street performers (though not necessarily to your Witcher.)

In 2021, though, it’s increasingly being used for giving money to performers in digital spaces. With many people turning to socially-distanced careers like streaming themselves playing videogames, performing musical acts, or even just chatting, viewers are encouraged to “tip” or “donate”. Sometimes making a donation will cause the streamer to react or read out a message, or animations will play. At any rate, the concept of easily wiring cash over to someone you’re watching online has only grown stronger this year, much to the chagrin of parents who find the charges on their credit card afterward.

3. Maritozzo (マリトッツォ)

This word…is Italian! It’s a new entry to the Japanese lexicon, though.

▼ Maritozzo studded with strawberry slices.

Maritozzo is an Italian sweet said to date all the way back to the days of ancient Rome. It consists of a sweet dessert bread absolutely stuffed with sweetened cream, and as you can see in the above photo, there’s a tendency to garnish them with fresh fruit and other delicious morsels. Much like the boba boom of recent years, these cute, puffy treats have become a must-have dessert due to their photogenic look and delicious taste. There are even sushi versions out there!

2. Nani-nani Gacha (〇〇ガチャ, or “[insert noun here] roulette”)

▼ A colorful array of gacha machine capsules.

You’re here, reading SoraNews24, so you probably know about gachapon machines…but just in case, they’re machines that dispense random prizes in a plastic capsule. The gacha part is an onomatopoeia for the clunking noise as you turn the handle of the machine, with the pon being the sound as your prize ball drops down into the collection tray. Over time, though, gacha has come to stand for random draws of any kind, including those for nonphysical items used in app games.

But this 2021 edition goes a level deeper than even that. Here, gacha is used as a suffix to denote anything with a random aspect of luck. One of the newest examples is oya-gacha—the parent roulette. Basically, it’s a lament that your luck in life is predestined based on the circumstances of your parents. If you drew two rich high-flier parents who’ll give you tons of love, support, and financial connections, that’s like drawing an SSR (super-super-rarity). You can also add things like “(work) boss”, “neighbors”, “birthplace” and so on before the “gacha” part.

Time for the number one entry. We’ve had a lot of dreary words pop up in this list…but thankfully, the big winner is something even sweeter than Maritozzo.

1. Chirui (チルィ, or “chilly”)

▼ This lady looks super chilly, but is she also chirui?

Hang on, I hear you protest. That’s not a new word. That’s not even a Japanese word! That’s just the English word “chilly”!
Well, yes, and also no. While the winner of the new word of the year is derived from English, it’s not as simple a translation as you might think. The 2021 Japanese edition of “chilly” is an adjective (many indigenous Japanese adjectives end in -i) based on the English phrase “chill out”—specifically the aura of being calm, relaxed, and at peace with your surroundings. Maybe a strange choice in a year as turbulent as this one, but very welcome all the same!

What Japanese word would you use to summarize 2021? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Oricon News via Livedoor News via My Game News Flash
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1,2,3)
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