Japan firms pick kanji for "change" to describe turbulent 2023

The kanji character for "change" was the top pick among Japanese firms to summarize 2023, a year that many saw as marked by turbulence, a research firm said.

The character, picked by nearly 60 firms, was followed by ones for "patience" and "endurance," according to Teikoku Databank, which conducted an online survey of almost 1,000 companies.

"There have been too many abnormalities this year, ranging from extreme weather and surging prices to (the war between) Russia and Ukraine and the Middle East situation. We had to change to cope with them," a wholesaler was quoted by the research firm as saying.

While Japan's inflation accelerated at a much slower pace than in the United States and Europe, its peak of 4.2 percent was a four-decade high, caused by surging fuel and raw material costs amid Russia's war against Ukraine.

There have also been concerns about the Israel-Hamas war potentially spilling over to the Middle East, which has major oil producing nations.

Japan's economy remained resilient for most of the year, helped by pent-up demand with the removal of anti-coronavirus curbs, though it marked the first negative growth in three quarters in the July-September period.

"We had some expectations for the year after the COVID shock. Big firms reported strong growth but small and midsize firms didn't. It was a year of patience," a machinery and equipment wholesaler said.

The kanji character meaning "high" ranked fourth in the survey, the first of its kind by Teikoku Databank, with rising prices cited as a reason. It was followed by another signifying "turmoil" and "confusion."

"Everything went up, from inflation and raw materials prices to fuel and personnel costs," a firm in the food-related industry said.

The survey, covering 955 firms, most of which are small and midsize, also underscored the difficulty in passing on increased costs to consumers.

The Japanese government sees it vital for smaller firms to be able to better cope with higher costs by raising prices, in the hope that this will also help them raise wages. It has been urging bigger firms to negotiate price hikes with small and midsize firms if they want to pass on rising costs.

Some 18.4 percent of small and midsize firms said they have not been able to pass on costs "at all," according to a government survey to which around 35,000 firms responded between October and November. The figure fell 3.0 percentage points from the previous survey this spring.

© Kyodo News