The Human Rights Unko Drill (Drill)  is a human rights education material for children produced by the Human Rights Protection Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of Japan. The Japanese word "Unko" means poop. Why did the Ministry of Justice use poop character for human rights education materials? This paper discusses the problems of the Drill from the perspectives of human rights education.
Unko Drill was originally a children's workbook series published by a private book publisher. To incorporate fun and humor, every single example in the workbook contains poop, and the poop-shaped characters provide learning guidance. The workbook sold over 9.5 million copies as of November 2022 since its release in 2017.
Capitalizing on its popularity, public bodies including ministries and local governments are now using poop characters to raise public awareness on a variety of issues including disaster prevention, traffic safety, Sustainable Development Goals, and even human rights, as in the case of the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice officially released the Drill on its website at the end of March 2021. However, it was only in December 2022 that many critical comments began to be posted on social media platforms, after some District Legal Affairs Bureaus distributed the Drill at the awareness-raising events held around the 2022 World Human Rights Day celebration. The reason why the drill had not been criticized until then is unclear, but few people might have visited the Ministry's website to search for educational materials for children.
Teaching Human Rights through Poop?
Among many Central Government Ministries and Agencies that use poop character, the Financial Services Agency explains on its website that it used the character because of its high appeal to children.The Agency released its Unko Money Drill, a financial and economic education material for elementary school children.
However, is it necessary to use poop characters or to use the word "poop" in every sentence in the Question and Answer section in the human rights education drill just because it is highly appealing? Is it proper for the Ministry of Justice to explain human rights to children in that way, considering that the state is the primary duty-bearer to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights? Can the Ministry of Justice publicize with confidence to the world that they are teaching human rights, as universal and international standards, in such a manner?
According to the BuzzFeed News, an official from Human Rights Protection Bureau reportedly explained the intent of the drill, saying, "We collaborated with the popular poop drill in order to provide elementary school and kindergarten children with an opportunity to think about human rights in an easy-to-understand and familiar way."
The Third Report on the Teaching Methods of Human Rights Education released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) states at the beginning of Chapter 1 that "It is necessary to have students grasp human rights more clearly by relating them to more familiar and concrete matters." However, expressions such as "Only one child has a different colored poop," or " the poop of an Unko Neko (poop-shaped cat) is apparently bigger than a car! " are neither familiar nor concrete, and lack reality for children. Are these unrealistic expressions allowed because the characters are fictional, not human? In any case, please visit the website of the Ministry to see if the drills is "easy to understand and familiar" to children or not. The Drill is unfortunately available only up to the end of March 2023.
Question on How Adults View Children
On one hand, poop is an object of interest for children, and the relieving and refreshing feeling of defecation can be a good entry point to have an interest in their own body. On the other hand, a survey reported that about 40 percent of children hold back from defecating in school because they do not want their friends to know that they did so or to make fun of them. The survey indicates that while defecation is a physiological phenomenon, there is also a strong sense of negative notion about it.
Children have ambivalent feelings about poop. Therefore, when a child utters the word poop or body-related words, the way adults respond is very important, as has been repeatedly pointed out. From an educational point of view, in using poop as an educational tool adults need to work with children in a way that would not lead them (children) to become indifferent to or make fun of poop. In childcare and education field, there are materials on learning how food becomes poop, where it comes out, and how to wipe and wash the body after defecation. Learning how the body works and make it comfortable, and practicing ways of making it comfortable, as well as learning how to seek help when facing problems are all important parts of the process of learning one's own dignity and rights. Consequently, when learning about poop with children, adults are questioned about their view of children.
Human Rights Drill or Morality Drill?
An analysis of the "Human Rights Unko Drill" shows that it is more of a morality drill than a human rights drill. The first question in the Drill asks what to do when "a child is feeling sad, because the child's poop has a different color and is not included in the conversation." The correct answer is "ask the child to join the conversation," while the incorrect answers are "leave the child out of the group" and "paint the poop of the person the same color".
The second question is on what to do with Unko Neko (pop-shaped cat) who is holding its stomach and looking distressed. The correct answer is "to ask the cat what's wrong," while the incorrect answers are "force the cat to sit on a chair and rest" and "do nothing." The correct answer is so obvious that there is neither a room for thinking nor an encouragement for dialogue among the learners. Each question is followed by explanations such as, "get along well with everyone" and "Your kindness will lead to a smile on the other person's face," emphasizing the moral values rather than explaining human rights.
The words "human rights" are suggestive. In English grammar classes in Japanese junior high schools, students are taught that "s" is added to countable nouns to make them plural. Young students would understand that the "s" makes "human rights" countable, concrete and plural (multiple rights). Unfortunately, in human rights education in Japan, human rights are often confused with abstract values and attitudes such as "compassion" and "kindness." And this Drill does nothing to correct it and instead reinforces it. Incidentally, Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, states that "Everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training." Knowing one's own human rights, and those of all people, is a right, and human rights education guarantees such learning.
The explanation in the Drill that "human rights mean the right to live happily," is acknowledged. But the Drill also calls for the need to be "compassionate" in order to enjoy this right. Simply calling for good personal attitude such as "being compassionate" will not lead to creating momentum towards public appreciation of human rights issues in society and resolving them through legislation and policy.
Instead, this view would make human rights issues as an "individual problem," as if the inability to solve problems is due to poor personal attitudes or a lack of coordination in personal relationships. In other words, education and awareness-raising that emphasize "compassion" is based on an "individual model," not on a "social model."
The "Human Rights Unko Drill" lists the contact points for children in times of trouble, including "Children's Human Rights Hotline 110" and "Children's Human Rights SOS-e-mail." However, in a context where problems are personalized, children may even feel hesitant to consult these institutions. How many children who have been taught that they should solve their problems through their own private efforts would turn to the public institutions for help? We are very concerned about this.
Furthermore, it is important to note that "compassion for the weak" is sometimes confused with paternalism. When we use the word "compassion," we need to be careful not to impose our "self-satisfying" good intentions on those whom we consider "the weak," and not to deprive them of their rights for self-assertion and self-determination. Human rights education is empowerment through learning one's own rights to be able to fully participate in the decision-making process that affects their lives. Therefore, human rights should not mean forcing those who are placed in a vulnerable position to be "cared for," or to play the role of the weak.
The Drill Going into Schools
"Human Rights Unko Drill" is introduced in Chapter 1, Section 2 of the 2021 White Paper on Human Rights Education and Awareness-raising, under "Efforts to Address Human Rights Issues." It is introduced as one of the "awareness-raising activities aimed at realizing a society in which children are respected to the fullest extent as subjects who enjoy human rights."
The Human Rights Protection Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, with "Protecting Children's Human Rights" as one of its emphases, conducts various human rights awareness programs for children such as human rights classes, human rights flower campaigns, and awareness-raising activities in cooperation with sports organizations. The Ministry of Justice has been strengthening cooperation with MEXT to address children's issues, such as bullying. Although it is generally understood that human rights awareness-raising is under the Ministry of Justice and human rights education is under MEXT, and it is often thought that the Ministry of Justice is not directly involved in school education, copies of its Human Rights Unko Drills are sent to the local Legal Affairs Bureaus and used in educational activities at schools through the Human Rights Classroom activities provided by the Human Rights Protection Commissioners.
The "Human Rights Unko Drill" is available at the MOJ website until 31 March 2023. People can examine the contents of this material, or just try to get a feel of the material from the illustrations. Many other ministries and local governments may use "unko drills" for their own awareness-raising program on other issues which are relevant to human rights education,such as issues regarding SDGs. Further examination of these possible initiatives would be necessary.
Kaori Ushitora is Associate Professor, Faculty of Cooperative Education at Utsunomiya University while Mariko Akuzawa is Professor, Research Center for Human Rights at Osaka Metropolitan University.
For further information, please contact: Kaori Ushitora, Utsunomiya University, e-mail: email@example.com; Mariko Akuzawa, Osaka Metropolitan University, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Jinken UNKO Drill (Human Rights Unko Drill), available at jinken_drill_0312_pdf.
 Financial Services Agency "Unko Money Drill" https://www.fsa.go.jp/news/r2/sonota/20210318/20210318.html, retrieved on 9 February 2023.
 BuzzFeed News（Dec. 15, 2022） Criticism of the Ministry of Justice's Educational Material for Children: Questioning the Immigration Bureau's recognition of human rights. https://www.buzzfeed.com/jp/harukayoshida/unko, retrieved on 9 February 2023.
 See Chapter 1, Jinken Kyouiku no Shidouhouhou no Arikata ni Tsuite Daisanji Torimatome (The Third Report on the Teaching Methods of Human Rights Education) released by MEXT: www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chousa/shotou/024/report/attach/1370701.htm, retrieved on 9 February 2023.
 The authors contacted the Human Rights Protection Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and was informed that no outside experts supervised the preparation of the Drill.
 Japan Toilet Labo, Shogakusei to Hogosha no Haiben ni Kansuru Ishiki-chosa (Survey on Awareness of Defecation among Elementary School Students and Their Parents), 2022.
 See the following references:
－ WHO Regional Office for Europe and BZgA (2010) Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe. 25p
https://www.icmec.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/WHOStandards-for-Sexuality-Ed-in-Europe.pdf （retrieved on Feb. 9, 2023）
－ Rutgers, Seksuele ontwikkeling van kinderen 0-18 jaar, 2019, page 5.
https://shop.rutgers.nl/nl/webwinkel/seksuele-ontwikkeling-van-kinderen-0-18-jaar/103021, retrieved on 9 February 2023.
－ Rutgers, Seksuele opvoeding van kinderen 0-6 jaar, 2019, pages 16-17.
https://shop.rutgers.nl/nl/webwinkel/brochure-seksuele-opvoeding-van-kinderen-0-6-jaar/61023526&page=, retrieved on 9 February 2023.
 The third question in the Drill focuses on harmful contents on the Internet.
 The social model approach proposes that it is a social structure that makes someone disabled, and not the personal or medical condition. Therefore, the social model approach seeks to change society instead of asking individuals to make adjustments.