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Popular poop-themed kanji drill sells 1.83 million copies

Shuji Yamamoto (Mainichi)

A series of poop-themed kanji drills created by a former foreign-affiliated securities company worker who founded a publishing company seven years ago has sold 1.83 million copies.

    "I want to make boring study more fun." That was the idea behind 40-year-old Shuji Yamamoto's "Unko Kanji Drill" (Poop Kanji Drill) released in March this year.

    All 3,018 example sentences in the six drill workbooks, which are aimed at elementary school students, have something to do with poop. For example, the sentence teaching children how to read the kanji character for "number" features the example sentence, "Submit your poop in the order of your roll number." The drills quickly won over not only elementary school pupils, but parents who were worried that their children weren't studying.

    Yamamoto formerly worked for Lehman Brothers Japan Inc. In his spare time, he paired up with essayist Keiya Mizuno, 40, to write the book "Ukeru Gijutsu" (The technique of winning appeal), which delves into the mechanism of laughter.

    At the age of 32, Yamamoto founded Mizuno's management company. In the financial world, he could see his own future. But he decided to change course and experience "the thrill of not knowing what's going to happen," and seven years ago, he founded publishing company Bunkyosha. He aimed to put out books independently, even covering the way they were sold. The company has gone on to publish 11 bestsellers -- predominantly self-help books -- that have each sold over 100,000 copies. One of them, a series titled "Jinsei wa nyantoka naru" (Life works itself out), reached 1.94 million copies.

    "I'm an extremely ordinary person. So I know what most ordinary people want. I know what is likely to sell," Yamamoto says.

    But that's not enough to make something sell. While working as president of his company, he also does editing. And he was involved in the poop kanji drills himself. First he asked 40-year-old Yusaku Furuya, a creator of poop-themed satirical haiku, to create example sentences. He then whittled down the number from about 5,000 candidates.

    The kanji drills were his company's first study-aid books. He enlisted the help of outsiders with experience, and spent 2 1/2 years creating the drills.

    "I'll do what I can," he says. "I won't regret the time and effort that goes in."

    This image shows Bunkyosha's six poop-themed "Unko Kanji Drill" workbooks. (Image courtesy of Bunkyosha)

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