Japan Country Study 2018-03-08T01:43:47+00:00

Welcome to Our Japan Country Study!

The Books:

Note: I was able to find most of these books in our local library, but some are so beautiful that they make wonderful additions to your home library. Not every book is necessary for this study, but we read all of them, one at a time, during our morning story times. Stories are a wonderful way to become familiar with a culture.

Just in case the Amazon book links didn’t load on your computer, here is a written book list:

Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake – Tompert
Yoshi’s Feast – Kajikawa
The Boy Who Drew Cats – Hodges
Little Fingerling: A Japanese Folktale – Hughes
On Cat Mountain – Richard
The Samurai’s Daughter – San Souci
The Shining Princess and Other Japanese Legends – Quayle
The Crane Maiden – Matsutani
The Wise Old Woman – Uchida
The Magic Purse – Uchida

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow – Ishii
The Funny Little Woman – Mosel
Tsunami! – Kajikawa
The Crane Wife – Yagawa
Night of the Ninjas (Magic Tree House) – Pope Osborne
Ninjas and Samurai (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker) – Pope Osborne
Dragon of the Red Dawn (Magic Tree House) – Pope Osborne

Introduction to Japan:

To introduce your children to beautiful Japan, watch the following videos with them.

Mapping Japan:

Mapmaking is such an exciting project for children. Not only is your child learning the downloadgeography of Japan in a much more memorable way than fill in the blank maps, but she is learning a historic art form. I find that my children truly learn and retain their geography when they create their own maps, as they are having a visual, kinesthetic, and artistic experience while learning the geography of the region. Here is how we approached mapping Japan.

Materials: watercolor paper (we use 11 x 17) waterproof India ink pen, watercolors, colored pencils, an atlas or computer for reference maps

(Prepare a cutout in the shape of Japan by outlining Japan and cutting it out for your children to trace around- or they can freehand draw Japan on their maps)


Begin by looking at an atlas and ask your children to locate Japan on the world map.  Make a note that it is an island. Explain to your children that Japan is comprised of 6,852 islands. Then, explain that even though Japan is made up of islands,  it is still a part of Asia.

Tell your children that the four largest Japanese islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Have them find those islands on the atlas and draw them on their paper, using the cutout you prepared ahead of time. Go over the pencil outline with the India ink pen. Label the islands.

Have your children locate the capital city of Japan (Tokyo) and label it on their maps.

Now they can watercolor the islands green and the oceans blue.

Note: Some children might want to include more islands. Allow them to do so if they wish, but it isn’t necessary.

Oceans, Seas, and Rivers:

Click here for a map of Japan’s waters. Ask your children to point out and name the large bodies of water surrounding Japan (East Sea/ Sea of Japan, Pacific Ocean, East China Sea, Philippine Sea, and Sea of Okhostk). Have them label these bodies of water on their maps.

*When we completed this map I was unaware that there is controversy surrounding the name of the sea lying to the east of Japan. Japan refers to it as the Sea of Japan and South Korea refers to it as the East Sea and feels that the name of the Sea of Japan is a remaining element of Japanese imperialism. These topics come up often in geography as it is inherently tied to history- think Ireland and Palestine. I use these opportunities to teach my children about colonialism, imperialism, and ethics.

There are many short rivers in Japan. Use the same map and have your children choose a few rivers to add to their maps. Have them draw the rivers on their maps using a blue colored pencil. Then label them.

Mountains, Volcanos, and Mountain Ranges:

Use this map to locate the Japanese Alps. They are in the middle of the largest Island. Have your children draw them on their maps using upside down V’s. Then have them label the mountain range.

Mount Fuji is the largest mountain peak in Japan and is also an active volcano, though it hasn’t erupted since 1707. Use this map to locate it. Have your children draw a volcano icon on their maps in the appropriate place and label it, “Mt. Fuji.”

Major Cities:

Use this map to locate some of Japan’s major cities. Then, have your children label some of them on their maps, such as Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kawasaki, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and Fukuoka.

Map Details:

Have your children add a compass rose and a map key, and they are finished!

Wildlife Map of Japan:

download (2)Learning about the wildlife of the country you are studying is equally as important as learning about the geography and cultures, as hopefully we are raising a generation that will contribute to the well being of our planet, the protection of species, and the preservation of wildlife. There is no better way to contribute to that goal than to nurture in our children, from a young age, a respect and admiration for nature and wild life.

Materials- a cutout of Japan (same cutout used for the first map), a large piece of thick paper, (we always use watercolor paper so that these projects last), colored pencils, india ink pen, and either block crayons or watercolors.)

Before beginning, watch the documentary below.

To begin:

Outline Japan in dark green colored pencil.

Click here to learn about the wildlife of Japan. Click on various species to see pictures and have your children pick their favorites and draw pictures of them on their maps. Then, have them label their pictures. If your children aren’t fond of drawing, you can print pictures for them to cut out and glue on their maps. If possible, I do recommend drawing the animals, as this visual and kinesthetic experience really helps children remember the animals from the country they are learning about.

Scroll down on the above link to learn about the flora of Japan. If your children would like to, have them draw their favorite plant species on their maps. Remember, the cherry blossom tree is very special in Japan.

Have your children title their maps, “Wildlife of Japan.”

With watercolors or block crayons (or the side of a stick crayon) have your children color Japan green and the ocean and seas blue.

Flag of Japan:

Materials: watercolor paper, sharpie black marker, watercolorsdownload (3)

Click here to see the flag of Japan and to read about its meaning. Have your children watercolor their own flag of Japan.

Religion and Language in Japan:

The main religions in Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism. A small minority of people are Christian or other religions.

To read about religion in Japan, click here.

The major language in Japan is Japanese.

Write in Japanese:

Write Japan in Japanese!download (4)

Materials: watercolor paper, paint brush, and black ink

Watch the following video and follow along. We paused after the first character and then continued.


Materials: origami paper or square paper

Origami is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding. To make an origami swan and boat, watch the videos below.

Children’s Day and Carp Flags:

Children’s Day is a national holiday in Japan. It is a day to celebrate children’s happiness and their personalities. On Children’s Day, celebrated on May 5th, families hang up carp shaped flags called koinobori. There is a Japanese legend that the carp swims upstream and becomes a dragon. While the flag is blowing in the wind, it looks as though the carp is swimming upstream.

Make Your Own Carp Flag:

Materials: toilet paper tube, tissue paper of varying colors, glue stick, string, scissors, black marker, piece of white paper, hole puncher.


Cut out many scale shaped pieces of tissue paper in varying colors.
Starting at the bottom of the tube, glue a row of the scales on with the rounded side facing down.
Then glue another row above, slightly overlapping the previous row
Continue all the way to the top of the tube.
Cut out white circles from paper for two eyes and make a black pupil in the middle of each.
Glue on either side of the top of the tube.
Punch a hole on either side of the top of the tube.
Using a long piece of string, pass the string through both holes and tie ends together to make a large loop for hanging.
Hang your koinobori carp kite!

Make a Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree Banner Painting:

Banner paintings are definitely a beautiful and traditional Japanese art.

Create a Cherry Blossom Tree Banner Painting:

Paper cut into a longer rectangle, brown and pink tempera paints, plastic bottle such as a mineral water or soda bottle (they have a flower shaped bottom for stamping)

Have your children paint the trunk and branches of a cherry blossom tree using brown paint.
Then have them dip the bottom of the plastic bottle into the pink paint and stamp blossoms onto their tree!

Create a Tree Silhouette Banner Painting:

Materials: Watercolor paper (cut narrow and long), watercolors, brush, black ink, straw

Wet the entire paper and then wipe excess water off
Paint rainbow colors from bottom up to make the background look like a sunset
Allow this to dry completely
Drop large drop or puddle of ink at the very bottom of the paper
Using the straws, have your children blow the ink into different directions to make the ink look like a tree with many branches
You might need to add drops/ small puddles to other areas if the ink dries

Make Sushi:

negitoro-roll-4Cooking day, as I have mentioned before, is by far my children’s favorite country study activity. If you haven’t cooked with your kids before, you might be tempted to pass over this activity, but please don’t. It is such a wonderful part of the country studies and your children will have so much fun! My children always feel so proud of the meals they prepare. To make it even more exciting, we love to play music from the country we are studying while cooking.

We had so much fun making sushi! My daughter is now asking to make it every day! We did not use raw fish, but rather avocado and salmon salad. Other options are crab salad or simply cucumber and avocado.

Here is a recipe for making sushi:

Make 2 cups of sushi rice, following directions on the bag.
Mix together 2 tbsp of rice vinegar with 2 tbsp of sugar (this step is important)
Pour the mixture into the cooled rice

Lay out a sheet of wax paper (if you don’t have sushi rollers)
Lay a sheet of sushi seaweed on the wax paper
Place a layer of rice on the sheet as shown in the picture to the right.
Then, place a row of avocado and a row of either salmon salad, crab salad, or cucumber sticks.
Then, following the picture to the right, begin to roll.
Slice and eat!

Traditional Japanese Music, Dance, and Martial Arts: