What are Japan's top 3 'words of the year' for 2022?

A night-time birds-eye view of Tokyo city: What were the three top Words of the Year in Japan in 2022?

What were the three top Words of the Year in Japan in 2022? Image: Unsplash/Takashi Miyazaki

Naoko Kutty
Writer, Forum Agenda
Naoko Tochibayashi
Communications Lead, Japan, World Economic Forum
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  • Japanese publisher Jiyu Kokumin Sha holds the popular Words of the Year contest each year, ranking the top 10 most discussed words.
  • The three most discussed words in 2022 were constructed from the tumultuous events and social issues of the year including food waste, economic decline and the assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
  • Next year, in 2023, a new word around hope is thought likely to emerge.

Every year, Japanese publisher, Jiyu Kokumin Sha, holds a popular contest on Words of the Year. As 2022 ends, 10 words that became an integral part of the Japanese language this year were selected in the competition.

Here are the three most discussed words of 2022.

Have you read?

‘Temaedori’ – to reduce food loss

The term “Temaedori” refers to buying food products close to their sell-by date for immediate consumption. It gained recognition through efforts starting in June 2021 to reduce food loss, helmed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with local governments and business associations.

As stores stock products in order of expiry date, with those nearest expiration upfront, it is common for consumers to reach for products stocked towards the back of the shelves as newer products are often viewed as better.

The “Temaedori” campaign encourages consumers to help reduce food waste by choosing older products first, which would otherwise be disposed of if not purchased before it expires.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan’s food loss and waste (FLW) in 2020 was roughly 5.22 million tons. That is a 480,000-ton decrease from the previous year and the lowest figure since 2012 when annual estimates of FLW began. In addition, the Japanese government has set a goal of halving food loss from the 9.8 million tons per year recorded in 2000 by 2030.

Tetsuro Nomura, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has called for people to join the campaign and “Tabekiri” – eat up everything without wasting food – as well as “Tematodori” as year-end and New Year holidays approach and the party season starts.

A new word of hope could emerge for Japan’s economy and society.

Naoko Kutty, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum

‘Warui enyasu’ – the terrible weak yen

As the US dollar appreciated at a record pace in 2022, the yen depreciated in a similar step. Against this backdrop, supply constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating tensions in Ukraine have pushed up prices across the board, including food, daily necessities, electricity and gas.

The largest trade deficit in history and the atypical price hikes in Japan brought the term “warui enyasu” or “the terrible weak yen” into common usage to describe the adverse turn for the Japanese economy in 2022.

According to a survey by Teikoku Databank, the cumulative total of price hikes in 2022 was 28,822 items, with an average increased price rate of 14%. A report by Mizuho Research & Technologies also revealed that households with two or more members spent JPY 96,000 more per year in 2022 than in the previous year.

Low-income households (earning less than JPY 3 million per year), which spend a high percentage of their income on food, energy and other daily necessities, have been particularly hard hit by the hikes. As a result, the report estimates that the household burden will increase by approximately JPY 40,000 in 2023.

‘Kokusougi’ – state funerals

On 27 September 2022, a “state funeral” was held for former prime minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader in modern Japan, who died after being shot twice at a political campaign event.

The prewar State Funeral Order, which only mandated such a ceremony for emperors, empresses and specific individuals designated by the prime minister, became invalid in 1947, with the present constitution offering no provision for them. The government decided at a Cabinet meeting to hold the funeral of the deceased prime minister, who was not the head of state, as a “state funeral ceremony” conducted by the Cabinet Office rather than as a prewar state funeral.

As the decision was made without precedent or regulations, public debate or justification for the decision, including its significance and budget, polls revealed that more than 50% of respondents objected to the public expenditure designated to the funeral when many in Japan are financially struggling. The debate around the state funeral led hundreds of people to protest nationwide.

2023’s outlook

Complex challenges will still dog Japan in 2023, as they will in the rest of the world, including energy rationing, food insecurity, climate change and inflation. Therefore, another year of uncertainty is on the horizon. Against this backdrop, Japan will chair the G7 Hiroshima Summit.

There is hope the year will see Japan strengthen cooperation with the rest of the world and resolve tensions. That’s why a new word of hope could emerge for Japan’s economy and society.

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