This school year we are planning to spend more time learning about world cultures beginning with this Japan unit. We have been loosely following the rotation schedule over at The Well-Educated Heart. Last year, we enjoyed learning about China in our first month back to homeschool. Japan is also one of the study options for Month 1, so that will be our focus this time. I hope you find these resources useful. This is by no means an exhaustive study, but it’s designed to give elementary students a small glimpse into another culture.
While planning this unit, I started with some of the reference books I already had sitting on my shelves. I found applicable sections in Material World by Peter Menzel, Hungry Planet by Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, Children Just Like Me by Anabel Kindersley and Barnabas Kindersley, and DK Smithsonian Children’s Illustrated Atlas by David Green. These books are great for showing insight into many different cultures around the world. The pictures will be especially engaging for younger students. Don’t feel like you have to read everything on each relevant page, just peruse as interested.
Coloring and Worksheets
You can use an atlas and this worksheet from education.com to label some of the major cities in Japan. Education.com does require you to sign up for a free account in order to access these resources, but I have found it well worth it. There is also a worksheet highlighting famous Japanese Landmarks that would be a fun jumping off point for further study.
Your children, especially younger elementary, might enjoy coloring during read aloud time to keep their hands busy. This coloring page features Mt. Fuji, a woman in a kimono, and cherry blossoms. Color Osaka Castle in this coloring page. The Japanese flag, is easy to color and a printable can be found at crayola.com.
Here are a few picture book suggestions that can easily be found at most libraries: I live in Tokyo, The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson, Crow Boy by Taro Yashima, and Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say.
We are also planning to read The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck. This book is recommended for children from about 3-5th grade (a young Japanese boy loses his family to a tidal wave) and can be found in the library or readily ordered on Amazon for a reasonable price. I am reading it from my Collier’s Junior Classics collection (1962 edition).
We have chosen to enjoy the artwork of Katsushika Hokusai this month. Here is a website to browse containing his complete works. Hokusai is known for the woodblock technique. The short video below shows how Hokusai created his famous piece, The Great Wave.
This is a PBS video with more information that your older children might find interesting:
Deepspacesparkle.com has a 4th grade art project inspired by The Great Wave.
Here is a video of the Japanese national anthem with English and Japanese subtitles:
This is a video of a Japanese folk song, Sakura, celebrating the beauty of the cherry blossom. There are Japanese and English subtitles.
Taiko is an ancient Japanese form of percussion using large drums. Here is an example:
Here is some footage from a Japanese Lantern Dance Festival in connection with Obon, a Japanese Buddhist ceremony for honoring ancestors:
If you’d like to know more, this is a fun website to explore that includes ways to watch, listen, and read various Japanese children’s songs and rhymes.
Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. Here are some fun examples of haiku poems for kids. If you’d like to try writing your own, this article gives creative ways to teach haiku to young elementary students.
Japan Unit Celebration!
I think it would be tons of fun to celebrate the end of your family study on Japan by having a party! You can listen to Japanese music, try some traditional Japanese food, decorate by displaying some notebooking or art projects, and recite haiku poetry.
This website is a good resource for learning about traditional Japanese food. I’m excited for sushi!
It would be fun to watch a family movie from Japan also. Ponyo is a Japanese animated movie that was popular when my oldest daughter was small.
I hope you enjoyed your Japan unit study!
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Thanks for listening, friend!