Regular – “Mitsu” COVID-19 Warning Chosen as 2020’s Kanji of the Year

  • 投稿カテゴリー:Regular

1. The COVID-19 pandemic, unquestionably the biggest domestic and global news story this year, has also provided Japan with its Kanji of the Year for 2020: 密 (mitsu), meaning “density” in the context of the san mitsu, the “three Cs” to avoid in order to prevent infection from spreading.

2. The votes are in, and 2020’s winner has been chosen: 密 (mitsu), meaning “density/thickness” or “secrecy,” among other senses, is the Kanji of the Year for 2020. At a ceremony at Kyoto’s famed temple Kiyomizudera on December 14, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation unveiled the winning character with a massive calligraphic piece created by head priest Mori Seihan.

3. This is the twenty-sixth year for the contest, in which popular voting determines the single character that best defines the year coming to a close. As we entered 2020 many were expecting an Olympic-related character to top the list—past Olympic years have seen 金 (kin; “gold” for the color of the coveted medals) and 輪 (rin; the “rings” of the Olympic emblem) garner the most votes.

4. But the COVID-19 pandemic took precedence, prompting kanji-choosers to cast 28,401 votes for mitsu, more than twice as many as for the runner-up, 禍 (ka; “calamity”), used most frequently this year in korona-ka, the “coronavirus disaster.” Kanji for illness (in third place), germs (eighth), and epidemic (tenth) also made the top ranks in the contest.

1. 密 (mitsu / hisoka) Closeness; density; secrecy 28,401 votes
2. 禍 ( ka / wazawai ) Calamity 13,655 votes
3. 病 ( byō / yamai ) Sickness 10,369 votes
4. 新 ( shin / atarashii ) New 9,882 votes
5. 変 ( hen / kawaru ) Change; strange 7,037 votes
6. 家 ( ka / ie ) Home; family 6,865 votes
7. 滅 ( metsu / horobiru ) Destroy 5,200 votes
8. 菌 ( kin kinoko ) Germ; microorganism 5,062 votes
9. 鬼 ( ki / oni ) Demon 4,840 votes
10. 疫 ( eki / yaku ) Epidemic 4,082 votes

5. In comments explaining their choices, many voters pointed to the san mitsuthe “three Cs” to be avoided in pandemic times, as a main reason the character was at the top of their minds in 2020. But the kanji has a range of meanings beyond the “density” of the crowded places to stay away from.

6. Some voters pointed to the “secrecy” meaning, with a nod to the 密会 (mikkai) celebrity extramarital trysts that made a splash in the gossip pages this year or the 密漁 (mitsuryō) poaching of fish by Chinese vessels intruding in Japanese waters. 


1. What Kanji do you choose to describe 2020?

2. What’s the most memorable thing for you in 2020?