While Japan has a similar land area to California, its population is almost four times as big. Most of Japan's 127,000,000 citizens live in large, dense cities such as the country's capital, Tokyo. With these activities, invite your students to explore both the modern pace and ancient traditions of this fascinating country as if they were visitors there.
Using the Reproducible
Using the Passport to Japan Reproducible, below, have students create passports for their imaginary journey to Japan. After each activity, invite children to mark their progress by cutting out and pasting onto a blank passport page the appropriate stamp for that activity. They can use the extra pages to record any questions they might have about Japanese life, which they can then research in pairs and later share with the class.
Destination #1: The Tourist Office
Encourage your travelers to plan their journey and boost their mapping skills by creating an informative display about Japan for your classroom. First, invite students to browse through any library materials you may have gathered on Japan. Then have children choose a tourist attraction or historical site that they would like to study in more detail. Ask them to write a descriptive paragraph about their chosen site, locate it on a wall-sized map of Japan, and mark it with a stickpin and a label. Arrange the paragraphs around the map and ask students to share their newfound expertise with the class.
Destination #2: The Bank
With this activity, students will learn about the kinds of math real-life travelers need to do. To begin, discuss the kinds of expenses tourists encounter, such as paying for accommodations, food, sightseeing, and travel. Then give students an imaginary daily budget of $500. Challenge them to create an itinerary for one day in Japan, taking into consideration the expenses discussed. Students can use print and online travel guides to research costs and destinations. Have students write down their itineraries and the costs of each activity in both dollars and yen. (They might want to use www.onlineconversion.com as a reference.) Then ask students to exchange itineraries and check each other's work. Bind the students' work together to create your own class travel guide to Japan.
Destination #3: The Language Academy
Explain to your class that the written Japanese language consists of many different types of script. Katakana, the script used for foreign words or to show the pronunciation of proper names, consists of symbols used to represent different syllabic sounds. Invite your students to try writing their names in katakana, using the resources at http://members.aol.com/writejapan/katakana/writutor.htm. Use your own name as an example to show how to convert an English-language name into Japanese. Students can then write their names on white construction paper. When finished, post the names on a bulletin board for all to see.
Destination #4: The School
With this comparative activity, students will learn more about their Japanese counterparts. First, invite students to “visit” a Japanese school online at http://jin.jcic.or.jp/kidsweb/school/kojimachi/top. At this home page of a Japanese middle school, students can start to identify ways in which a Japanese school differs from their own, such as the length of a typical school day. Encourage them to list these differences in a t-chart. As a class, discuss the similarities and differences that your students have thought about.
Destination #5: The Restaurant
Sushi is a delicacy that has been eaten in Japan for centuries. Introduce sushi to your class through read-alouds, such as Kaoru Ono's Sushi for Kids: A Children's Introduction to Japan's Favorite Food (Tuttle, 2003). Then divide the class into four groups. Have two groups brainstorm advantages to eating a sushi diet, such as its convenience and healthfulness, while the other groups think of disadvantages, such as its difficulty to prepare and dependence on fresh ingredients. When finished, discuss sushi as a class, encouraging the groups to defend their respective positions. To extend, try making various types of vegetarian sushi using the recipes included in the back of Ono's book.
Destination #6: The Theater
Puppets represent an ancient part of Japanese drama and make-believe. They are also good learning tools in your classroom. After sharing stories from Florence Sakade's Japanese Children's Favorite Stories (Tuttle, 2003), encourage your students to think about which character they find most interesting. Then invite them to cut out the shape or outline of the character from a large white index card. Children can decorate the cutout, paying attention to important details such as hairstyle and clothing. They should then glue their creation onto a craft stick. Use the puppets for a final performance at the end of your unit.
Diana Granat is the author of Exploring Cultures Through Art: China And Japan (Scholastic, 2002). This article was originally published in the March 2004 issue of Instructor.