For young Japanese children, learning more than 1,000 kanji characters during their six years of elementary school is a monumental task, but the addition of some toilet humor has proved a huge success.
A workbook series that features a heavy dose of the word "unko," the Japanese word for "poop," has quickly sold over a million copies since its release in March. The series' main selling point is that it engages children by using the word "poop" in every single example sentence.
"Adults would raise their eyebrows, but for children, the word 'poop' is magical and makes things fun," said Yusaku Furuya, 40, the author of the books.
The six-book "Unko Kanji Drill" series contains a total of 3,018 example sentences concocted by Furuya for the 1,006 kanji symbols taught at elementary schools.
One example demonstrates that the sentences do not need to make sense in order to appeal to children. In the fourth grader's edition, the book teaches the kanji character used in the noun "meeting" with the sentence: "We are starting a poop meeting now."
The workbooks let children practice writing kanji while demonstrating the different ways they are pronounced, how they are used in a sentence, as well as the stroke order of each character.
Furuya's publisher, Bunkyosha Co. President Shuji Yamamoto, 40, approached his friend Furuya for the project, knowing Furuya created comedy video clips in the past featuring "unko" heavily.
(Photo courtesy of Hinata Shibasaki's family)
Yamamoto hoped to take advantage of children's scatological obsession to improve engagement in education, a process that took two years to complete.
"It's funny because poop appears everywhere. I used to hate studying kanji, but I got hooked on this book," said 7-year-old student Hinata Shibasaki.
The second grader at an elementary school in Saitama, near Tokyo, said he is now studying kanji by reading aloud the example sentences in the book.
Chihiro Kawasaki, 51, who works at Tokyo's Seijo branch of the major Sanseido Bookstore Ltd., said she has been told by many parents that the series helps their children develop study habits.
"I think the way a word children love appears in unthinkable situations has led to the popularity of the series," she said.