Learning more than 1,000 kanji during six years of grade school isn’t an easy task. But it can be fun if all the characters are associated with a word they love — poop.
A workbook series that features a heavy dose of the word “unko,” poop in Japanese, 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 on how a kanji is used in a 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 series “Unko Kanji Doriru” (“Poop Kanji Drills”) contains 3,018 example sentences concocted by Furuya for the 1,006 characters taught in elementary school.
Sentences don’t always need to make sense in order to appeal to children.
For example, in the edition for fourth graders, the kanji used in the noun “meeting” is illustrated 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 and the order of strokes of each character.
The project got started when publisher Bunkyosha Co. President Shuji Yamamoto, 40, approached his friend Furuya, knowing he had created comedy video clips that featured unko.
Yamamoto hoped to take advantage of children’s obsession with poop to attract their attention. The process took two years to complete.
“It’s funny because poop appears everywhere,” said 7-year-old Hinata Shibasaki. “I used to hate studying kanji, but I got hooked on this book.”
The second-grader from Saitama said he is now studying kanji by reading aloud the example sentences in the book.
Chihiro Kawasaki, 51, who works at a Tokyo branch of the major Sanseido Bookstore chain, 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.