At the end of every year, the Japan Kanji [i.e. Chinese character] Proficiency Certification Society solicits from the public the kanji that best sums up the past year.
A ceremony takes place at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple where the selected kanji is publicly put to parchment by a calligrapher.
The kanji selected this year was the character for “new,” pronounced shin or atarashii.
This character was chosen because of swine influenza, which in Japanese is 新型（しんがた、shingata), or "new type."
Moreover, the election of the "new" government - 新政権（しんせいけん、shin seiken）- and its attendant hopes and fears were another reason for the choice.