Classroom Japanese: Otetsuki

お手つき (おてつき/OTETSUKI) noun. Foul

From the card game karuta. Card based games are a mainstay of elementary school ESL in Japan as they don’t need to use any written language. Karuta is one of the most direct card games there is. In real, traditional Japanese karuta there are two sets of 100 cards, each with half a poem written on it. The cards with the first half of the poem written on them are in the administrator’s hand, the cards with the second half are spread out in front of the players. The administrator of the game reads the first half of a poem from a card in their own deck and players have to rush to grab the card that has the second half printed on it.

Of course, in English class the cards don’t have poetry written on them. They usually have colors or pictures or numbers or whatnot. But, the kids still default to regular karuta rules. And, usually, someone will ask if there are “fouls” in the game. “Sensei, otetsuki te ari?” Yes. In karuta, a kid has committed “otetsuki” if they touch a card before something has been read or if they try to grab the wrong card. As a penalty, they must sit out one round of the game.

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