December Challenge – 03 Morning

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Today’s theme for the December 31-day challenge is Morning and so I am sharing my favorite winter morning view – Mt. Fuji! I lived at the base of Mt. Fuji during my study abroad in Japan, and went back again over Christmas three years ago. I woke up early to get some shots of the stratovolcano at sunrise, and I wasn’t disappointed. In the quiet morning hours at the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, the photos of the peaceful (but really cold!) scene still bring back good memories.

MorningWhat is your winter morning like? Tell me about it in the comments! 

December Challenge – 02 Tradition

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Today is the second day of the December 31-day challenge and the theme is Tradition – so I selected Christmas decorations! There is nothing like Christmas decorations to bring out your Christmas spirit. The photo below is from the Hotel Del Coronado annual Christmas tree decorations, taken in 2012. Lights, Santa Claus, and snowmen all get me in the mood for Christmas, even if the hotel is right next to the sunny beach!

Tradition

Aside from decorating Christmas trees and looking at Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies and spending time with family are some of my favorite Christmas traditions.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Let me know in the comments!

December Challenge – 01 Lights

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I am doing a 31-day December Challenge, and so let’s start today!

Lights

Today’s prompt is lights – and this is a photo of Christmas lights in a park that I took last year. The reflection of the multi-colored lights on the water create a colorful and festive scene!

What are your favorite light displays? Let me know in the comments!

Bilingual Problems – Friday Afternoons & Monday Mornings

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It’s Friday (yay!) and for me, that means the start to a weekend of speaking 99% Japanese. My first language is English, I was born in the US, and I live in the US, but I have studied Japanese since high school so I can have everyday conversations without too much trouble.

My husband is Japanese, and he can speak conversational English, but when we met he spoke literally zero English and so our conversations from day one were in Japanese. Since we spoke Japanese from the time we met, it’s difficult to change our habits at this point in time. (I’ve since noticed that whenever I meet someone, whichever language we start speaking first is the one we usually speak in at least 75% of the time from that point on).

English on the Weekdays, Japanese on the Weekend

So that means that I spend the week speaking English at my job and speaking Japanese at night, but when I come home on Friday I start a weekend of pretty much only speaking and listening to Japanese. We mostly only watch Japanese TV and movies (mostly because I like to watch Japanese news and TV shows). The friends I’ve made in my new city are also mostly Japanese speakers, so when I go out on the weekends I speak more Japanese. The only times I really speak English for any length of time on the weekends are when I talk to my parents on the phone or Skype.

Then Comes Monday Morning…

So what does that mean on Monday morning? You might have guessed that my English is pretty lousy by the time Monday morning comes around. I have an early morning meeting every Monday, and while my sleep-deprived brain is already fumbling to make coherent sentences, Japanese words come to my mind rather than English words. My English sounds like an English language learner, or my grammar switches order as I try to directly translate the Japanese that comes to mind. It can be frustrating, but also maybe more than a little entertaining to my co-workers.

Conversely, when I go on business trips and come back home (usually Fridays), my Japanese is lousy when I go back to talking to my husband. I’m tired from travelling on airplanes, getting up super early, time changes, and sleeping in hotels. I go from discussing technical data in English to blanking out on answering simple questions in Japanese. It usually takes me a while to get back to where I can have coherent conversations in Japanese again.

Does Every Bilingual Person Experience This?

I imagine this is something a lot of bilingual people experience. A few other American friends of mine who have studied Japanese and used it on a regular basis, then had to switch back to English after long periods of time, have told me that they also noticed that their English (native language!) got worse. Of course, either language improves with use, but that initial transition can be tricky.

When I had to interpret for my parents and my in-laws earlier this year when they finally met, I was mentally thoroughly drained thanks to having to constantly switch back and forth between the two. I really admire interpreters, as it takes a lot of mental fortitude to keep up that kind of transition!

Are you bilingual? Have you ever experienced this kind of thing? Have you ever tried interpreting between two languages? Any advice that could make this transition between languages easier? Let me know in the comments!

Love in Japanese

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How do you say “I love you” in Japanese?

The Google result for that exact phrase is:

わたしは、あなたを愛しています

(In romaji, that’s: Watashi wa, anata wo ai shite imasu)

While this is grammatically correct, culturally it’s not the most common way to convey the all-important feelings to your Japanese significant other. So how can you say “I love you” in Japanese?

Say I Love You in Japanese

When I was first starting to learn Japanese, I learned that “I like you” is 好きです suki desu, “I like you a lot” is 大好きです dai suki desu, and “I love you” is 愛しています ai shite imasu.

However, my Japanese boyfriends (one of whom is now my husband) never said 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to me. Usually, they said 好きだよ (suki da yo), and sometimes even 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo)  (♥ω♥ ) ~♪

So does this mean that they never, you know, loved me? Σ(・Д・)!?

As an American, it’s common even when you are in high school to exchange I-love-you’s with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and seeing it in movies and other media makes you sort of expect to hear it from someone you are dating. So to a young me, it seemed strange that Japanese guys didn’t use what I had always heard was the translation for “I love you.”

It Means I Love You in Japanese

If you study Japanese, you know that the language is all about beating around the bush, or being vague (曖昧 aimai). This is also true with verbal expressions of affection. As my Japanese improved I realized that pretty much no one says 愛しています (ai shite imasu) to express affection, even when they truly love someone.

While 好き (suki) means “like,” it also means “love.” When someone confesses to another person in anime or dramas, they say 好きです (suki desu), which doesn’t mean “I love you” because that’s a little fast, but it means “I like you.” As the relationship grows, it can evolve into love, but that transition is never explicitly discussed. But when I ask Japanese guys, 好き still means love to them.

Culturally, direct expressions are not entirely common, so it can be uncomfortable for Japanese guys to express their emotions in such a direct manner. Even American guys have problems expressing emotion, so you can’t really blame Japanese guys.

How to Say I Love You in Japanese

It is said that in Japanese, “I like you” 好きです (suki desu) and “thank you” ありがとう (arigatou) mean “love” (愛 ai). In a language where you don’t often directly express such strong emotions, this means that it’s not the direct meaning of the words that is important, as much as the feelings behind the words.

In Japanese households, parents and children don’t often exchange sentiments such as love verbally or even with hugs or kisses. Rather, they express their feelings through what they do to care for and support each other. Thus, expressing thanks is a way of noticing how someone cares for you and expressing your appreciation. And doing similarly kind things for the other person is a good way to express your own feelings of love.

In romantic relationships, this same nonverbal communication can almost be more important than simply saying 好き (suki). So don’t get worried when your Japanese boyfriend doesn’t say 愛しています (ai shite imasu) – it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you! Look at his actions, and it should be obvious how he feels. If you still want to hear it? Ask! It might be awkward at first, but it provides a chance for multi-cultural learning for both of you. If you need verbal confirmation, like a lot of American women do, usually Japanese guys will make an effort once they know how important it is to you.

I love you - photo by kei

So go ahead, and say “I really like you” – 大好きだよ (dai suki da yo) – or even “thanks for everything you do” – いつもありがとう (itsumo arigatou) – and rest assured that your “I love you” will be conveyed.

How do you say “I love you” in your language? What has someone done for you that you realized they loved you? Let me know in the comments!

Summer Means… Ghosts?

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Summer means sun, vacations, the beach… and ghosts?

In Japan, ghosts or yuurei 幽霊 appear more often than usual during the summer, including family ancestors. The appearance of ancestors coincides with the Obon お盆 festival, a Buddhist festival where Japanese families return to ancestral family homes and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The festivals held across Japan are accompanied by Bon odori 盆踊り, which are large dances meant to welcome back the spirits of the ancestors.

Hasedera in Kamakura

Hasedera in Kamakura – photo by kei

While in the US we associate ghosts and zombies mingling amongst the living with October and Halloween, Japanese ghosts tend to show up in July and August. In the run-up to the Obon season, there are a variety of obake yashiki お化け屋敷 or haunted houses to visit. This year there was even a haunted train, complete with zombies. And of course, the hospital-themed haunted house at Fuji-Q Highland is exceptionally popular during the Obon season. 

During Obon, lanterns are traditionally hung outside of homes to help light the way for the ancestors to return. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are set adrift in rivers, lakes, and the ocean to help guide the ancestors away again.

 

The holiday this year started off on Friday, with the newly-created Mountain Day or Yama no Hi 山の日 (which just started in 2016). The Obon festival lasts for three days in the middle of August (although the dates vary somewhat in different parts of Japan), and this year’s festivities are just winding down this weekend – accompanied by the usual traffic jam as people return to the large cities from the countryside.

What kind of holidays do you celebrate in the summer? What kind of holidays do you celebrate with your ancestors, ghosts, or other spooky things? Let me know in the comments!

Making New Friends (as an Adult)

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Earlier this year, I mentioned that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to make new friends. As I also mentioned, I have recently moved for the second time in two years, and having to start over is intimidating, especially when it comes to making new friends. Making friends as an adult is more difficult than I thought it would be, and meeting people that you can connect with is surprisingly hard.

So what are my strategies to make adult friends in this new city?

  1. Attend professional networking groups in my area
  2. Attend “meet ups” using the app Meet Up
  3. Explore my new area with my husband

So, I thought that since it’s July I would update about my journey towards new friendships. What worked? What didn’t work very well? If these tips help someone else in the same situation, that would be great too!

Professional Networking Groups

Since beginning my job I have learned that in most industries connections are very important. So I attend networking events put on by professional organizations. Networking groups are divided into 3 types: by city, by industry, and by experience level. As far as making personal friendships, people who work in a similar industry are a good place to start. It’s easier to meet people who are in the

Pros

Networking groups can be a great way to meet people from various industries and age groups that live in your area. This is especially useful if your business relies on a variety of other industries and you live in a large area, since everyone is gathered in one place. Industry groups are similar, but on a more industry-focused scale that is less overwhelming than a city-based group. Meeting with young professionals is good for shared experiences and learning about the city.

Cons

It can be overwhelming to meet a lot of people at once, and you really have to weed through the crowds to find someone you can connect with. In general, professional networking groups are good to meet people involved in your industry and around your experience level, but it is difficult to make any deep connections with such limited contact unless you put in a lot of time outside of the professional groups.

Final Thought: Not the best way to meet new friends unless you are willing to meet lots of people and make a huge effort… not always easy with limited time.

Meet Ups and the App

At a networking event, I heard about an app called MeetUp. Disclaimer: I am not getting any sponsorship from the app (or from anyone else for that matter!), but I have had a lot of success with this app. You can find groups by distance to your location and interests. If they don’t have groups with your interests, you can always try putting together one yourself (but I haven’t tried making a group).

The groups I found included a professional networking group for young professionals in the city, a few Japanese/English language exchange groups, and a few groups for travel enthusiasts. The professional networking group was a bit overwhelming, since it was professionals from all industries, but it was a fun time. The groups for travel enthusiasts seem interesting, but they really only work if you are willing to travel to specific destinations with people you don’t know.

The best group for me (as you might have guessed) was the Japanese/English exchange group. There are other language exchange groups, including ones for multiple language learners, but since I speak English and Japanese this was the best for me. I was able to find people with shared common interests (Japanese language and culture), and while I didn’t become close friends with everyone, I have found a core group that I enjoy spending time with outside of the meet ups.

So I can highly recommend this app for making new friends in a new city. Find a few groups, try them out, and then pick your favorites (trust me, you’ll know).

Pros

With groups formed based on particular interests, you can focus on what you are really interested in and quickly meet a lot of people with similar interests. Meet ups are in public places and therefore usually safe.

Cons

You sometimes have to try a few groups before you find people you really get along with. But don’t get discouraged! If there isn’t already a group with your interest, you can make it. But it seems like it costs money to run it through MeetUp, and it might be a bit more difficult to garner interest in a less popular hobby/interest.

Final Thought: This is a great way to make new friends, and I can highly recommend it! There is a bit of time commitment while you check out various groups, but it’s easy to make connections when you find the good groups.

Exploring a New City

While exploring a new city with your significant other or even by yourself won’t necessarily make it easier to find friends, it can make it easier to make friends. How? If you find out what you like to do – go to cultural events, go to bars, go shopping – you can find the kind of people you want to hang out with and do these things. Different cities have different attractions and specialties, and this determines what kinds of events you attend. The friends I made at the meet up events like doing the same kinds of things I do, so now I can talk more about the things I want to do in this city, and they can make recommendations or go with me.

Final Thought: Try something new! Even if you don’t make new friends, it will help to have an idea of the things you enjoy about the new city when you do make friends, so that you can meet people who have similar interests. And it’s fun to get to know your new city!

 

What are your suggestions on how to make friends (adult or otherwise)? What has worked best for you? What would you NOT recommend? I’m still looking for more friends, so let me know your suggestions in the comments!

5 Favorite Things About Japan

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It’s no secret that Japan is one of my favorite places. Even though I’ve only lived there for a short time as a student and visited for a week or a month at a time since that, every time I plan a trip I end up visiting Japan for the umpteenth time rather than visiting a country I’ve never been to before (although there are a lot of countries I haven’t visited yet).

So what is so great about Japan? I’ve met many people who have visited Japan, and when I ask them what their favorite thing about Japan is, I get just as many different answers. Here I’ve compiled a list of favorites, including both my experiences and those of people I know.

  1. Public Transportation
Train doors

Riding on the train – photo by kei

In the US you can’t get anywhere easily without a car. And streets, residences, and markets are laid out such that it’s not often feasible to just walk to the super market – it’s too far or too perilous to reach on foot. When you do use public transportation it can be grimy (think NY subways) or costly (taxi fares to downtown), or just really slow (how long do I have to wait for a bus?).

In Japan, public transportation is efficient, frequent, and clean. You can be sure that the train will be on time down to the minute – yes, 14:17 means that it will arrive at 2:17 PM on the dot – barring a disaster or accident, of course. If your apartment is far from the train station or eki 駅 you can ride your bike or take the bus to the station, then take the train to your destination. Taxis can be expensive, but the bus is often an inexpensive option, and you can look up bus or train schedules on your smart phone. No wifi? Find a 7/11 convenience store and you can connect to their 7-SPOT wifi. You can use the same ID and password for the Tokyo Metro wifi as well.

2. Public Toilets

Separate toilet rooms keep things clean – photo by kei

Toilets in Japan are something you need to experience yourself to truly understand and appreciate. Before I went to Japan, I wondered what the big deal about oto-hime and bidet was, but once I spent some time there I understood why people write articles about Japanese toilets. Japanese toilets have lots of bells and whistles, including seat warmers, buttons that emit flushing sounds, and a variety of bidet settings. At first the array of buttons is intimidating, but once you figure out what each button does, you will wonder how you ever lived without the button that plays a charming little tune.

Public toilets in Japan often contain these high-tech toilets. Some even have lids that open automatically when you approach. You often find the high-tech Western-style toilets in shopping centers and super markets. However, there are still Japanese-style toilets interspersed with the high-tech toilets in stores and train stations. Many parks have both low-tech Western-style toilets and Japanese-style toilets, or just Japanese toilets. These are the hole-in-the-ground type, which can be an adjustment for many Westerners, but when you need to go they are just as welcome as the Western-style toilets.

The abundance of public toilets available in Japan is quite helpful when you are exploring a new place, as you are usually not far from a public toilet. Even when I climbed Mt. Fuji there were public toilets available! (Due to the difficulty of accessing and cleaning the loo at 3000+ meters altitude, they request a small donation, and although this is honor-based, I am sure most visitors pay the small donation.) Public toilets in Japan are also incredibly clean. A public toilet in a park in the US can be pretty disgusting, but I’ve never been to a public toilet in Japan that I literally couldn’t use because someone mucked it up.

3. Fast Food

The number one thing that people comment on about their trip to Japan is the food. Even people who don’t eat sushi find the food to be delicious. Japan indeed does dining well, from traditional favorites to international cuisine, the food is always well made but at reasonable prices. The same is true for fast food in Japan. Whether it’s the internationally famous McDonald’s or Japan-based Mos Burger, fast food just seems better in Japan. Aside from Western hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Japanese udon and beef bowls count among the ranks of fast foods. The food choices are more varied and some of the places seem healthier than your typical fast food joints. Some of the fast food restaurants in Japan don’t even seem like fast food, and so sometimes you can fool yourself into thinking you’re eating healthier (although I haven’t checked the nutrition values).

You can even pick up frozen or refrigerated meals at the convenience store that taste almost fresh after you heat them up in the microwave. I’ve had 7/11 fish heated up in a microwave that tastes like it was freshly cooked. It’s hard to go back to US frozen food after that experience…

4. Mascot Characters

Japan essentially has the market cornered on cute. Cute accessories, cute characters, even cute food (like kyara-ben キャラ弁). That’s why Hello Kitty has endured worldwide for over 40 years and why I always stop at the capsule vending machines to get a new character key chain in game centers. One of my favorite Japanese things is mascot characters.

Japan has a mascot for everything – TV stations, stores, even every prefecture and city has its own mascot character. You may be familiar with the TV station NHK’s Domo-kun (どーもくん), the brown furry square monster, or Kumamon (くまモン), the black bear that is the representative of Kumamoto Prefecture. The mascot characters are my favorite cute characters, and I wouldn’t mind having a mascot for everything in my life. You can even meet the mascot characters if you get lucky. City mascots appear at festivals and other events, and store mascots sometimes wander about while you shop.

5. Sakura

Sakura

Sakura blossoms at Shinjuku Gyoen – photo by kei

Spring is my favorite season, next to summer, and with spring comes cherry blossoms or sakura 桜, which bloom for a very short time across Japan. When it just begins to warm up, but before the rain falls, cherry blossoms bloom for a couple of weeks. The light pink blossoms all bloom at the same time, and then begin to fall or are washed away by the rain. The ephemeral nature of the cherry blossoms is very poetic, and has begun a primary symbol in Japanese culture.

When the cherry blossoms bloom, people come out for dates or in groups to view the cherry blossoms, taste sakura-inspired snacks and drinks, and consume alcohol in the parks. The warmer weather that accompanies the blooms and the short viewing period inspire crowds to congregate outdoors. Celebrating the coming spring and viewing the beautiful blossoms (hanami 花見) creates an atmosphere that is unique to these blooms.

Other seasonal events that bring out the crowds in Japan are the changing leaves in the fall, and the illuminations (seasonal lights) in the winter. The beach is a cool relief from the humidity of summer. Any season that you visit Japan offers specialty events and delicacies, and each offers a unique experience!

What are your favorite things about Japan? Do you agree with my list? What about your home country? Let me know in the comments!

Being Sick in Japan

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I hate being sick. I hate being sick away from home even more!

When I travel anywhere – within the US or to Japan – and especially when I fly, I usually get sick. Being in a small space with other people and sharing recycled air allows those nasty little bugs to invade.

At least when you are home and you get sick, you are in familiar surroundings and the medicine or foods you need to feel better are in easy reach. In a foreign country, you often have to figure out what medicine to buy in a language you haven’t entirely mastered, and then if you need to see a doctor that’s a whole other problem.

Getting Sick in Japan

So what happens when you get sick in Japan? I’ve gotten sick enough times that I’ve learned to be prepared for the eventuality.

If you are on a student visa or any visa that gives you access to healthcare, go to the doctor (isha 医者)! They have national healthcare and it will cost you nothing to very little to go to the doctor. As a student, I went when I got injured playing soccer. I had an X-ray and got some painkiller (I had a collision with another player, but it ended in just some bruises) and I walked out of the hospital without a bill.

If you’re a visitor, you don’t have access to the national healthcare system, but I got an IV drip (this is pretty common in Japan for flu and cold treatment) and some medicine the last time I was sick in Japan, and got out for under ¥5000 (~$45).  Some copays in the US can be more than that. You can also go to a pharmacy or convenience store, and explain your symptoms to the clerk (there are free Japanese-English dictionary apps available!). Ingredients are often listed in katakana and if you know the ingredients you are looking for, you can make educated guesses.

My advice? Figure out what kinds of (minor) illnesses you are most likely to get when you travel (if you get sick enough times, you’ll know). Bring medicine with you, just in case. I’d recommend bringing over-the-counter cold medicine if you’re going during the winter, or pain killer if you’re prone to headaches when you travel. If there’s anything you are prone to (like.. gasp.. diarrhea), pack medicine that you know works so you don’t have to find something when you’ve already gotten sick.

If you have a chronic condition that requires medication, of course you should be sure to bring it with you. But if it’s a narcotic or prescription strength, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that you can enter the country with it. Japan is a bit stricter on drugs than the US, and you don’t want to be stopped because of drugs that are legally in your possession. And don’t bring illegal drugs to Japan, because that’s just asking for trouble!

I’m Getting Better…

My Japanese husband and I have different ideas about comfort food and home remedies when it comes to being sick, and so when I bring back a cold I picked up on a business trip, we end up with an interesting meal plan.

Sometimes we eat ozosui お雑炊 – a soup with rice that’s almost like a porridge – and sometimes we eat chicken noodle soup. The most important thing about comfort food is that it soothes the symptoms of being sick, and often it isn’t the food itself but the memory of eating it as a child that makes you feel better. When both of us are really really sick we obtain calories from store-bought bottled smoothies (US) or from jelly drinks (Japan).

Usually Japanese people think that American medicine is too strong, while Americans think that Japanese medicine is not strong enough. My husband and I each have a different combination of American and Japanese medicine that we prefer for different symptoms, and thanks to his parents we have an abundant supply of both!

Sometimes I wonder if the perception of a certain medicine not being effective enough can affect the way that the medicine actually works – like a placebo effect. If you always used the same medicine to cure your cold, and you are positive that any other medicine won’t work, is it because it really doesn’t work, or because you don’t think it will work?

What is your favorite food when you are under the weather? What do you do to prevent illness? Have you ever had any problems with medicine in a foreign country? Let me know in the comments!

The Japanese Emperor – and the end of the Heisei?

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The Japanese emperor (tennou 天皇) is said to be descended directly from the sun goddess Amaterasu, and today represents the Japanese constitutional monarchy. With such a long lineage filled with time-honored customs, and tied to modern Japan through the constitution, there seems to be little room for grand changes.

Yet at the end of 2018 a major change may occur in the imperial system.

Customarily, the Japanese emperor serves as the imperial head of Japan for the duration of his natural life. Succession occurs with his death, and the title of emperor is passed on to his first-born son. However, at the end of 2018, Emperor Akihito may step down and pass on his title. This would be the first time that the title would be passed on while the present emperor, or kinjyoutennou 今上天皇, was still living.

Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo – photo by kei

Why pass on the title?

There are a number of reasons why passing on the title, or abdicating, during his lifetime would serve both the emperor and the country as a whole. In the present day where health care is better than it’s ever been and people are living many years longer than their ancestors, the emperor may indeed live for many more years. As the emperor, at the age of 83, he must work 25 days out of the month (I work 21-22 days out of the month). I imagine that this is quite tiring!

Also, as Japan is preparing for the 2020 Olympic games, the emperor will be expected to serve as a symbol for the country. He will need to make public appearances, and if he unexpectedly falls ill during the games, this might dampen the spirits of the host country.

These are some reasons which may be behind the decision for early abdication by the emperor.

Imperial Palace

The Imperial residence buildings in Tokyo – photo by kei

Why is this decision so monumental?

The early abdication of an emperor is an event that has never occurred since the institution of Japan’s national constitution in 1947. In fact, as I understand it, the language even prevents the early abdication (likely as a safeguard against the emperor’s title being removed). Thus, to allow for this unprecedented circumstance, the Japanese constitution itself must be amended.

A committee took an initial vote on whether the emperor should be allowed to abdicate, and while the decision has not been finalized, it seems that the committee was favorable to allowing the emperor to go through with this. The change might not be permanent, though, as the government seems to favor only allowing the abdication for Emperor Akihito, rather than applying it to all succeeding emperors.

Still, Emperor Akihito may step down at the end of 2018, and pass down his title to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito (who is 56), on the first of January 2019. This would bring the Heisei 平成 era to an end at 30 years, and begin the new era – which may be named as early as this year.

How do you think the Japanese government should handle this decision? Allow him to abdicate? Make it a permanent rule? Do you think this is a good decision for Japan? Let me know in the comments!