Japan picks 'kizuna' as kanji character of 2011

Japan has chosen the written character "kizuna", meaning "bond", as best representing 2011, in a year when the country's worst calamity since the war saw strangers rushing to help one another.

Half a million people took part in the annual poll to select a kanji character -- kanji being one of the three scripts used in written Japanese -- with around 60,000 of them nominating "kizuna".

Japanese people found renewed value in maintaining links with family and friends as well as in assisting strangers in need, said the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation, which organised the poll.

The character, an ideograph derived from written Chinese, also has echoes of the Arab Spring movement, where waves of people organised themselves via social media in their quest to end oppressive regimes, the foundation added.

Japan's stoicism and willingness to pull together in the face of adversity won worldwide praise after a huge tsunami crashed into the country's northeast coast in March, killing 20,000 people and wiping whole towns off the map.

It also triggered the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years at Fukushima, as reactors went into meltdown, contaminating the environment and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.

In April, then prime minister Naoto Kan used the character "kizuna" in a letter to the world community published in the international press as a way of expressing Japan's gratitude for the help the country had received in the wake of the disaster.

In past years, less emotional characters have been selected.

The winning character for 2010 was "sho", meaning hot, after a sweltering summer. In 2009, the winner was "shin", meaning new, as Barack Obama mesmerised the world and became the first black US president.

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