This isn’t the first time for this character to be chosen as the representative for the year, and it probably won’t be the last either.

As we get to the midpoint of December, it’s time to take a look back at last 12 months, and in Japan one way of doing that is the Kanji of the Year announcement, held annually at Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto. The Kanji of the Year is chosen by ballots cast across Japan for the single Japanese-language character that best represents the year that’s coming to a close.

As has become tradition, Kiyomizudera abbot Seihan Mori revealed this year’s kanji by writing it with a large-scale calligraphy brush in a ceremony on the temple’s iconic balcony, and when the final stroke had been made, the Kanji of the Year for 2021 was…

kin, meaning “gold.”

The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Association, which administers the voting, said that kin was a fitting choice for 2021 because of the summer Olympics, which took place in Tokyo and were the venue for the Japanese Olympic team’s best results ever, including 27 gold medals. The association also noted that kin is part of the word kinjito (金字塔), meaning “monumental achievement,” pointing to the successes of Japanese Major League baseball star Shohei Ohtani, winner of the American League MVP award, and professional shogi player Sota Fujii, who became the youngest four-crown titleholder in the game’s history.

However, while those were all things that happened in 2021, you might recall that kin was also the Kanji of the Year in 2016, and if you’ve got a really good memory, you might remember that it was also the Kanji of the Year in 2012…and if you’ve got a really, really good memory, you’ll know that it was the Kanji of the Year in 2000 too. Yes, even though the Kanji of the Year announcement only began in 1995, out of the 27 selections, kin has been the top vote-getter four times now. Each time the Olympics seem to have been a major reason, with the successes of Japanese athletes at Rio de Janeiro, London, and Sydney cited as contributing factors, as well as occasional financial/economic developments (金 can also be read as kane, meaning “money”).

2021 makes it three Summer Olympic years in a row for kin to be named Kanji of the Year, and reactions on Twitter showed a bit of attrition might be setting in, especially with the low-key atmosphere of the 2021 Olympics taking place under pandemic precautions making the Games a quickly fading memory in many people’s minds.

“Until they mentioned it, I’d forgotten the Olympics took place this year.”
“How many times is it going to be kin?”
“I think it’s pretty hard to sum up a year with a single kanji.”
“Are they sure it’s not the kin written 菌 [meaning “virus”].”

In the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Association’s defense, since the Kanji of the Year is chosen through open voting, there’s always a high chance of it being one of the more broadly used characters, like kin, since a surprising or esoteric choice won’t garner enough votes to finish at the top of the list. And with the Beijing Winter Olympics set to start in February, depending on how many events Japan’s athletes win we might see kin repeat as Kanji of the Year in 2022.

Source: Kyoto Shimbun, Nikkan Sports, Twitter/@nhk_news
Images: SoraNews24
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