Captain Michael Leitch leads Japan's rugby team back to the locker room before the kickoff of the Japan-Samoa game on Oct. 5. | DAN ORLOWITZ

The 2019 Rugby World Cup, natural disasters and cashless payment inspired a large portion of the nominations for the annual buzzword of the year awards.

The words selected for the 2019 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2019 U-Can New Words and Buzzword Awards) reflect the nation’s social trends, as well as what has made headlines in politics, business, entertainment and sports this year.

Last year’s winning word was “sodanē,” essentially a shortened form of sō da ne (that’s right) that was popularized by Japan’s female curling team during the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Here is the full list of 2019 buzzword of the year candidates. The winners will be announced on Dec. 2.

A woman looks at flood-damaged homes in the city of Nagano on Oct. 15 after Typhoon Hagibis hit the area days earlier. | AFP-JIJI

“Inochi o mamoru kōdō o” 命を守る行動を (“Take action to protect your life”)

This high-level and unnerving warning was repeatedly heard on TV and radio, especially as Typhoon Hagibis tore through central to northern Japan in early October. People in the affected areas were urged to move to higher floors or take other appropriate actions. The designation was created in 2013.

A monitor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, shows a photo of the asteroid Ryugu taken by Hayabusa2 after the probe landed on it Friday. The probe's shadow can be seen on the asteroid's surface. | KYODO

Omusubi Kororin Crater おむすびころりんクレーター (The Rolling Rice Ball Crater)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency coined the unofficial name for an artificial crater created in April 2019 by the Hayabusa2 probe on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. “The Rolling Rice Ball” is the name of a folktale.

A woman swipes a smart card to pay for items at an unmanned cash register during a demonstration at a FamilyMart convenience store in Tokyo in February. Convenience-store chains including FamilyMart are investing in automation and other labor-saving measures to help keep their stores running and offset rising wages. | BLOOMBERG

Cashless/point kangen キャッシュレス/ポイント還元 (cashless/points-based rebate)

Cashless refers to digital payment using credit cards, integrated circuit cards or other means. Promoting it with a points-based rebate system, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry pushed the initiative in conjunction with the raising of the country’s consumption tax to 10 percent in October. Although cashless payments are believed to have spread in Japan since the tax hike, some have complained that points-based rebate system is complicated as it often requires users to register their data before using it.


Drawing inspiration from the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, the hashtag was conceived by combining “kutsu”(shoes), “kutsū” (pain) and MeToo.

Former bikini model and writer Yumi Ishikawa is leading the campaign protesting requirements at some workplaces for women to wear high heels.

Commuters wait for platforms to open at Shinjuku Station on Sept. 9. Typhoon Faxai's assault on the Kanto region earlier in the day left train services suspended. | AP

Keikaku unkyū 計画運休 (planned train cancellations)

When an approaching typhoon was expected to affect train operations, this practice – in which train services are suspended before wind speeds and rainfall exceed the threshold requiring the measure – was adopted. The aim is to ensure safety and avoid passenger confusion. Railway operators implemented the practice due to typhoons Faxai (No. 15) and Hagibis (No. 19).

A display on the consumption tax increase is seen as a customer and employee look at washing machines displayed for sale at an electronics store in Tokyo on Sept. 5. | BLOOMBERG

Keigen zeiritsu 軽減税率 (reduced tax rate)

This is a temporary measure that was introduced when the consumption tax was increased to 10 percent. The lower rate will be applied until June 2020 to food and non-alcoholic beverages and subscriptions for printed newspapers. The tax burden for some items has lessened, but the two-tier system makes it complicated for businesses and consumers to manage.

“Kōkai nado arō hazu ga arimasen” 後悔などあろうはずがありません (“I don’t have any regrets at all”)

This remark was made by international baseball star Ichiro Suzuki when asked about his retirement decision during a news conference. The former Seattle Mariners player announced his retirement in March following a season-opening game against the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gives a keynote address at the CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2016. Experts say the ease of streaming services comes with a hefty environmental price tag. | AFP-JIJI

Sabusuku サブスク (サブスクリプション) (short for sabusukuripushon, which means subscription)

In recent years, the meaning of subscription has expanded to include unlimited access to videos, music and other digital content provided through distribution platforms for fixed rates. The subscription model also is making its way into non-digital areas, such as paying a monthly fee for rental clothing and all-you-can-drink plans at restaurants.

Jackal ジャッカル

The rugby technique in which a standing player steals the ball from an opponent who has been tackled to the ground is called the jackal. It is a trademark skill of Kazuki Himeno, a Brave Blossoms forward who played in this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Police inspect the site where a car rammed into pedestrians in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district on April 19. | KYODO

Jōkyū kokumin 上級国民 (upper-level citizens)

In news reports, an elderly driver who drove his car recklessly, hitting and killing a mother and daughter in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro in April, was described as a “former head of the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology” rather than as a “suspect,” and no arrest was made. Online, people complained that the police and broadcasters gave the man a pass because of his elite status.

Hinako Shibuno holds the trophy as she poses for photos following her victory at the Women's British Open in August in Milton Keynes, England. | ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

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

These are the nicknames of Hinako Shibuno, who won the AIG Women’s British Open, a major championship in women’s professional golf. Her victory ended a 42-year drought for Japan in major overseas tournaments. Her radiant smile earned her the moniker “Smiling Cinderella” overseas.


Tapiru タピル

Tapioca drinks, originally from Taiwan and known as bubble tea, usually consist of variations on milk tea filled with tapioca. A favorite on Instagram, the beverage has been all the rage in Japan, hence the creation of the verb form “tapiru,” literally meaning “to tapioca.” Taking advantage of low overheads due to the small spaces needed to run these businesses, dozens of shops popped up around Tokyo.

“Dorakue Wōku” ドラクエウォーク (abbreviation for “Dragon Quest Walk”)

Released in September, this smartphone game follows in the footsteps of Pokemon Go by letting players explore the worlds of the popular role-playing “Dragon Quest” series while taking a walk.

“Tonde Saitama” 翔んで埼玉 (“Fly Me to the Saitama”)

This hit movie, which cheekily ribs Saitama Prefecture, caused a sensation, especially among people who hail from the prefecture. With its origins in an uncompleted comedy manga by Mineo Maya, the story is set in a fictitious world in which Tokyoites discriminate against Saitama bumpkins.


Nikunikushii 肉肉しい (really meaty)

This term has been used in recent years to describe meals containing chunks of meat, reflecting the increasing popularity of chomping on flesh, as well as restaurants specializing in meat dishes known as 肉バル (meat bars).

International demand for Rugby World Cup tickets is strong, but ticketing systems have not been up to the challenge. | KYODO

Niwakafan にわかファン (suddenly becoming a fan)

This year Japan became the first Asian country to host the Rugby World Cup. As Japan advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time, some people who hadn’t been rugby fans suddenly became interested in the sport, acknowledging that they had become fans overnight.

Papurika パプリカ (Paprika)

Japanese musician Kenshi Yonezu wrote the lyrics and music for this song, which will be used for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. It became popular after a children’s choral group sang and danced to the music.

Handifan/keitai senpūki ハンディファン/携帯扇風機 (portable mini-electric fan)

As the mercury rose ever higher in Japan this summer, many people resorted to using small portable electric fans to cool themselves. Initially popular among young people in China, the product made inroads in Japan as a wider range of portable fans began to appear, including one that can be hung from the neck.

Poemu/sekushii hatsugen ポエム/セクシー発言 (poetic/”sexy” remarks)

New environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi raised eyebrows when he vowed — in English — to make the fight against climate change “sexy.” The Japanese government subsequently said it is “difficult to accurately translate” this into Japanese. His ambivalent and awkward responses to a question about a disposal site for nuclear nuclear waste in Fukushima were mocked as inexplicable “poems.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gestures between South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Friday in Bangkok after the three met to discuss the deterioration in Tokyo-Seoul ties. | KYODO

Howaitokoku ホワイト国 (whitelist of countries)

Until August, Japan designated South Korea as one of the so-called whitelist of countries entitled to receive preferential treatment in trade. Amid a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations, Japan stripped South Korea of the status, provoking a series of tit-for-tat responses.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. President Fumihiko Nagamatsu uses the 7pay smartphone payment service at a convenience store in central Tokyo on July 1. | KYODO

〇〇pei 〇〇ペイ (–pay)

This is a reference to cashless payment methods using QR codes. Recently, various types of payments, such as PayPay, FamiPay and 7Pay, have been introduced.

MGC マラソングランドチャンピオンシップ (Marathon Grand Championship)

Under this system created by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations to select athletes eligible to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, those who met certain time and ranking requirements in designated marathons could participate in an MGC race held on Sept. 15. The third athlete from Japan to compete in the Olympics will be determined based on three rounds of races between the winter of 2019 and the spring of 2020.

Menkyo hennō 免許返納 (returning licenses)

Faced with an increase in car accidents involving elderly drivers, both the central and local governments began asking them to voluntarily give up their licenses and return them to the authorities. To promote the campaigns, several celebrities gave up their right to drive, but it’s been suggested that this might be a bigger inconvenience for regular senior citizens with limited to public transportation.

Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. President Akihiko Okamoto speaks at a news conference in late July. | KYODO

Yami eigyō 闇営業 (underground business)

Thirteen personalities, including high-profile comedians, from entertainment powerhouse Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. were accused of involvement in lucrative “underground businesses.” The revelation came after a weekly tabloid magazine reported they had secretly performed at a party hosted by a purported crime group in 2014. They obtained anywhere from tens of thousands of yen to ¥1 million in remuneration. The scandal has evolved into a scathing criticism of the firm’s management and corporate culture.

Yonen ni ichido ja nai. Isshō ni ichido da. 4年に一度じゃない。一生に一度だ。 (“It’s not once every four years. It’s once in a lifetime.”)

The slogan of the Japanese rugby team for the Rugby World Cup.

Reiwa 令和 (Reiwa, “beautiful harmony”)

The new imperial name succeeded Heisei, marking the beginning of the new era of Emperor Naruhito. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who unveiled the new era name to the public and was later dubbed “Uncle Reiwa,” highlighted its connection to a set of poems from “Manyoshu,” the oldest existing compilation of poetry in Japanese.

Reiwa Shinsengumi founder Taro Yamamoto speaks at a news conference in July. | KYODO

Reiwa shinsengumi/Reiwa senpū れいわ新選組/れいわ旋風 (Reiwa Shinsengumi/Reiwa cyclone)

Politician Taro Yamamoto launched the anti-establishment political party Reiwa Shinsengumi in April. In the three months leading up to July’s House of Councilors election, it received more than ¥400 million in donations. Online videos of candidates making speeches in which they promised political reform and to reduce inequality generated a considerable buzz on Twitter.

Warawanai otoko 笑わない男 (The man who doesn’t smile)

A prop for Japan’s rugby team, Keita Inagaki has earned this nickname for his poker face. Even after his team scored a major victory over rugby powerhouse Scotland, he didn’t crack a smile in the group photo.

Captain Michael Leitch leads Japan's rugby team back to the locker room before the kickoff of the Japan-Samoa game on Oct. 5. | DAN ORLOWITZ

ONE TEAM ワンチーム (One team)

Under the leadership of Jamie Joseph, the Japanese rugby team used this slogan/hashtag for the Rugby World Cup.

By Masumi Koizumi and Satoshi Sugiyama, The Japan Times

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