In the homeschooling group we belong to, each child/family has been taking turns every other week to lead the group in learning about another country–geography, culture–a general introduction. Aidan chose Japan for us, so we’ve been busy immersing ourselves in all things Japan in preparation for the day, which is this coming Monday. Here’s our plan for the day’s activities:

part i: greetings, salutations, and geography

(15 minutes)

  1. Start with a little traditional Japanese koto music, as the kids walk in.
[audio:jpn_koto.mp3]Or, if you prefer, a sample of Japanese Pop music (J-pop, as it’s called).[audio:j-pop.mp3]
  1. As kids continue to get settled, give them this simple guide to writing a Japanese haiku. Remind parents that they may have to help their kids with it (especially with the younger kids). Alternatively, you could use Japanese-themed coloring sheets for a walk-in activity.
  2. After a few minutes, gather kids into a circle. Bow to the group and say, konichiwa. Invite them to return the greeting. Then, ask the kids what country they think we will be learning about today. Hopefully, someone will say Japan.
  3. Ask the kids if anyone knows where Japan is on the map and have them point to it. Elicit from them more information about where it is located relative to the United States. Is there anything else they notice about the country of Japan as they look at it on the map?
    • What is it surrounded by? Water. What do you call land that is surrounded by water? Yes, an island. Japan is an island nation. Is it just one island? No. Actually, Japan is made up over 3000 islands–some of them are very small and many are volcanoes. Does anyone know what a big group of tiny islands is called? That’s right, an archipelago. (Bonus word!)
    • While there are many many small islands that make Japan, there are four main ones (97% of the land)–Hokaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu.
    • What do you think it’s like to live on an island? What might you eat? Yes, fish is a big part of the Japanese diet. How do you suppose Japan gets things that aren’t on the island? Yes, imports from other countries. Elicit other ideas about what it’s like to live on an island. Discuss.
  4. Next, ask how many people do you think live in Japan? How does that compare to the US? Do you think it’s crowded in the US? Do you think it’s crowded in Japan? Let’s see…
    • Demonstrate a sense of the population density in Japan by asking for two volunteers to come stand in a one yard square taped on the floor. Tell the kids that the square represents the US and the two people in the square represent the population of the US.
    • Now ask for six more kids to come stand in the square; this represents the population in Japan.
    • But wait! There are many mountains in Japan where people can’t live. Have the kids move into just one half of the square. This is how it is on livable land in Japan. What do you think about that? Discuss.

part ii: a little nihongo (japanese language)

(15 minutes)

Ask the kids, “Who wants to learn to speak some Japanese?” The expectation is that they will all shout with excitement that they would like this. So here’s what to do:

  1. Tell the kids that we’ll be learning some useful phrases: hello, How are you?, please (when offering), thank you, and you’re welcome.
  2. Start by demonstrating a simple greeting. With a fellow adult or a child who wants to volunteer, face each other, bow deeply from the waste and say, “Konichiwa” (hello or good day); then, say, “O genki desu ka?” (how are you?); the other person responds, “Genki desu. Anata wa?” (good, and you?).
  3. Ok, after this brief demonstration, get everyone saying the words by using a hand puppet. (We can call him Maekeiru the shy hedgehog or something like that.)
    • Have the puppet hide his face in the crook of your arm. Explain to the kids how shy Maekeiru is and that he needs to coaxed out of his hiding place to say hello.
    • Together ask the kids to say hello Maekeiru: “Konichiwa, Maekeiru! O genki desu ka?” Have them repeat it more loudly until Maekeiru the shy little hedgehog comes out to respond with a bow, “Genki desu. Anata wa?”
  4. Ok, now tell the kids they will learn how to use some manners in Japanese–specifically how to offer something to someone, how to say thank you, and how to say you’re welcome. Demonstrate with another volunteer or with another adult as before.
    • Using some Japanese snack food like Pocky, offer one to the other person by saying, “Dozo,” (please) and extending the snack. The other person says, “Arigato gozaimasu,” (thank you) and takes one. In response, the first person says, “Do itashi mashite” (you’re welcome).
    • Now, pass the box of Pocky snacks around the room, asking each pair to use the exchange–dozo, arigato gozaimasu, do itashi mashite. Help them out along the way around the circle.
    • Time permitting, go through a few other phrases using a poster board with the phrases displayed. Have a child volunteer point to the phrase and say it aloud (an adult can whisper the phrase to the child); then all the other children can repeat it.

part iii: celebrations, festivals, and crafts

(30 minutes)

All right, in Japan (like everywhere) people love festivals and love to celebrate. Segue to a discussion of New Years that will then lead to a craft project:

  1. In fact, a big celebration is happening in Japan right now. Does anyone know what it is? (Hint: We just celebrated this a few days ago in the United States.) That’s right, New Year! In Japan, the New Year is big celebration that can last between three days to a full week. It’s the most important holiday celebration in Japan.
  2. [singlepic=254,250,250]There are many customs that go with the New Year celebration, one of which is the making of origami cranes. Does anyone know what origami is? That’s right, the art of folding paper. (Produce an example of an origami crane.) The crane represents peace, so sometimes people in Japan decorate their homes with paper cranes as a way of wishing for peace in the New Year. Also, there is an old Japanese tradition that says if you make 1000 paper cranes you will be granted a single wish.
  3. Before you all leave today, we will give you a paper crane and instructions on how to make one of your own. There are many other things, though, that you can make with origami. For example, a talking dog (produce an example). Isn’t that cool? Who wants to make an origami talking dog like this one?
  4. Invite the kids to sit at tables with their parents where they will find a piece of origami paper, crayons, instructions on how to make the talking dog, and a sample of the finished piece. Give them time to make their dogs.


  6. Once the kids are finishing up their dogs, start talking to them about another holiday in Japan. Ask them if they’ve ever heard of Mother’s day. [singlepic=255,250,250]Father’s day? What about children’s day? Yes, that’s right, in Japan they have a special holiday just to celebrate children. And one of the things they do as part of this celebration is to make carp windsocks or streamers (koinobori). Who knows what a carp is? That’s right, it’s a fish. The Japanese celebrate the carp for its ability to persevere in difficult times–for its strength and courage.
  7. Invite the kids to try another craft where they make carp windsock from a brown paper lunch bag, scraps of magazine or discarded wrapping paper cut into little circles, crepe paper streamers, and some string. The idea comes from combining craft ideas found on these two sites: Japanese Hanging Koi and Paper Carp.

part vi: food

(15 minutes)

While kids are working on their paper carp (koinobori) project, prepare a table of some Japanese food to try. We will offer some rice cracker snacks, a sampling of maki rolls (fully cooked), and a couple of sweet treats. Once they are done with their craft project and ready to eat, tell them they need to learn one more Japanese phrase before we can enjoy some of the snacks. The phrase is traditionally said before enjoying food. Itadakimausu! (Let’s eat!). Have all the kids say it together and then enjoy the food.

And there you have it–a 75 minute introduction to some things Japanese. We’ll see how it goes.