(Image borrowed from The Daily Yomiuri Online, 12/13/08)
"Hen," which means "change" in English, has been chosen as the single best kanji to characterize the year 2008, a Kyoto-based kanji promotion organization said Friday. The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation said it received a total of 111,208 entries for its poll to select the single best kanji reflecting society in 2008.
Of the total, 6,031, or 5.4%, picked "hen," followed by "kin" (gold) and "raku" (fall). "Kin" was apparently chosen because of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, while "raku" was chosen to reflect falling stock prices. "Hen" was chosen to symbolize successive changes of power in Japan from 2007 to 2008, the victory of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who called for change during his presidential campaign, and the deterioration in the global financial and economic landscape, the association said. (Text from Japan Today, 12/13/08)
Of course "hen" also means strange, which could be fitting. The kanji "hen" is also used in "taihen" meaning "difficult." Perhaps things have been strange and difficult this year and we are all in need of change...
You can read more about the choice (in Japanese language only) at the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society web page.
You can see what the kanji of the year since 1995 has been at this encyclopedia site.