Each year, tens of thousands of senior high school students sit entrance examinations to gain entry to Japan’s top state universities. The results of these tests are key to the youngsters’ futures, so they study hard in preparation for them. Roughly half of all students in Japan attend special preparation schools (juku) for an hour or two a day in addition to their regular classes, and some even spend a year or two at specialty full-time private schools (yobiko) after completing high school to prepare them for these exams. (Yobiko does not come cheap: a year at one can easily cost as much as, or even more than, a year at university.)
Hard work and diligence on the part of the test takers are augmented by certain foods and charms thought to bring luck and success. One of these talismans is the
Initially produced by Rowntree as the Chocolate Crisp,
Kit Kat is pronounced kitto katto in Japanese, which is very close to kitto katsu, a phrase that translates as “Win without fail.” As to how seriously such language charms are taken, it is not uncommon for parents and acquaintances to avoid using certain words around striving students lest they harm the young people’s academic chances. Some households even place total bans on such words as “slip” (suberu) and “fall” (ochiru) lest their being loosed in the home attract ill test-taking fortune to the aspiring scholars living there.
Nestlé responded to this fortuitous linguistic association by producing for the Japanese market special
However, Kit Kats are far from the only food items thought to bring examination success in the land of the rising sun. When read in Japanese,
Test takers may also down breakfasts of one sausage and two eggs to try to improve their chances of scoring one hundred (the food resembles the numbers). Pork cutlets (tonkatsu) are also favored by aspiring scholars because tonkatsu is somewhat close to katsu, the word for “win.”
Non-food charms are more of the “refraining from harming one’s chances” variety. Mentioned above were prohibitions against using particular words like “slip” and “fall” around students. Those about to take the exam are cautioned against discarding old book bags in favor of new ones lest they unwittingly “leave knowledge behind” in the unwanted