漢字 (Kanji) is one of the three type of Japanese written characters. They’re the characters that Japan originally borrowed from China…(Japan’s original characters are ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana).)
(This post isn’t about explaining Japan’s written characters. But, if you’re wondering, basically Chinese uses 漢字 (Kanji) exclusively…but the Japanese language is different and needs ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana) also.
For example, a sentence like “Canada is a large country” uses kanji, hiragana and katakana and would look like: 「カナダは大きい国です。」).
Starting in 1995, every year on December 12th Japan chooses a 今年の漢字 (Kanji Of The Year).
It’s a character that is chosen by popular vote that represents the biggest events of the current year and is written out in a large 習字 (Japanese calligraphy) character in a ceremony by the lead monk at a temple in 京都 (Kyoto).
In 1995, there was a large 地震 (earthquake) in 神戸 (Kobe, Japan), and a sarin gas attack on the subways of 東京 (Tokyo). So, that year 「震」 (tremor) was the 今年の漢字 (Kanji Of The Year).
This year (2008) saw alot of major good and bad changes such as the Japanese Prime Minister changing suddenly, a historical American election on a campaign of “change”, and major changes in the world’s economy.
So, last Friday (December 12), this year’s 今年の漢字 (Kanji Of The Year) was announced as 「変」 (“change“).(Here’s a picture of this year’s character (“change”) being written by the lead monk):