Elementary Level Resources—Japan

GEOGRAPHY—Maps & Images

Lesson IdeaJourney to Japan!
Have the students make passports that will be stamped as they enter Japan. On a large world map, students can plot their journey to Japan.

Maps & Images

[Asia for Educators]
Reading on major features of Japan's geography.

Images [Skyline Webcams]
Webcams provide glimpses of the physical majesty and cultural landscapes of this vast region. This page lists live webcam footage from throughout Japan.

Images

Lesson Plan

GEOGRAPHY—Visualizing Landscape Through Art

[The British Museum]
The exhibition 100 Views of Mount Fuji explored a wide range of manifestations of the mountain in Japanese art, as portrayed in 100 works by painters and print designers from the seventeenth century to the present, including Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Munakata Shikô (1903-75), and Hagiwara Hideo (born 1913).

Lesson Plan

GEOGRAPHY—Rice Cultivation

Lesson IdeaRice Cultivation
Have students research and discuss the stages of rice cultivation and compare wet-rice and dry-rice techniques. Discuss how climate determines which crops are grown around the world.

GEOGRAPHY—Food

Lesson IdeaChopsticks
Have students practice using chopsticks. Discuss what countries use chopsticks as eating utensils. [Answer: China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam — the countries that form the East Asian cultural sphere. They also share Confucian thought, Buddhism, and the use of Chinese characters at some point in their histories.] Note that in many other countries of South, Southeast, and West Asia the custom is to eat with one hand, often using breads to scoop food.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan [Institute of Japanese Studies, The Ohio State University]
For grades 1-3. Students will be introduced to a typical Japanese meal and the use of chopsticks.

[About Japan, Japan Society]
For grades K-5. Students will understand the importance of an obento (lunch box) in the Japanese lifestyle, learn the basic rules of an obento, and be exposed to a part of the Japanese food culture.

[Education about Asia]
In Japan lunchtime is an important part of shokuiku, or food education. The midday hour becomes a daily lesson in manners, history, ecology, sociology, and nutrition. Known as gakkō kyūshoku in Japanese, school lunch has become a vehicle that forges connections to the community and society, contributing to how students understand both themselves and the world around them. Download PDF on page.

LANGUAGE—Overview

LANGUAGE—Writing

[Asia for Educators]
This unit provides an opportunity for students to practice writing both Japanese syllabaries — katakana and hiragana.

[Asia for Educators]
This unit provides the opportunity for students to read and write kanji, the Chinese characters used in the Japanese writing system.

CULTURE—General

[MOFA: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan]
With interactive games, manga, and presentations on a variety of cultural topics.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Make a (katazome) kimono using this template.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
The earliest surviving representations of the Buddha date from hundreds of years after his death, so they are not portraits in the usual sense. Buddha images vary greatly from place to place and period to period, but they almost always show these conventional features...


An excellent visual guide to the identities and significance of figures, postures, hand gestures, implements, offerings and the composition of paintings.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
In Zen Buddhism, zazen (pronounced: zah-zen) is a sitting meditation. Zazen is not focusing on a specific object or thought. Instead, it is the liberating of one's mind of all thought into a state of emptiness (a complete emptiness that is also complete fullness) from which the practitioner hopes to experience spontaneous awakening to the inner self (enlightenment).

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades K-2. “Daruma is a spherical doll with a red painted body and a white face without pupils. Daruma dolls represent Bodhidharma, a Zen monk who meditated for almost 9 years while sitting in the zazen meditation posture that his legs were of no use anymore.” In this lesson, students will: 1) learn about the historical Bodhidharma and how Buddhism came to China from India, and later to Japan; 2) learn about the Japanese New Year's tradition of wish making and goal setting as it relates to the Daruma doll; 3) learn the legends of Daruma and his dedication to meditation, his achieving enlightenment, and the relationship Daruma has to green tea; 4) reproduce their own Daruma doll, set a goal, and work towards achieving their goal.

CULTURE—Festivals & Families

[Ohio State]
Students learn a song and make a fan while learning about the meaning of the cherry blossom in Japan.

[Boston Children's Museum]
The Japanese House at the Boston Children's Museum is a home where a real Japanese family used to live. An important part of their lives was the changing seasons. They celebrated the seasons with art, food, festivals, and more! Here you will find activities to help you learn about Japanese culture. These activities were designed by BCM staff for students and families.

[Allen Art Museum]
Kokeshi are small dolls with cylindrical or spherical shaped bodies and rounded heads. Often made as souvenirs, these dolls have different characteristics according to which prefecture in Japan they originate from. In this lesson, students will take a closer look at the make-up of Japan and compare its geographic divisions to those in the United States, explore the Japanese Holiday Hina Matsuri, and create their own kokeshi dolls.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Students compare and contrast the different ways in which people commemorate the passing of a year by interviewing their families, creating a tablescape, and sharing their traditions with their classmates.

LESSON PLAN [Boston Children's Museum]
Setsubun, celebrated on February 3rd, is the Japanese ritual of driving out bad luck and evil spirits and welcoming in good luck and good health in preparation for spring. On Setsubun, people have bean-throwing ceremonies called mamemaki and eat one soybean for every year old they are, which gives them good health and long life. Although Setsubun is a very popular custom in Japan, it is not a national holiday. For most children in Japan, Setsubun is a fun holiday. They make or buy masks and pretend to be Japanese monsters called oni as part of the mamemaki ceremony. These monsters appear in old Japanese folktales and legends. They usually have one or two horns on their foreheads, wear tiger-skin pants and hold large spiked weapons in their hands. In some stories, they are humorous and kind, but more often they are mean and evil.

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades K-3. Students will listen to the story “A Carp for Kimiko” and discuss its theme/lesson. Students will also be introduced to the Japanese holiday, Children's Day, formerly known as Boy's Day, and design and create their own carp kite (koinobori).

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades K-2. “Daruma is a spherical doll with a red painted body and a white face without pupils. Daruma dolls represent Bodhidharma, a Zen monk who meditated for almost 9 years while sitting in the zazen meditation posture that his legs were of no use anymore.” In this lesson, students will: 1) learn about the historical Bodhidharma and how Buddhism came to China from India, and later to Japan; 2) learn about the Japanese New Year's tradition of wish making and goal setting as it relates to the Daruma doll; 3) learn the legends of Daruma and his dedication to meditation, his achieving enlightenment, and the relationship Daruma has to green tea; 4) reproduce their own Daruma doll, set a goal, and work towards achieving their goal.

Lesson Plan [About Japan, Japan Society]
For grades 3-5. Students will read the story and watch the Japanese movie about the fantasy creature, Totoro. Students will discuss the structure of the family in Japan and discuss environmental awareness.

CULTURE—Food & Culture

Lesson Plan [About Japan, Japan Society]
For grades K-5. Students will understand the importance of an obento (lunch box) in the Japanese lifestyle, learn the basic rules of an obento, and be exposed to a part of the Japanese food culture.

CULTURE—Tea, Teahouses, Gardens

[The Art of Asia, Minneapolis Institute of Art]
For grades 5-8. Essay with visual gallery of a reconstructed 18th-century Japanese tea house.

[Portland Japanese Garden]
Grades 5-8. A short overview, with images. Also includes overviews and images of four other types of Japanese gardens (Flat, Strolling Pond, Natural, and Sand and Stone) as well as the exercise, “Haiku Alive”

[Asia Society & Japan Society]
Grades 5-8. Online guide to a past exhibition, with virtual tour, tea utensils, tea room, and ceremony.

[Bowdoin College]
Grades 3-5. With images, glossary, links, and bibliographical references, as well as a section on the elements of Japanese gardens.

[Missouri Botanical Garden]
Grades 3-5. Essay with images on the major design principles of a Japanese garden.

CULTURE—Clothing

[Victoria and Albert Museum]
Grades 5-8. Essays and images about the kimono's history, as well as techniques for weaving, embroidery, and decoration.

[Canton Museum of Art]
A collection of 12 cross curricular lessons centered on Japanese art that include Ohio state art standards, vocabulary, background information, material lists, handouts and illustrations, assessments, and additional print and internet resources. Note: the web links are not always reliable. In some cases, searching the parent website provides the resource. Lesson Plans include the topics: Carp/Koi Banners for Children's Day, Kimono Printing, making a Uchiwa Fan, Fish Printing and making Shibori Textiles. While all of the lessons relate to art, many connect with literature, math, science, and social studies.

HISTORY—Archaeology

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
“The Jomon period, which encompasses a great expanse of time, constitutes Japan's Neolithic period. Its name is derived from the 'cord markings' that characterize the ceramics made during this time.” A short introduction, with images of seven artifacts in the museum's collection.

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
“Beginning about the fourth century B.C., Jomon culture was gradually replaced by the more advanced Yayoi culture, which takes its name from the site in Tokyo where pottery of this period was first discovered in 1884.” A short introduction, with images of three artifacts in the museum's collection.

HISTORY—Samurai, Swords, Sword-making

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
For grades 5-8. A discussion of shoguns and their role in the artistic and cultural history of Japan from the late 12th century until the end of the Edo period (1868).

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
For grades 5-8. A brief introduction to the bushi or samurai of Japan.

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
For grades 5-8. Discusses two important techniques of traditional Japanese sword-making -- kitae (forging the blade) and yaki-ire (hardening the edge).

HISTORY—Mon, the Family Crest

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades 3-6. Lesson plan on creating individual “crests” that follow the tradition of Japanese family crests, or mon.

HISTORY—Heroes in History

Lesson Plan [About Japan, Japan Society]
For grades 5-8. Using images, including of old money, this lesson chooses two iconic and controversial figures from Japan and Korea, viewed very differently in each country, to examine fundamental issues such as the importance of national heroes and how point of view influences the way people understand the same event.

SCIENCE—Earth Sciences

Lesson Plan

SCIENCE—Life Sciences

Lesson Plan [Marine Discovery, The University of Arizona]
For grades 5-6. By making use of common household foods, this activity presents the concepts of food chains and food webs. It teaches students about the differences between a producer and a consumer, and emphasizes that humans are just one piece of this very complicated web of life. It illustrates that the ocean is part of our food web, and that marine algae are an important ingredient in many of our foods.

SCIENCE—The Environment & Culture

Lesson Plan [About Japan, Japan Society]
For grades 3-6. The rural, 1950s way of life depicted in the anime film My Neighbor Totoro offers lessons in green living that are applicable across cultures and across time periods. In this lesson, students will 1) describe traditional Japanese attitudes toward nature; 2) identify at least 5 energy-saving practices in Totoro; and 3) design an advertising poster to promote those energy-saving practices in today’s world.

MATH

[Soroban Exam]
Website dedicated to the use and history of the soroban. Includes “virtual soroban” that students can manipulate.

LITERATURE—Origin Myths

Telling Tales with Kamishibai [Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Students will summarize and illustrate the main events of a folktale from Japan in the format of kamishibai slides and retell their stories using their kamishibai slides.

LITERATURE—Poetry

Lesson Plan [EDSITEment, National Endowment for the Humanities]
For grades 3-5. Haiku show us the world in a water drop, providing a tiny lens through which to glimpse the miracle and mystery of life. Combining close observation with a moment of reflection, this simple yet highly sophisticated form of poetry can help sharpen students’ response to language and enhance their powers of self-expression. In this lesson, students learn the rules and conventions of haiku, study examples by Japanese masters, and create haiku of their own.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]

[Japan Airlines Foundation]
An online illustrated short booklet produced by JAL Foundation.

LITERATURE—New Titles

[NCTA]
An annual list of the winning titles (see the elementary category) for the Freeman Book Award for Outstanding Children's Literature on East and Southeast Asia from the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA). Please refer also to Recommended Titles of children's books, by grade level, also on the NCTA site.

ART—Nature in Art

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
A discussion of seasonal imagery in Japanese art, with an emphasis on the importance of Shinto, Zen Buddhism, and poetry.

[Pacific Asia Museum]
Paintings and prints from the Edo period to the late 20th century. The inclusion of characters such as Godjira (Godzilla), Doraemon, and the Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke makes this an especially fun unit for students. Text essays with images on the following topics: 1) Tradition; 2) Reality; 3) Imagination. With an Edo-period timeline, glossary of related terms, lesson plans for teachers, and a “Random Monster Generator” activity for students.

ART—Prints & Printmaking

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Create your own hanging scroll and name seal.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Students will be able to identify, compare and contrast images of traditional Japanese woodblock prints. They will then create their own simulated woodblock prints.

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art]
A brief introduction to the development of the ukiyo-e style in woodblock printing, with a focus on the technical aspects of polychrome printing.

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades K-2. “Gyotaku” (guh-yo-tah-koo) is the Japanese art of fish painting. It was developed more than a century ago as a fisherman's method of recording the size and species of his catch, and is now accepted as an art form worldwide. Students will study the history of fish printing and make their own prints.

Lesson Plan [The Kennedy Center]
For grades 5-8. By acquiring knowledge of historical and cultural qualities unique to this particular art form, students can gain an understanding of how Gyotaku reflects a part of Japanese history. Students will select a fish, prepare it, ink it, apply the paper or fabric, and complete the fish print for display. During this process they will also examine the fish and learn the correct names and uses of the external anatomical parts of the fish.

ART—Emakimono (Picture Scrolls)

[Asia Society]
“During the 11th to 16th centuries, painted handscrolls, called emakimono, flourished as an art form in Japan, depicting battles, romance, religion, folktales, and even stories of the supernatural world.” With suggestions for making emakimono in the classroom.

ART—Origami (Paper-Folding)

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades 3-5. This lesson covers origami, crane biology, cranes in Japanese art, “1,000 cranes” as a symbol of peace, and the bombing of Hiroshima and the true story of Sadako. Students will: 1) improve motor skills through careful folding, a discipline necessary in the practice of origami; 2) develop multicultural awareness by exploring Japanese history; 3) improve their ability to follow directions through the creation of origami cranes; 4) identify a major historical event, the bombing of Hiroshima.

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]

[Asian Art Museum, San Francisco]
Students will create their own books and stamps, and can inscribe poetry or good wishes on each others books. They will then take their books with them on a pilgrimage to the Asian Art Museum, the Japanese tea garden, or the beach, and record their impressions.

ART—Shibori (Tie-dying)

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
For grades 3-5. Hachimaki is a thin towel or strip of cloth tied around the crown of the head. According to Japanese legend, hachimaki strengthen the spirit and repel evil spirits. In this lesson, students will: 1) learn about a Japanese dyeing method, arashi shibori; and 2) learn about the hachimaki and make their own to wear.

[Allen Art Museum]
For grades 3-5. Hachimaki is a thin towel or strip of cloth tied around the crown of the head. According to Japanese legend, hachimaki strengthen the spirit and repel evil spirits. Arashi Shibori is a specific type of shibori, (a Japanese method of dyeing cloth with a pattern by binding, stitching, folding, twisting, or compressing it) where the cloth is wrapped around a pole, secured, and dyed; the resulting patterns are diagonal since the cloth is shaped on the bias. In this lesson, students will: 1) learn about a Japanese dyeing method, arashi shibori; and 2) learn about the hachimaki and make their own to wear.

ARTS & CRAFTS—General

Asia in Art - Resources [Asia for Educators]
Additional lesson plans and resources on art can be found on Asia in Art which can be explored by a number of categories, including country or region.

DRAMA & DANCE—Kabuki

[The British Museum]
This tour explores Kabuki from its historical beginnings to the impact it has had on contemporary culture. Japanese prints and photographs from the collections of the British Museum have been used to illustrate the themes of acting styles, music and dance, theatre and audiences, make-up and costume.

DRAMA & DANCE—Folk Dance

Lesson Plan [Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College]
In this lesson, students will: 1) explore the traditions and celebrations of another culture; 2) learn about a city/community in Japan; 3) be exposed to traditional Japanese music as they learn several dance steps and their significance.