Learning how to write in Japanese: the contribution of scatology

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Unko (=poop) Kanji Doriru (=drill), the book’s cover (NB: the title is in all three Japanese writing systems)

Learning how to write is by no means an easy task in any script. It appears however that writing systems with a respectable number of signs are more challenging to memorize. One such instance is Japanese: it has three different writing systems (kanji: over 2,000 signs borrowed from Chinese; hiragana: 46 syllabic signs for the writing of Japanese words; katakana: another 46 syllabic signs for the writing of foreign words).

 

A publishing house put out on the market just last March a series of books to help school children with their daunting task. Bunkyosha named the series “Unko Kanji Drill.” The concept of the book is thus explained: ‘Unko is the Japanese word for poop. It comes out of your butt and it stinks. If there’s one thing that all kids can agree on, it’s that poop is funny. So by incorporating potty humor into learning, the creators set out to make kanji learning fun and hilarious, instead of boring and tedious.’

The series are introduced by the main character, ‘Unko Sensei’ (‘Master Poo’), who bears an uncanny resemblance to a pile of poo. The Sensei introduces in each page the kanji, then lists three examples, where the kanji is combined, in some magical manner, with poo! The books are said to contain 3,018 poo-involving sentences that function as examples. This is what a page looks like:

poop-kanji-drill-2

the kanji 取 (take) (from the site Spoon & Tamago)

And the example sentences for 取 work like this:

  1. The man took poop in his hand to face his difficulties
  2. A foreign news outlet came to interview me about my poop (note: the kanji for interview is 取材, literally ‘gather material’)
  3. I had to dictate the word poop 100 times (note: the kanji for dictate is 書き取り, literally ‘write take’)

The response from parents and pupils has been enthusiastic, and the series seems to sell like crazy, recently reaching 1.83 million copies.

Motivation to study combined with fun is a good thing, thinks a mother who also happens to be a teacher. Because, let’s face it: which 6-year old in his/her right mind would pass on the opportunity to muck about, and have full parental approval while they are at it?

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