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The words creating a buzz in Japan

By Wang Xu in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-13 07:22

Natural disasters, women in the workplace, cashless payment and bubble tea - the one thing they all have in common is that they have inspired plenty of nominations for an event showcasing the buzzwords of 2019 in Japan.

In an attempt to offer insights into Japan's evolving culture and the concerns of its people over the year, nearly 30 words and phrases have become candidates for the 2019 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Awards. It's an annual selection of the hottest hashtags, snappy words and catchy phrases put together by Japanese publishers U-Can and Jiyu Kokuminsha.

The list will be whittled down to the top 10 words that will be declared the winners on Dec 2.

"Take action to protect your life" was selected because officials and broadcasters used the phrase to stress the dangers when Japan was slammed by back-to-back typhoons this year. Hagibis, the country's deadliest storm in decades, took at least 90 lives and caused vast damage as 71 rivers overflowed their banks and flooded tens of thousands of homes in October.

"Planned suspension of service" got on the list, as authorities knew in advance of Hagibis' strength, resulting in the JR East and other railway companies shutting their services over the storm period. Rail services in Tokyo did not resume in full until 2pm the day after Hagibis passed through.

In 2019, a social media campaign known as #KuToo went viral as thousands of people showed their disapproval with societal dress codes for women, including expectations in many quarters that women wear high heels at work.

The campaign was started by Japanese actress Yumi Ishikawa.

In a country that ranks 110 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum's gender-equality ranking, #KuToo brought greater awareness about gender discrimination in Japan. As a result, Ishikawa won a place on the BBC's Influential Women of the Year list for her activism.

Perhaps the most interesting candidate for this year's buzzwords top list is "tapiru", a word conveying the idea of "going out to drink tapioca bubble tea". Bubble tea, as a Chinese lifestyle import, at times has had people queuing for hours at railway stations and shopping malls across Japan.

The word mimics neologisms that attach Japanese verb inflections to English loan words, partly because "drinking tapioca" became so popular in the country that people felt like they needed a verb for it.

According to Osaka Customs, tapioca imports in the Kinki region of western Japan for the first half of this year increased 21.4 times over the same period last year.

"Tapioca is something you can choose for yourself by selecting the base tea, sweetness level, quantity of ice, and toppings. I guess that's why people like it so much," Keiya Takeshita, a tapioca-drink store owner in Tokyo told China Daily.

(China Daily 11/13/2019 page11)

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