Move aside, Merriam-Webster. While the American dictionary may select the English-language word of the year, when it comes to Japanese, the honor goes to the Jiyu Kokumin Sha publishing house. The publisher is known for its annual ‘Buzzword of the Year’ contest to determine Japan’s hottest word or phrase of the year, and for 2017, that buzzword is インスタ映え (‘Insta-bae’).
Pronounced Insta-bye-eh, not Insta-bay like ‘bae’, the Millennial slang for a person’s number one love, whether a significant other or a new brand of mascara you just can’t live without — the word ‘Insta-bae’ is a mashup of ‘Instagram’ + ‘photogenic’. It refers to highly attractive photos that are appealing to share on social media.
Commonly referred to as ‘SNS’ or ‘Social Networking Services’ in Japanese, social media communities have been popular in Japan since the early 2000s. But although giants like Facebook and Snapchat never quite took hold with Japanese users, hashtag-based social platforms like Twitter and Instagram — acquired by Facebook in 2012 — did.
In addition to familiar Instagram hashtags for food, beauty, and fashion, Japan has some of its own unique trending hashtags that are ‘Insta-bae’ worthy.
One popular Instagram hashtag was #萌え断 (‘moedan’), or a cross-section of a seriously delicious looking sandwich. Think of it as #foodporn, but specifically for sandwiches cut in half.
Another Instagram trend from Japan is #イッツアスモールワールド (‘It’s a Small World’), named for the Disneyland attraction. It refers to a four-panel set of shots taken in front of the pastel-colored construction walls around the ‘It’s A Small World’ attraction at Tokyo Disneyland Resort.
Why? No one knows exactly, but there’s no denying that the trend has a certain visual appeal.
The award for buzzword of the year was presented at the 2017 U-Can Shingo Ryukogo Taisho (2017 U-Can New Words and Buzzwords Awards) and accepted by models from CanCam, a fashion and beauty magazine for young women.
‘Insta-bae’ shared the top prize with another word 忖度 (‘sontaku’), which means to read between the lines and take preemptive action, even illegally. The word was used in connection with several political scandals featuring Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2017.