By Charity Chukwu (Japanese Plus)

Given the harsh social and political climate right now, it can be difficult to find positive things about the U.S. I often compare it to Japan, pondering how much better the U.S. would be if it were more like Japan. I was ashamed of my country, so I had the notion that some of the Japanese people would feel the same way.

I never would have imagined how many things Japan and America have in common. Tokyo looks so similar to Baltimore or another nearby city in my eyes that at one point I wondered when I would start to feel homesick. The rainy, overcast sky outside the Grand Palace Hotel was met with a kind of nonchalant serenity; it felt as if it were an everyday sight despite knowing I was in a completely different country! Not to mention that the Rainbow Bridge resembles the Key Bridge in Baltimore so much that it’s uncanny.

The trip also convinced me that America has a lot more respect from Japan than I previously thought. I have to admit, I worried too much about any mistakes I made in the way I presented myself. While we were visiting the high school in Ogaki City, one of the girls giving my group a tour reached out to feel the curls on my ponytail. She complimented me and asked if I braided my hair myself. I told her that my mom braided it for me, and the look of pure amazement on her face honestly made me blush. I was used to hearing how pretty girls from Japan are, so I jumped to the incorrect conclusion that I would somehow be deemed inferior in some shape or form.

It’s interesting how traveling to another country teaches you more about your own. Now, I try to learn about the U.S. with more ambition, just like I do when I learn about Japan.

Emperor Akihito’s Abdication

By Charity Chukwu

During one of J-Plus’ Saturday classes (Dec.2), we read an article from BBC about the announcement of the official abdication date of Japan’s current emperor, Emperor Akihito. It was decided that he would step down next year on April 30 and that his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, would inherit the throne the following day. While rereading the article a few days after class, I flipped to the last page and noticed a sentence that I had not seen before: “It is a one-off piece of legislation, and does not allow Naruhito or his successors to abdicate.”

Reading this felt like finding the fine print within a document. “Why wouldn’t the same right be given to his successors?” I thought and have been thinking about this ever since then. Perhaps it is because it has been centuries since an emperor has abdicated and the Japanese government does not want it to become a habit. Why not, though? From the information I have read from various news sites, Emperor Akihito does not seem particularly eager to relinquish the throne; he almost seems reluctant. In a national address he gave last year, he expressed his concern for the effect his declining health may have on his responsibilities. Who’s to say that future emperors (or maybe empresses *quadruple fingers crossed*) will not feel the same way? During the same speech, Emperor Akihito even said that he did not want to fill his family and Japan as a whole with strife in the case that he dies while still on the throne. Shouldn’t that kind of selfless thought be encouraged? I doubt they would give up the throne over anything that does not mean a lot to them, so I think abdication at a certain age, maybe around 80 years old, should become a regular occurrence, but I still need more information. So far, I haven’t found any other arguments that oppose my own or relating to this particular condition in the legislation, but I will continue my search.

Do you think that abdication should just happen this once, or be available, or even mandatory, for future successors? Feel free to leave a comment explaining why!

Charity’s Photo

This is a photo of Shiori – one of the visiting students from Okinawa – and me at the end of the Kakehashi visit on Nov. 4. We were both pretty nervous at first, but we bonded through our interests and ended up having a lot of fun while learning about each other’s home country. I chose this photo because it shows the connections we create at Japanese Plus by enjoying the similarities and appreciating the differences. I look forward to getting to know more people in the future.

Charity Chukwu


By Charity Chukwu

Do you know someone who seems to be amazing without even trying? They’re wise, skillful, well-rounded, and know it, but are very humble and try to avoid unnecessary drama. This is iki, a Japanese term used to describe people, things, and situations that excel and express individuality without being too flashy or always striving for perfection. An example would be a simple dress with a jacket and flats. Gluing sparkles all over the dress would not be iki. A minivan is iki, but any car from the “Fast and Furious” franchise is not. Baking a cake for your friend’s birthday party would be iki. Baking a huge, multi-layered cake with their face on it for every guest is not.

You get the point.

I seriously relate to this term. It is a crucial part to how I live my life. When you know that you’re truly doing great things, you don’t have to show off because everyone else probably has already taken notice. Iki is, in a way, what everyone wants to be. Always trying to get people to pay attention to you for things like beauty, money, and grades is exhausting. It’s nice to be appreciated for the real you.

Because iki is definitely not average.

Kakehashi Calligraphy

By Charity Chukwu and NUU Hightower

Charity: As part of the Kakehashi Exchange program, a group of college students from Japan came to meet the Japanese Plus program as a way for them to advocate for Japan. They made a beautiful powerpoint about the prefecture where they go to school, and then presented with six different stations, each with a different aspect of Japanese culture. One of the stations was about Japanese calligraphy—stylized. First, you would choose to have your name written in either katakana or kanji. One of the students would write it first, then you would write it.

NUU: The paper itself was really thin and the ink could easily seep through it. However, the technique they did was put one blank sheet first, then the paper you write on above it. Once you’re done writing, they’d put another sheet on top of the written paper and apply pressure on the ink to dry it off. I was able to take the written papers home without having it look so messy with ink. It almost looked like it was printed in fact, it was that neat..!

Charity: It was one of my favorite stations. Even WRITING can look like art! I chose katakana, and my name looked amazing! I tried to do it the exact same way as the demonstration, but I put too many strokes with my brush, so it made a small tear in the paper… Whoops! I still love it though, and definitely plan on eventually framing it.

NUU: My thoughts on the presentation were similar; really fun..! I remember learning calligraphy in Chinese classes, so I thought to maybe try it out again here since I liked it so much. I wrote my name three times, although the third time was unintentional. It was because one of the Japanese students was telling me something but I couldn’t hear it that well so I asked “Moo, ichido?” to repeat herself. She kind of mistook it as wanting to write again and handed me another sheet, but I didn’t try to protest since I wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Other than that small awkward moment on my end, it was nice meeting the students and learning of their station!

Charity: Afterward, I had a thought-provoking conversation with the student who did the calligraphy with me. She was telling me about how schools in Japan still teach calligraphy as a class. It reminded me of when my elementary school teachers would teach cursive writing. I told her that, nowadays, it’s rarely expected for a child to know how to do it, but I wonder if it would hold any benefits if it were still a general class in present-day schools.

Imagine learning how to write like in cool calligraphy art!

Suggested link:

Nengajo Contest

By Ana Nguyen

The Japan Information & Culture Center (JICC) holds a nengajo contest near new years where the winner receives a new years goodie bag called a fukubukuro. It was the year of the rooster and everyone in our class made a nengajo. Everyone had a different design. One person drew a chick hatching, another person drew muscular roosters, one person drew a robotic rooster with aliens. Below are a few examples of what our class drew.







And me, Ana:


Our First Open House!

By Charity Chukwu

After the first few weeks of studying katakana, practicing our conversational skills, and learning about Japanese culture, we felt that it was about time to show off what we had gained to the public in our first Japanese Plus open house, and what better way to show what we’ve been learning than through acting!

About two weeks prior to the showcase, the class split up into groups, each writing their own skit that they would perform. At least half of the dialogue had to use Japanese vocabulary from class and the script had to be memorized. Plot for each script varied from a family dinner to a bank robbery, but all were very entertaining. You could tell a lot of time was put into making the event the best possible.

We invited friends and family to ask questions and comment about the program. Our audience was very impressed and applauded as we bowed at the end of our presentations. Personally, I think the whole thing was a success, and with all of the things we’ve learned in the few months since then, I really want to do more in the future.