For a lot of us, we wouldn’t experience something like this until we visit a doctor later in life, for example, or perhaps when we get experimental in the bedroom… I’m guessing.
For people in East Asia however, having a stranger suddenly try and poke you in the arse with their outstretched index fingers is an unfortunate prank that can befall an unsuspecting victim at any time. Fortunately, it’s nothing to do with doctors or bedroom-related activities.
It is, in fact, just a game called Kancho, or Ddong Chim, popular among schoolchildren in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea. It’s a bit like giving someone a wedgie, or pants-ing, but less in a bullying way and more of a general playground prank kind of way.
But where did this craze come from, can anyone play, and are the rules really as simple as just poking someone up the butt with your fingers?
Well, UNILAD is going to crack this case and get to the bottom of it…
Firstly, the word ‘kancho’ literally means ‘enema’ in Japanese. While in Korea, ‘ddong chim’ translates to ‘poop needle’. I’m not sure which is more poetic. In Taiwan, it’s apparently called ‘Qiānnián shā’, after a similar move in the popular Naruto anime.
Either way, the game – if you can call it that, because I’m fairly certain there are no winners here – is the same.
It involves clasping both hands together with your index fingers outstretched like a gun, sneaking up behind someone, shoving those outstretched fingers into their backside and shouting ‘Kancho!’ or ‘Ddong chim!’ Again, I’m not sure who the winner would be.
Understandably, one of the first things you learn if you’re a teacher in East Asia is not to let kids sneak up behind you. That’s right, this game isn’t limited to children, unsuspecting adults can be kancho’d too.
— J-LIST (@jlist) August 13, 2019
The origins of the game aren’t exactly clear. Some say it comes from a style of karate, called Shourinji Kenpo, with the move mistakenly being documented by martial art master Masutatsu Oyama, founder of Kyokushin Karate, as he was forming his own style. Others say it comes from comedy anime cartoons and manga, such as Toiretto Hakase, also known as Dr. Toilet.
Eventually though, the practice found its way into the hands, fingers and backsides of schoolchildren. Throughout the years, it’s even inspired a short-lived arcade game called Boong-Ga Boong-Ga, which featured a pair of legs and an all-but exposed rear end where the player inserted their fingers. On the screen was the face of whoever the player was kancho-ing, with the aim being to get the face to grimace the most.
Then there’s the infamous Ddong Chim statue, reportedly located in the Dodu-Dong area of the South Korean island Jeju. Apparently the town thought commemorating this innocent childhood game by casting it in bronze was something very worthwhile. Then again, here I am five and half thousand miles away writing about it, so I guess they were right.
While the statue may be infamous around the world, the legend of Kancho or Ddong Chim hasn’t made it as far, however. And if I tried to pull this move on someone I’d not only be done for assault but cultural appropriation too. So I’m not going to try and I don’t recommend you do either.
Instead, I had a chat with Alex Sutcliffe, who’s originally from the UK but went out to South Korea a few years back to teach English. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before he got first hand, or finger, experience of Ddong Chim.
There were a few attempts on my butthole that I managed to stave off thanks to the horror stories I’d heard from other English teachers.
I taught middle school boys, that age where they’re just hitting puberty, and anything Ddong related was hilarious to them.
The closest I came was during a class where I was bent over helping a student with something in his textbook, then I hear my co-teacher (there’s usually a Korean-speaking teacher in the room with you) shout HA-JI-MA (don’t do that) at the top of her lungs and I spin around to see this kid with his fingers primed and a huge shit-eating grin across his face. Just in time.
For a Brit in South Korea for the first time, the ‘game’ obviously came as a bit of shock, both culturally and otherwise. However, though you’d think a teacher or parent might punish a kid for such a prank, it seems the practice is so ingrained in the culture it’s impossible to wean it out entirely.
As Alex added:
When I was there, mainstream Korean culture was not LGTBQ-friendly, and students would often call each other gay as a kind of friendly mockery, but then they’d hold hands, sit on each others laps, kiss each other on the cheeks, and ram their fingers as far up their friends assholes as they could, and that was apparently just all fun and games.
When you got past the obvious cultural differences though, it’s really funny and when I saw it going on around the school I just let it happen. I wasn’t exactly in a position of authority, I was a guest teacher that needed another Korean teacher in the room at all times, so I let a lot slide.
Other teachers, however, saw the seriousness in Ddong Chim-ing:
It was taken pretty seriously in my school. If it happened when teachers were around they’d run over, tell them to break it up, be sure other students were okay, and then carry on.
The one time I saw it when no (other) teachers were around, the recipient was shocked and threw a few punches back at the initiator, but they were back to laughing not one minute later. Makes me wonder how common it was outside the eyes of the teachers.
If left unpunished, of course, playground games can sometimes get out of hand. Last year, for example, a man was arrested after he accidentally killed his friend in a prank not dissimilar to Kancho. The 46-year-old man died after his friend jokingly poked an air compressor up his anus, over his clothes, and fired a blast of air.
The man complained of feeling unwell after the incident, and was taken to hospital where he sadly died from injuries caused by the compressed air. However, while the incident is certainly bizarre, it is not unique. Japan in particular has experienced a number of deaths and injuries from similar incidents, leading people to believe it is a far more dangerous extension of the Kancho prank, Asia Times suggest.
For others, the memories of Kancho may manifest themselves in other ways. According to Katharine Gates, author of Deviant Desires, Incredibly Strange Sex, ‘Azeme’ or ‘anal attacks’ are popular pastimes in Japenese brothels and massage parlours. As Gates told Wired: ‘Almost all of these acts involve the female sex worker ‘attacking’ the male client’s prostate with (their) fingers and other objects.’
Mostly, however, according to Alex ‘it’s all fun and games’ among school children in South Korea. Although he also acknowledges the cultural divide, and how the game probably wouldn’t translate to other countries.
As he said:
Honestly, I think I’d be pretty traumatised if at some point in my life a 12-year-old Korean boy stuck his fingers in my asshole. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones?
I’d say so. And while the bizarre game isn’t quite on the same level as questionable national pastimes like dodgeball in America, for example, it seems Kancho is simply a cultural phenomenon that is going to rear its ugly head in certain parts of the world for some time to come.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.