Japan picks the kanji character for "dense" to define coronavirus year

Seihan Mori, chief Buddhist priest at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, writes the Chinese "mitsu", meaning "congested" or "dense", as the character was selected as the single best kanji symbolising the national mood for the year, in Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo December 14, 2020. Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Monday selected a kanji character used to encourage social distancing as its defining symbol for 2020, highlighting a catchphrase used extensively during the coronavirus pandemic that even inspired its own computer game.

The character “mitsu”, meaning “congested” or “dense”, was derived from a buzzword “San-mitsu”, which was central to Japan’s approach to the containing the pandemic. Translated as “Three Cs” in English, it refers to avoiding closed spaces, crowds and close contacts.

Japanese TV networks broadcast the annual announcement live, with the master of the ancient Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto writing the character on a huge white panel with an ink-soaked calligraphy brush.

“It is important to get “mitsu” between heart and heart,” an announcer at the event said, citing a message from one voter who picked the symbol for the year when people keep physical distances from each other.

The “three Cs” term was first introduced by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, to urge the residents to stay indoors during the first wave of coronavirus infections earlier this year.

The catchphrase even inspired a computer game of Koike navigating through crowds while uttering her daily “mitsu desu” call for social distancing.

Since 1995, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, the event organizer, has conducted nationwide polls to pick a Chinese character, known as kanji, that sums up the social trends and events of each year.

Last year, the character “rei” used in the new era name of Reiwa translated as beautiful harmony was picked.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Lincoln Feast