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Japan’s word of the year speaks to rising cost of living fears

Famously one of life’s only two certainties, “tax” has been chosen by the Japanese public as its word of the year, reflecting rising costs of living and much-discussed tax reforms in the world’s third-largest economy.

The kanji, or character, for tax topped an annual poll of more than 147,000 respondents by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, with the head priest of a Kyoto temple painting a giant calligraphy of the character at an unveiling ceremony on Tuesday.

The character was chosen because debates on tax hikes were held throughout the year, association officials said, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Much debate has taken place in the country on income tax cuts, a new invoice system and on tougher rules for a tax donation scheme, they added.

“Next year, there will also be whispers of a consumption tax hike, tobacco tax, corporate tax review and so on. There will be no shortage of topics related to taxation, so I picked this kanji,” said one survey respondent from Osaka.

It comes as inflation has reached as high as 4.3% in Japan over the past year, worsened by stagnant wages that have long plagued the East Asian nation. The inflation figures, which may appear modest to many countries, are seen as unusually high in Japan.

The Bank of Japan’s decision to keep interest rates low, which has driven the Japanese yen down, also caused costs of imports to surge, even though it was seen as an effective way to bring back tourists after the Covid pandemic.

“Prices are rising but wages are not keeping up,” said another survey respondent from Tokyo, explaining their pick.

Tax also topped the vote in 2014, when Japan raised consumption taxes.

This year, the runner-up was the kanji for “heat” – Japan was hit by a record heat wave this summer – while in third place was “war,” a perennial global headline maker.

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