NOTE: Click here for the Kanji of the Year 2007 results.

The results for the Kanji of the Year 2006 are finally released. Although perhaps much of the English language Japanese press has already covered the top three (I thought the results were released today, not yesterday!), this blog entry will cover the top 20 in full, plus language notes as the survey is sponsored by the 漢字検定, kanji kentei, a kanji training and testing company. I’ll also add my views on each kanji.

There were 92,509 total votes submitted from the start of November to the start of December; 4,534 were sumbitted on postcards, 408 by fax, 36,936 through a web page, 15,968 through vote collection boxes located in 111 places nationwide, and 34,663 total votes through 451 groups, presumably schools or other educational or cultural groups.

One big theme for the year was “life”, which heavily influenced the voting. First, a key story of this year was the birth of a male in the royal lineage, the first in forty years, and now second in line to the throne, Hisahito, the offspring of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko and, I suspect, some medical wizardry. Next, bullying caused many schoolchildren to commit suicide, and drunk drivers also took many lives. From a statistical viewpoint, I have yet to see the raw data, so I cannot be sure if there has actually been an increase in either of these two death rates, or if it is just an increase in reporting.

Other life-related news story were Kim Il-Jong’s nukes, old folks’ increased medical costs, problems with transplanting dodgy organs, doctor shortages, and so on.

Talking of the Kanji Kentei, if you’re wanting to study for it, there is new software out for the Nintendo DS that covers the syllabus for all 12 kanji levels, from total novice to 6,000 character wizards.

Rank 漢字 読み方 Votes Percentage Meaning
1 命 メイ・ミョウ・いのち 8,363 9.04% Inochi, life, is life in the spiritual sense. With the headlines mentioned above, the reason for its choice should be obvious.
2 æ‚  ユウ・はるか 3,793 4.10% This also has the irregular reading hisa, which is the one used in the new prince’s name, 悠仁, Hisahito.
3 生 セイ・ショウ・いきる・うむ 3,303 3.57% This is life again, but this time with the more basic “not being dead” connotations.
4 æ ¸ カク 2,063 2.23% Nuclear – 核問題, kakumondai, was in the headlines a lot, meaning the nuclear issues, in North Korea of course.
5 子 シ・ス・こ 1,998 2.16% Child; either the new royal baby or the children suffering from bullying.
6 殺 サツ・サイ・ころす 1,795 1.94% To kill, to murder, or in the word 自殺, jisatsu, to kill yourself.
7 球 キュウ・たま 1,776 1.92% Ball, usually found in 野球, yakyuu, baseball, the most popular sport in Japan.
8 心 シン・こころ 1,711 1.85% Heart, probably referring to the emotional aspect rather than the organ.
9 新 シン・あたらしい・あらた・にい 1,508 1.63% New, perhaps referring to the new future emporer.
10 絆 ハン・バン・きずな・ほだす 1,462 1.58% The most common reading is kizuna, usually referring to family bonds or ties; Hisahito preserves the royal lineage for now, and the lack of family bonds is perhaps one contributer to the bullying problem.
11 自 ジ・シ・みずから 1,388 1.50% Oneself. As noted above, perhaps this was selected because of the use in 自殺, jisatsu, to kill yourself.
12 死 シ・しぬ 1,304 1.41% Death. No further explanation should be needed.
13 北 ホク・きた 1,277 1.38% Simply just north, but it is the common headline writer’s abbreviation of 北朝鮮, kitachousen, North Korea.
14 変 ヘン・かわる・かえる 1,221 1.32% Hen, strange, or changing. Is it society that people feel is changing?
15 悲 ヒ・かなしい 1,220 1.32% Sadness. No further explanation needed here either
16 学 ガク・まなぶ 1,184 1.28% Education
17 教 キョウ・おしえる・おそわる 1,119 1.21% To learn
18 友 ユウ・とも 1,082 1.17% Friend
19 虐 ギャク・しいたげる 990 1.07% To oppress. This kanji also has an irregular reading 虐め, ijime, bullying.
20 酒 シュ・さけ・さか 879 0.95% Alcohol

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