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Words of 2017 and How to Use Them

2017.12.15

On 1st December 2017, two words were selected as the Words of 2017 by the panel of experts.  One of them is a very Japanese word “sontaku”, and the other is “Insta-bae”.

Old and New Words in Spotlight


“Sontaku” is a word that was used a lot during the political turmoil regarding a financial scandal surrounding the prime minister.  This was not a word that appeared routinely until then.  The meaning could be wide ranging:  conjecture, surmise, thinking about what the other people want from you, reading between the lines, or reading what someone is implying.  It is all very vague, and the interpreters and overseas journalists had trouble explaining this.

Basically, the public understood that sontaku is something that is done with good intentions by an acquaintance, without knowledge of the person in question.  It is generally a positive gesture and well received.  It could be related to the Japanese word “Omotenashi”, which was used by the Olympic 2020 bidding team in relation to Japanese hospitality.  Japanese people think ahead and around the needs and comforts of others, as they are not forthcoming with their demands.  It reflects mutual understanding and looking after each other.

Examples are:

I decided not to go to university, but to enter my father’s business, after considering that it is what he would really want.  (He did “sontaku” his father’s unspoken wish.)

We decided to make the payment earlier than required by the contract, as the customer would greatly benefit.  (So they used their “sontaku” from the information gathered.)

But in 2017, it was highlighted in a very negative way, when illegal, or barely legal payments were alleged to have been granted by people who thought that would please the prime minister.  Of course, they were done without his knowledge or involvement.  The Financial Times argued that Toshiba’s corporate disgrace was also rooted in this culture of “sontaku”.  This was the biggest and longest-running scandal in recent years, and the word naturally caught everyone’s attention.

Business Opportunity for a Meaningful Word


Against the negative image, it gave some business opportunities.  T-shirts were made with just one word on the front – likewaise, a Japanese steam bun with the word written on it, and a lunch box called Sontaku Bento.  The steam bun divided opinion as it cost three times more than it was worth, but a lot of people found it was funny, especially given the the fact that this was not sold in Kasumigaseki district in Tokyo, where all the government agencies hold offices.  Bento box is a limited edition, and it is filled with small items full of small of good intentions.  The supplier had thought through what the customers would like, without saying or even knowing that they ever wanted it.

A new word was even coined – “sontaku-ryoku”.  This means to have the ability to think ahead of somebody’s demand.  It can be used seriously, such as at a job interview (with tongue in cheek), or simply as a joke.  The classic word cannot stop providing fun and ideas to the public, and surely it will continue to 2018.

Shine Yourself on Instagram


Instagram has been in Japan since the end of 2010 but only have taken up in the last few years, and it has reached 20 million users in October this year.

The typical user profile for Instagram are in their twenties and notably skewed towards women.  This Word of 2017, Insta-Bae, or Insta-Shine, is the status pursued by many Instagrammers, who check on great looking products, predominantly foodstuff, and make their way to queue up to get a snapshot of these beautiful items.  It makes their Instagram pages shine with colours and new delicious products.

Of course, there are famous people of influence with many followers, but Japanese users are highly interactive, sharing their own photographs in the media.  It is an exchange of information as well as an enjoyment of competition with people having the same interest, on the same platform.

It has had some consequences, in that the most sought-after food of 2017 was colourful and healthy chicken breast salads, with the runner-up being “photogenic sandwiches”.  They are loaded with colourful ingredients, with a big priority being the appearance.  This phenomenon made a new word “Moedan” = Bursting Section.  There is a hashtag #萌え断, on Instagram which has attracted some over 44,000 posts on Instagram.

They are truly beautiful and appetizing.  The cooking websites started to upload many combination ideas.  For a country which is known for varieties of lunchboxes (such as Sontaku Lunch Box), making it beautiful and having fun is a vital part of everyday life.  If it is an essential chore, it is important for the young generation to have fun, and sharing the effort makes it much more worthwhile.

The Selection of 2018 Starts Now


These are in the 2018 edition of “Basic Knowledge of Modern Vocabulary”.  The selection for the next year is already underway.  It will be fun to monitor what may become the most influential word of the year for the next 12 months.  By getting the social trend right and combining the new ideas with the most unexpected products, there will be a lot of opportunities to grab the hearts of Japanese consumers.

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