Amid worries about the cost of living, Japan selects ‘tax’ as the kanji of the year.

Competition winner reflects growing anxiety about tax rises, while second place for word of the year went to ‘hot’ after a sweltering summer
The kanji character for “tax” has been chosen as Japan’s word of the year, in a reflection of growing public anxiety over the cost of living and impending tax rises.
The single character – which can be read as zei or mitsugi – was unveiled this week at Kiyomizu Buddhist temple in Kyoto, whose head priest, Seihan Mori, reproduced it with a huge brush on a white washi paper canvas.
The character that best captured the zeitgeist attracted 5,797 votes out of 147,878 cast, according to the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, which has organised the annual contest since 1995.
Second place went to sho/atsui, the character for hot, in recognition of this year’s sweltering summer in Japan and concern about the effects of the climate emergency.
The conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine also captured the public’s attention, with the character for war (ikusa/tatakau) coming in third.
There was room, too, for characters inspired by less serious events: the fourth, fifth and sixth most popular words – tiger, victory and ball – were inspired by the Hanshin Tigers baseball team’s first Japan Series title since 1985.
But it was the state of the world’s third-biggest economy that drew the most votes.
While the government of prime minister Fumio Kishida recently unveiled a package of tax cuts aimed at easing pressure on households, there is mounting disquiet over future tax rises to fund a dramatic rise in defence spending amid concern over China’s military activity in the region and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
This year has also seen the introduction of a new invoice system that could mean that freelancers and self-employed people will be saddled with higher tax rates.
“It seems like Japanese people are watching the tax situation seriously,” Mori said.
As Japan prepares to see out the year of the rabbit, a political storm is brewing over allegations that members of Kishida’s party received payments that were kept off the books, which critics have condemned as a form of tax evasion. The scandal broke too late to have influenced the vote, however.
The top ten characters for 2023 also included zo/masu, or increase – a reflection of rising prices that are not being matched by wage increases.
It is the second time that taxation has been chosen as kanji of the year. It also finished top of the poll in 2014, when the consumption (sales) tax rose from 5% to 8%.
While Japan has evaded the soaring inflation rates seen in other major economies, the price of more than 32,000 food products rose over the course of the year, according to the private research firm Teikoku Databank.
The cost of living crisis has forced households to tighten their belts, with sales of chicken and pork increasing, while those of more expensive wagyu beef are falling.

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