At the end of each year, the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society (財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会) choose the character that they feel best represent the past year through a national ballot. The winner is announced at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto December 12 each year. The selected kanji this year was 「絆」, which stands for the bonds between people or emotional ties. There are always several reasons for the selection of a kanji, but the most important one in this case was in relation to the great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11. The atrocious nature of the disaster made people rethink and remember the importance of bonds between irreplaceable family and friends. Moreover, the kanji symbolizes the bonds made between the people who helped each other in the aftermath of the quake.
Some of the other reasons stated for the selection of this kanji was the teamwork and bonds between the players of the women national soccer team who won the world cup, and also the bonds between people created by the use of social networks in relation to other disasters around the world and also to the democratization in the middle east.
Although this kanji is related to the earthquake, it has a positive and optimistic ring to it, while the runner ups were a little bit more negative. In second place came 「災」 which means "disaster", and in third came 「震」 which means "shake" or "shiver". In fact all the characters in the top ten this year were directly related to the earthquake.
The video below shows the unveiling ceremony and some interviews with random people about what they thought were the kanji of the year.