At year’s end it is a time to look back over the past 12 months – in words. The events in Asia during the past year, massive and small, threw up numerous colorful words in half a dozen languages that helped to frame the events of 2011 but also to lift the corner on the deeper aspects of Asian life and culture. Here are a few of them.
The mammoth earthquake/tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast in the afternoon of March 11, precipitating multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station gave rise to the phrase Fukushima Fifty. It referred to a small but intrepid band of nuclear power plant workers who braved high levels of radiation to help bring the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant under control.
The term Fukushima Fifty was always a bit of hype, more popular in the West than in Japan, in that many more nuclear power plant workers, soldiers and others, some 19,000 in total, labored to bring the plants safely under control by the time they were finally declared to be in safe “cold shutdown” condition in mid-December.
Another term stemming from the nuclear accident, fly-jin, enjoyed a brief vogue referring to those foreigners who fled Japan – or at least Tokyo – shortly after the nuclear crisis to escape possible advancing radiation exposure, only to return sheepishly later. In Japanese the word jin means person, and the new word is a takeoff on gaijin, the Japanese word for foreigner.
The Japanese word for conserving electricity, setsudan, became the byword during the summer after the nuclear crisis resulted in many more plant closures across Japan, sparking fears of rolling blackouts in the capital, Tokyo, and a plea to conserve electricity. The two Chinese characters for setsudan were seen on notices everywhere, explaining that this elevator or that escalator was out of service, this building had dimmed its lights or curtailed operating hours to save on electricity.
In July Japan’s woman’s national soccer team Nadeshiko lifted everybody spirits in a country hungry for good news after their country’s greatest post-war disaster by beating the US women’s soccer team to win 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament, The women were the first Japanese, male or female, to win a World Cup championship, and they became instant celebrities creating the new term Nadeshiko Power, after a hardy, pink-frilled carnation native to Japan. The word was chosen as Japan’s “top buzzword of the year” for 2011.
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