2018 Is the Year of Disaster, Japan Declares

The Japanese public has chosen the word “disaster” to describe 2018 after a year of environmental turmoil and economic trouble.

Vote picked the kanji symbol 災 (pronounced wazawai or sai) in an annual ballot to choose a word that defines the mood of the nation, The Japan Times reported Wednesday.

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2018 saw natural disasters including flooding, earthquakes, landslides, typhoons and a fatal heatwave. Japan suffered a major cryptocurrency theft amid subsequent economic strain in September.

“Disaster” won almost 21,000 of nearly 200,000 total votes, Nippon.com reported. The next best scoring symbol was 平 ( hei/taira )—which can be translated as “peace”—with more than 16,000 votes.

Chief Buddhist priest Seihan Mori of the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto immortalized the winning symbol in giant calligraphy inked on a five-by-four foot sheet of washi paper.

“North” won the 2017 vote, organized by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, amid escalating tensions in North Korea. “Gold” won the ballot in 2016, recognizing the Olympic Games held that year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the BBC reported.

Kanji are Chinese characters adopted for use in the Japanese writing system. The language also uses syllabic scripts called hiragana and katakana. Katakana, in particular, is often used for foreign words and loanwords.

Japan made headlines in November when the county's cybersecurity minister admitted he didn't know how to use computers. Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, told parliament: “I have been independently running my own business since I was 25 years old…When computer use is necessary, I order my employees or secretaries [to do it.]"

When quizzed on how he could run a cybersecurity department without such knowledge, he told members of parliament that other people working on his department dealt with policy decisions.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced the country would try and attract hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the next five years to compensate for a dwindling workforce.

Decades of low birth rates and low immigration have contributed to an aging population, which is already impacting the economy. An April report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation made dramatic predictions about the country's future finances.

“As Japan's elderly population is projected to reach nearly three-quarters of the working-age population by 2050, using all available talent in the labor market is key to overcome labor shortages," it read. “This will require creating better work conditions for youth, incentivizing employment for the elderly, attracting foreign workers and closing gender gaps in job quality to promote the inclusion of women.”