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My daughter is in first grade at a public elementary school in Japan.

In some homework yesterday, there was the appearance of the word ほおかむり. My Japanese isn't great as a non-native and she didn't know what it was, so we Googled it. Most results steered us towards ほおかぶり, which it seems this is a synonym of.

It appears in the context it was presented to have meant the head covering ほおかぶり, is this simply another way of writing it?

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If it were a word the child doesn't recognize, they would usually have a native Japanese parent to tell them. Besides, the word is a native Japanese word, an easy concept for a child to understand, part of the Japanese culture, and its meaning can be derived from understanding 頬(っぺ) and 被る. Would you mind citing the whole sentence, though? (The blog post you link had it as a 読み仮名 exercise for year 6, by the way.) – Earthliŋ Jun 13 '13 at 23:19
Thanks Earthling, I realized it's year 6 now, I must have confused it with 6 years old. I believe it was 「。。。ほおかむりをしてとおずつとおります。」 – Leon Stafford Jun 13 '13 at 23:22
There's a lot of interplay between /b/ and /m/ historically. I don't know a lot about it, but it's common enough that you shouldn't be too surprised by a /b/-/m/ pair. Some examples: 被る(かぶる・かむる), 寂しい(さびしい・さみしい)、寒い(さぶい・さむい)、侍(さぶらい・さむらい)、瞑る(つぶる・つむる), and a lot of Sinitic morphemes like 幕(ばく・まく), 馬(ば・ま), 妄(ぼう・もう), etc. – snailplane Jun 14 '13 at 0:27
The teacher wanted to teach the difference between お and う. Many young kids often confuse them, such as "とおり(通り) vs とうり(党利)", "とお(十) vs とう(等)", "ほお(頬) vs ほう(方)", "こおり(氷) vs こうり(小売り)". – marasai Jun 14 '13 at 2:40
up vote 7 down vote accepted

A ほおかむり (頬被り) (also ほっかむり or ほおかぶり) from 頬っぺを被る "to cover the cheeks" is a cloth that is tied around the head to cover the head (or the face) and usually tied under the chin.

The infamous ほおかむり wearer is the Japanese thief (泥棒さん) (another picture)


who wraps his head with a cloth and ties it under his nose, supposedly to conceal his identity. In children's stories, the 泥棒 usually steals 卵, 大根 or 着物.

In such stories, a ほおかむり is (when not worn by a 泥棒さん) usually a characteristic of "simple folk" and can be worn by farmers (or other workers), presumably because the cloth covers from the sun, protects the head from dust and is easy to wash.

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great, thanks! Now I know what the guy who steals kids' underwear in our neighborhood looks like :P – Leon Stafford Jun 14 '13 at 2:30

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