WaniKani Perpetuating the Columbus Myth?

So I read my lesson for 末 (kanji, not vocab) and was quite bothered by this hint.

Imagine the end of the earth being like how they imagined it pre-Columbus era. Just a big drop going off into space, giant waterfalls plummeting down. Your crazy jet has made it to the very end! Congratulations!

In case you're unsure what it is I'm taking issue with:

The idea that western civilization, as in the civilization which is implied to have had it’s fundamental ideas about geography uprooted by Columbus, or in fact that any major old world 15th century civilization held some widespread belief in a flat Earth, is so nonsensical as to make “completely laughable” an unfit description of itself in lieu of “an outright lie fed to schoolchildren in order to perpetuate an overly-simplistic and heavily whitewashed historical fantasy.”

Inevitably this discussion always brings up Eratosthenes, as it should. That’s a well documented case of a very notable historical figure who not only determined the curved nature of the Earth’s shape, but also calculated its circumference to an impressive degree of accuracy more than 1700 years prior. There’s the question of how the Portuguese, or before them the Arabs, or any of the vast trade empires in the pre-Columbian old world could have possibly been such skilled navigators who relied on astronomical techniques which implicitly infer and necessitate a round Earth, without widely dispelling belief in a flat earth. Actually it was only a few years later that Copernicus would get the debate started on heliocentrism as an alternative to geocentrism, which really illustrates just how far the world had moved past the concept of a flat earth at this point.

Even if we imagine a hypothetical world where none of this logic applies, an imaginary universe powered by the sheer force of not thinking about it for more than 5 seconds, in which one Genoan boi and his motley crew of desperate, violent, scurvy ridden murderers brave and heroic adventurers must enlighten the world with hidden knowledge, and even if somehow make boat go west to get east was inexplicably the only way to expose this information, (I guess Columbus himself merely suspected it on a hunch?), the idea is that… this guy demonstrated that you could sail west to Asia by sailing west and not reaching Asia???A!!!LAKF?LASM<F??? Well if the overwhelming astronomical, geographical, and mathematical evidence didn’t do it, then surely that homerun hole-in-one, turkey, knockout, mic-dropper of an argument was all it took to change the hearts and minds of dumm dumms across the world who still ate dirt and thought the earth was flat.

"Dang are you really that worked up about this?"

What? No lol. I’m just slightly bored, in a semi-shitposty mood and once I start writing something out I can’t stop. I mean, I do genuinely resent an educational system that made a habit of lying to me about history for most of my youth, but I love WaniKani :heart:. While I’d expect most WK users are well-aware of the Columbus flat-earth myth, I still like to highlight just how very very silly it is, to maybe inspire critical thought around the stories we’re told about the past and present.

Seeing this myth spread by such a great knowledge learning resource as WaniKani really rubs me the wrong way. Do you agree? Do you feel like I’m vastly overthinking something harmless? I can definitely understand the idea of simplifying the mnemonic by appealing to “common knowledge” or rather, common misinformation. But I don’t think it would be any less memorable if “pre-Columbus era” was substituted with an era when flat earth belief was actually widespread like “ancient times” or “the 21st century.”

Also you have no idea how badly I wanted to title this “WaniKani Perpetuates Flat-Earth Myth,” but some clickbait is just too far.


I feel like the mnemonic would be even stronger if they actually used flat earthers. Something akin to “You’re a flat earther and you take your crazy jet to prove your crazy theory”.



No one will quote Wanikani mnemonics as their source on a history essay. But I challenge someone to try.


Technically ancient times is part of the “pre-Columbus era”. I always took it to me the Cenozoic Era.


I feel the same way when teachers/students in academia talk about learning styles as if it is factually true. Many teachers don’t want to give up the myth. Some might not know that there is no evidence for it, while others know there is no evidence and still teach it anyways. Its a pseudoscience that has existed for decades (since at least 1970’s) but will probably take more decades to die out.


“Our constitution is, of course, protected by Ken, the samurai, who’s also known to do sightseeing and blade sharpening”


Well, I don’t know about learning styles, but I do know that different people learn in different way. Some prefer to do theory first and then practice, others prefer to start from practice and then do theory…
Many find WaniKani useful for learning kanji, but I know some people who are allergic to any kind of SRS…

Personally, I think that everyone should study the way that’s most convenient for them, when it’s possible. :sweat_smile:


Or by chargeman Ken, for that matter…


Absolutely correct, no one (of any intellectual merit I mean) believed in Flat Earth since Ancient times. The myth that Columbus disproved the flat-Earth theory originates from some American writers, like Washington Irving who wrote a famous novel on Columbus without bothering too much with historical accuracy.
For example, the opposition to Columbus expedition (from the famous sages of Salamanca) was not because they believed the Earth to be flat, but because they thought that Columbus had a mistake in the calculation of Earth’s diameter. Turned out that Columbus was indeed wrong, but “luckily” there was another continent to be found there!

All this being said, Wanikani is not a source of historical facts, and I don’t see anything wrong with using popular misbeliefs to reinforce the memory of japanese. If anything, all this discussion has made the mnemonic stick even more.


I think it’s a joke, I assume. All the notes are written tongue in cheek.


wait, the earth is not flat? So we cannot leave of we walk further and further west? OMG WE ARE TRAPPED!


There is, however, evidence to disprove it… which makes it even worse that people still believe in it.

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Frankly, the flat-earthers who really worry me are the ones who are still alive.

I still hear about learning styles a lot at work, including from colleagues. For a group of professional smart people, some of them love their pseudoscience. Between that and the insane bureaucracy, trying to change my school for the better makes Japanese seem easy.


Well, even under the geocentric model, the Earth is still a sphere. The five elements sink to the bottom of the universe - rock, being heaviest, goes underneath, water on top of that, air on top of that, fire on top of that, and aether, the lightest, on the very top. But the point is, they sink from all directions - the bottom of the universe is a point, not a plane.

Fun fact: Columbus did do some science to work out what he was doing, and he got it wrong. Terribly wrong. He thought the Earth was much smaller than it actually is; that the sea route west from Europe to Asia would be shorter than the land route to the east. And literally everyone went “… what? It’s blatantly obvious that Beijing is 120° longitude east of London - to go the other way, you’d need to travel 240°, that’s twice as far.” It’s one reason noone would fund his expedition - the Spanish did it eventually just to get rid of him.

He was woefully under-supplied for the journey. If he hadn’t accidentally bumped into America en route (and called it India), he and his crews would have starved to death long before reaching the real Asia.

My favourite anti-flat-earther argument is the fact that cats exist - if the Earth were flat, they would have pushed everything off the edge long ago.

Second favourite: if there was an edge, it would absolutely be a major tourist attraction. And possibly a common suicide spot.


Interesting side note…
I started typing “medieval flat earth” into Google and, halfway through typing, Google’s auto-complete suggested “medieval flatulence”.

I really wonder about the things people search for…


I understand completely your mild-ish frustration, I get the same way whenever I encounter 制度, which WK says is both “accuracy” and “precision” (those are not actually interchangeable arghhh) :joy: Not super damaging, but in terms of word correctness I think it should be just “accuracy” - although I haven’t encountered it enough to get a full feel for its usage in Japanese.

(For anyone wondering, accuracy is how close a try is to a target. Precision is how close together the tries are clustered. So you could, for instance, have high precision but poor accuracy if you were aiming at a bullseye and you put all your darts in a tiny circle in the ceiling.)


I think that, while that is irritating that we credit Columbus for everything, it’s one of those things that’s not really worth getting upset over, just some harmless inaccuracy, like how the Declaration of independance actually wasn’t signed on July 4th.

Gasp! Next you’re going to say that the Declaration of Independence wasn’t even signed by Columbus!

That said, it’s not so much about not putting Columbus on a pedestal as it is about stamping out the ridiculous idea that the pre-Renaissance world was a place of ignoramuses who thought they lived on a plate. That idea was basically invented out of whole cloth by Washington Irving in his not-entirely-unbiased “biography” of Columbus, which was written in 1828.


Speaking of over-glorified dudes named Washington…