Japanese Top 10 Buzzwords for 2019

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The Top 10 Japanese Buzzwords for 2019, sometimes referred to as 流行語 (Ryuukougo) or 流行り言葉 (Hayarikotoba), were reminiscent of a Japan filled with highs and lows. So, let’s explore this tumultuous top ten for the last year of this decade. Also, we have provided their English equivalents to help provide context and meaning for each term.

Curious about previous years? Then see what was hot last year as part of the top ten list of buzzwords for 2018.

If you’re interested in our FAQs Section, you can check our Life in Japan FAQ or our Exploring Japan FAQ.

ワンチーム OneTeam (Wan Chiimu)

This term was widely supported as the top buzzword for 2019, during Japan’s first time hosting the Rugby World Cup. Japan’s success at an international level of rugby reaching the top 8 was a historic achievement. The host nation came together as ‘one team’ in front of their local crowd, bringing them on an exciting and emotional roller coaster. They remained undefeated up until their quarter-final birth, only to be outclassed by a more experienced competitor. South Africa then went on to win the tournament, yet Japan can still hold their heads high with such an achievement.

The blossoms success went beyond the stadium too, bringing a whole country together as ‘one team’ to support them through each match. Rugby was never much of a talking point in Japan until the world cup. Now, some might argue it could become one of the more popular sports enjoyed by the population.

令和 Reiwa

The name of the new Era and a new emperor, it was also one of the most celebrated days by newlyweds. Couples hoping to use the new Emperor’s ascension as a prosperous start to their new life together.

Similarly, the new Era’s name was about brining Japan together in harmony to continue to prosper in the years ahead. Check out our full report on the new Era here.

計画運休 Planned Suspension (Keikaku unkyu)

When translated directly it means ‘planned suspension’, and came about as a result of the massive Typhoon Hagibis. The planned suspensions related to the cancellation of many train services within the Tokyo and surrounding areas. The precautions were taken as fears grew about the approaching Typhoons destructive power. The Typhoon left a trail of damage, landfall and injury in its wake. However, preparation helped to minimise its impact.

Japan experienced an unusually high number of large Typhoons last year. Yet, while many people blame this on climate change, we hope this was just a run of bad luck for the nation.

スマイリングシンデレラ/しぶこ (Smiling Cinderella or Shibuko)

She goes by the name ‘Smiling Cinderella’, but was similarly labelled the ‘Smiling Assassin’ by global media. Hinako Shibuno claimed her stake at global stardom, in her first professional tournament outside her home turf. She won the British Open with poise and a big bright smile on her face. Her friendliness extended to the crowd too as she high fived her new supporters at every hole.

It was her interaction with the crowds and constant displays of joy that won them over too. Thus, she became a fan favourite overnight. After winning the tournament, her joy was on full display at the press conference. Furthermore, when asked what she would do with her prize money, she simply replied she would indulge in sweets.

軽減税率 Keigen Zeiritsu (Reduced Tax Rates)

The newly increased 10% consumption tax was introduced from 1 October 2019. Yet, what may seem like a simple increase, actually caused confusion and havoc for business owners. The increase from 8%, only impacted a certain range of products, and with some exemptions, confusion ensued. Thus, a mirky and convoluted dual consumption tax system became a reality.

To make matters even more complex, cashless payments can earn users a 5% cash back bonus on some products. Therefore, the end-user only pays 3% or 5% consumption tax depending on the goods. Wait … what?

タピる Tapiru Let’s Drink Tapioca

Literally, this new verb’s whole concept was made around the extreme popularity of Tapioca in Japan. ‘Tapiru?’ which means ‘let’s go drink Tapioca’ is a popular term and for the younger female generation, it’s all the rage. If you haven’t been to Shibuya or any of the main districts in Tokyo it’s hard to miss their long queues at Tapioca stands. The Taiwanese born milk tea drink is a sweet delicacy and favourite among Japanese high school students. This craze has now transformed itself into a focal point for groups to hang out and spend time with each other.

#KuToo

The combo of Kutsu (靴) meaning shoe and using the word ‘too’ similar in sound to ‘tsu’ was trying to catch the #MeToo movement. It intended to raise awareness about the strict standards placed on Japanese females in the workplace. The movement was about relaxing certain standards relating to high heels, and the pressure of workplaces forcing this standard on females. More broadly, it also looked at things like the use of contact lenses, demonstrating a double-standard in attire requirements between genders.

〜ぺい Pei

Cashless payments were all the rage in 2019, with a large array of providers entering the foray. PayPay and Line pay were some of the larger names to enter the ring with the likes of Apple Pay or Google Pay.

China which has become a leader in cashless payments through providers like Alipay has grown beyond its borders to Japan too. Especially, as the country experiences an influx of tourists from the country.

免許返納 License Handover (Menkyo Hanno)

The rise of elderly driver’s involved in car accidents, especially covered by the media is raising awareness about flaws in the current driving license regime. The Japanese Government has eluded to introducing a system to test drivers at the age of 75, but so far no system has been voted into parliament.

As people beyond 80, especially in more rural areas rely on their car to get around, they are reluctant to turn in their license as their only mode of transport.

闇営業 Shady Business Practices (Yami Eigyo)

The idea of ‘questionable business practices’ is not a new revelation in the corporate sector, but this year it plagued the Entertainment industry. The scandal which Yoshimoto Kogyo, perhaps one of the biggest and most well-known comedy giants, was at the base. Furthermore, some big-name comedians were associated, being caught entertaining some shady characters for additional fees. These people were subsequently let go, but the phrase had already been established and the sector tarnished in shame.

You can find out more about the 2019 Kanji of the year at our detailed post.

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