Kanji aficionados and educators are buzzing over the biggest kanji news in nearly three decades: Next fall, for the first time since 1981, Japan’s government is expected to announce a revision of the joyo (general-use) kanji list. Currently numbering 1,945, these kanji comprise the official list allowed for use in newspapers and government publications, and Japanese school children are meant to learn them all during their compulsory education.

Since 1981, a tsunami of kanji has crashed into Japanese daily life, creating a pressing need for the government to reassess exactly how many and which kanji its citizenry should be expected to read and write. Due to advances in Japanese software technology, 10,000 characters — five times the current number of joyo kanji — can be called up on cell phones and personal computers with the tap of a finger.

A committee of the Council for Cultural Affairs, the chief think tank within the Agency for Cultural Affairs (which advises the education minister), began hammering out the revised joyo list four years ago, and in September 2008 it announced 191 kanji candidates for first-time inclusion. None of the candidates have changed in the past year, but the committee may still tweak the 191 before issuing its final recommendations in February.