Japanese Learn English, Thanks To Obama

Aspiring English speakers in Japan have made President Barack Obama's book of speeches and accompanying CD a national best-seller.

In Aichi, central Japan, a Buddhist monk has reportedly been playing the president's speeches during his temple service. And dozens of students in an English-language class in Tokyo have been memorizing his 2004 Democratic Convention speech to improve their understanding and pronunciation.

"Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely," the students at Kaplan Japan school recited together Friday.

"The Speeches of Barack Obama" has sold 420,000 copies since its release on Nov. 20 - an "unprecedented huge hit" for an English-language text, according to publisher Asahi Press.

Any book that sells more than 100,000 copies in Japan, which has a population of 128 million, is considered a success, and foreign-language publication sales rarely exceed 20,000, the publisher said.

Obama's book of speeches surged to No. 2 in Japan's main best-seller list this week, according to Hiroki Tomatsu, an official of Japan's largest book distributor Tohan Co. that publishes the ranking.

The 95-page book compiles Obama's speeches including the one at the 2004 convention, many from the party primaries, and his victory speech after he beat Hillary Rodham Clinton to secure the Democratic nomination. Each English-language transcript comes with a Japanese translation.

Although the simplicity of campaign speeches makes them an obvious choice as a language-learning tool, other American presidents have rarely been so feted.

"We don't publish every single president's speeches," Asahi Press official Yuzo Yamamoto said. "Would you buy the text of former President George W. Bush's speeches?"

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