Mapmaking is such an exciting project for children. Not only is your child learning the geography 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.”
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.
Have your children add a compass rose and a map key, and they are finished!