BOOKS AND ACTIVITIES CELEBRATING JAPAN
My daughter had been fascinated with Japan since she read Rumer Godden’s books about Japanese dolls, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum, so when we started home-schooling we chose Japan as one of our first topics. It’s been really interesting and a lot of fun learning about Japan and I thought I would share our ideas and activities.
- Read! Books are a great way to introduce children to a new country and lifestyle. There are quite a few lists on Pinterest listing books for younger readers, particularly picture books (like this one from Happy Brown House, for example), but I needed some for older readers. Here are some of the books we tried:
The Rumer Godden books, above. // My Awesome Japan Adventure by Rebecca Otowa, a fantastic scrap-book-style books full of little snippets of information but with the over-arching narrative of an American kid’s visit to Japan// Similar but for older readers is Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Draws Her Way Across the Land of Trendy Fashion, Hi-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes by Christine Mari Inzer// Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata about a girl of Japanese heritage living in the American Deep South. // Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi about two Japanese cousins who meet and become friends when one family moves to the US from Japan, sharing the art of rokkaku (kite-flying). // Japanese Art and Culture by Kamini Khanduri // Japan (Nations of the World) by Jen Green // Alice-Miranda in Japan by Jacqueline Harvey is a fun read // Jingu: the Hidden Princess by Ralph E. Ray, a short historical novel about a young 4th-century princess, the Japanese heroine Jingu.
- Try some Japanese food. Sushi is readily available now in supermarkets making it a very easy way to have a taste of Japan; there are even vegetable sushi options for vegetarian children or those squeamish about fish, raw or otherwise. We tried sushi from a variety of shops and outlets and also made our own, which is very straightforward; we used this recipe and tutorial from Eats Amazing. You might be lucky enough to have a proper sushi restaurant near you so you can try a more authentic experience. We also tried mochi, a squidgy Japanese cake, which I liked but my daughter didn’t! We also tried noodles and other Japanese foods including this simple teriyaki chicken recipe from Taming Twins which my daughter could make herself. She kept a Japanese food diary to record all the things she had tried and what she thought of them.
- Learn about Japanese arts and crafts. A very obvious one is origami. The internet is full of tutorials showing how to make different animals, birds and flowers of varying difficulty. Origami paper can sometimes be very expensive but you might be lucky to find some in a value craft shop. The British Museum has an exhibition of the iconic Hokusai (best known for his ‘wave’ painting) at the moment if you are able to travel to visit it but, if not, then there are are several radio and television programmes about him and his work available online. The BBC has just finished showing a Japan season so we have had the chance to watch programmes on all sorts of things on iPlayer – from pottery to kimono-making,and wildlife to nightlife. Children can have a go at trying some of these arts and crafts for themselves; my daughter painted her own ‘wave’ painting, inspired by Houksai. Another idea is to make a mon from clay or Fimo. These were heraldic symbols worn by clans or members of specific groups to announce loyalty and membership. Children can design their own symbols or pictures and then form them from clay on a circular base or boss. Children might also like to try brush painting: look up how to write their name in Japanese and then use black paint and a brush to write them out. We have also been meaning to get around to making some Japanese fans.
- Dress-up. If you get the opportunity to dress up in kimono then it is great fun to do. My daughters had a go when we went to a Children’s Day Festival hosted at the V&A by the Japanese Society and it was probably their favourite event of the day. If a kimono isn’t possible then try some geisha make-up with facepaint!
- Listen to some Japanese music/watch some dance or theatre. Like kimono-wearing, this is something you don’t often get a chance to do, but if you have a local Japanese Society they may well put on shows once or twice a year. When we went to the V&A day we got the chance to listen to Japanese music and try out some traditional Japanese instruments. We had the privilege of watching some Japanese dance, theatre and puppetry, including an ancient form of Japanese puppets which had never before been performed in the UK before.
- Celebrate a Japanese festival. I have posted before about celebrating Hinamatsuri, the Japanese Doll Festival: find out a little about it and then celebrate with a tea party. This can be as simple as inviting a few friends and their favourite dolls or you can challenge yourselves to have a go at making your own court of Japanese royal dolls. Serve your own favourite tea-time treats or try some Japanese mochi, sushi and other traditional food. The Japanese Children’s Festival or Kodomo no Hi is another great one to explore with children, for obvious reasons. Make paper koinobori carp fish banners (template here, or use cardboard tubes) and tie them to a garden cane; you need one fish for each family member with the adult fishes being the largest and the children smaller. The Japanese also love the Cherry Blossom (sakura) Festival; hanami is the tradition of viewing these beautiful blossoms and is often celebrated with picnics or evening parties. The shops sell everything sakura-themed so have a go at painting your own blossoms, create some from tissue paper or try making sakura sweets from marzipan, peppermint creams or coconut ice. Tanabata, usually celebrated on 7th July, is the Star Festival and is celebrated today by writing wishes (sometimes as poems) on small pieces of paper (tanzaku) and tying them to bamboo. Have fun making up wishes and poems and there is also a Tanabata song which children might like to write out and illustrate.
- Learn about haiku. Haiku is traditional seventeen-syllable poetry. Read some classical haiku (Matsuo Basho is one master of haiku and is widely available) and then have children write their own.
- Write your own guide-book to Japan or Tokyo. This is great process learning and has a finished product they can be proud of. The child can choose what they feel is important to include or you can guide them to a lesser or greater extent. It’s a good opportunity to learn more about Japan’s geography, draw some maps, find out about transport systems, local culture, shopping and eating out, as well as useful phrases and information about all sorts of things like how child-friendly it is, are pets welcome, how do you contact the police force, and so on.
- Learn about Buddhism and Shinto. We used the Dorling Kindersley book on Buddhism.
- Visit a Japanese garden and/or make your own Japanese flat garden.
- Do some research about Japanese wildlife. We watched Wild Japan on Netflix and discovered some really beautiful animals and birds.
We really enjoyed our Japan topic and hope you do, too!