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Japan learns from PM's slips

READING Japanese isn't easy - even for the Japanese prime minister.

Taro Aso has made so many public blunders that an opposition law maker tried to give him a reading test during a televised session of parliament.

The Japanese leader bungled the word for "frequent", calling Japan-China exchanges "cumbersome" instead. Another time he misread the word "toshu" (follow), saying "fushu" (stench), which sounded as if he was saying government policy "stinks."

But many Japanese have seen some of themselves in Aso's goofs and books designed to improve reading ability have become all the rage.

Aso's nemesis is his mother tongue's tricky mishmash of Chinese characters and its two sets of indigenous syllabaries.

Just reading the newspaper requires knowledge of about 2,000 characters. Another 50,000 are less common but useful to recognize.

Most characters have several different pronunciations depending on the context.

Literacy-boosting books are selling briskly. One titled, "Chinese Characters That Look Readable But Are Easily Misread," released a year ago, has sold more than 800,000 copies - most of them since Aso's mistakes first got national attention in November, said Yukiko Sakita, a spokeswoman for the Futami Shobo Publishing Co.

"We owe a lot to Prime Minister Aso," she said. "Many people don't want to make mistakes like his."

All this year the book has beaten "The Speeches Of Barack Obama" to the top spot in the weekly best-seller lists compiled by Japan's largest distributor Tohan Co.

"A text like this holding the No. 1 spot is extremely unusual," said Tohan official Hiroki Tomatsu. "As far as the book ranking is concerned, Mr Aso beat Mr Obama."

Gossip magazines have compiled lists of words Aso has misread and blamed the prime minister's love of comic books, or "manga," for his weakness. "Manga brain," one magazine lamented.


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