written by: Tania Cowling
• edited by: Sarah Malburg
• updated: 6/6/2012
Teaching children about other lands and the cultures that exist there is so important for developing recognition of the world around them and others' lives besides their own. Read on for ideas on how to present a Pre-k theme on Japan in your classroom.
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Children learn to respect and appreciate the differences among people by learning about the life, customs, and celebrations in different lands. Japan has several special days just for children. You can do little celebrations in the classroom with activities that reinforce Dolls' Day, Boy's Day, and the Japanese New Year, which is like a birthday for all.
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Life in Japan
Take a little pretend trip to Japan, making the first stop the capital city of Tokyo. The beautiful white and red flag is flying proudly. The word Japan and the red circle on the country's flag means "land of the rising sun."
You can compare the land area of Japan to the size of California although they have about five times as many people as the state. This island country is very hilly and mountainous, not leaving much land for farming. Most foods are imported, but fishing is quite popular in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese families love to eat fish, especially raw fish called sushi. Rice is served with all meals, and the Japanese people use chopsticks to pick up their food, just like the Chinese people. Children eat many vegetables and bean curd and drink green tea.
The traditional garment, a robe, worn by Japanese boys and girls is called a kimono. The robe has long, flowing sleeves; ties at the waist;, and is made of beautiful colorful fabrics.
Japanese children love to play sports such as volleyball, golf, swimming, and tennis just like Americans do; however, the most popular sports are baseball and wrestling (Sumo). All children practice the traditional art of self-defense, Karate and Judo.
Winding down the day at home, the Japanese people take off their shoes at the front door. In the bedroom, children sleep on thick, quilt-like mattresses on the floor. As they end the day, the Japanese people will say Sayonara which means good-bye and sleep well.
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Japanese New Year
The Japanese New Year begins on January 1st and lasts for three days. It is considered everyone's birthday. Preparations include a thorough housecleaning before New Year's Eve so good spirits will not be swept away. Homes are decorated ,and greeting cards are sent. The children wear new clothes and gifts of coins are given.
Celebrate the Japanese New Year in your classroom with these activities:
Make Japanese lanterns. Take a sheet of construction paper and fold it in half lengthwise. Draw a line (about 1-inch) down the open edge. Now help the children make a row of parallel cuts with safety scissors, from the folded edge up to the line. Make these cuts every 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart. Open the paper and roll it into a cylinder. Staple the ends together. Attach string or yarn to the top to hang these lanterns in the classroom.
Create Japanese fans. Take a sheet of construction paper and let the children decorate it with crayons. Accordion fold it across the page. Using a hold punch, make a hole at the bottom of each fold. String yarn through each hole, and tie it tightly in a knot.
Sing Happy Birthday to each child in the classroom.
Give a coin sealed in an envelope to each child.
For a snack, serve puffed rice cakes.
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Doll's Day (Hina Matsuri)
Doll's Day is celebrated on March 3rd. Girls get together with friends and their special dolls to engage in a tea party. The dolls are to represent the Emperor, Empress, and members of their court. These dolls are not played with, but are displayed and then stored away until next year's holiday. This special day is sometimes called the Peach Blossom Festival.
Set up a display area and cover this with red crepe paper or cloth. Have each child bring in a favorite doll to display on the table. Denote a special time, when each child can "show" her doll and "tell" the class something about the doll.
Make a tissue art tree. On paper, draw bare tree branches with a brown crayon. Cut small squares of peach-colored tissue paper and crumple the squares. Glue these onto the branches to look like peach blossoms.
For a snack, cut bread into shapes with cookie cutters. Mix cream cheese with drops of food coloring to make the mixture pastel colored. Spread the cheese onto the bread shapes to make tea sandwiches. Serve with oriental green tea or a favorite juice.
Sing this piggyback song to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Doll's Day is a happy day, happy day, happy day,
Doll's Day is a happy day,
For little Japanese girls.
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Boy's Day (Tango-No-Sekku)
Boy's Day is observed on May 5th and is also called Children's Day. The symbol for this holiday is the carp fish (Koi). Each father erects a tall bamboo pole outside his home. Together, father and son make fish kites to hang outside. The largest fish represents the oldest son and on down the line to the smallest fish for the youngest son. The carp fish symbolizes strength and bravery, qualities young men strive to achieve.
Make a Boy's Day carp using a lunch bag. Cut a large circle from the bottom flap of the bag for the fish's mouth. Draw large circle eyes on both sides of the bag. Decorate the fish, drawing colorful scales with markers or crayons. Attach crepe paper streamers to the sack's open end for fish tails. Hang these Koi fish around the room using string or yarn.
For a snack, serve Goldfish crackers along with a favorite juice.
Sing the following song to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
Koi, Koi, is my fish,
My fish will fly so high.
Boy's Day in Japan today,
My fish will fly so high.
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Your preschool students will enjoy learning about Japanese children through this Pre-k theme. Check your local library for books and films on the life of the people of Japan to learn more about their culture and special celebrations.
Celebrate Every Day by Kathy Faggella and Lisa L. Durkin [First Teacher Press, 1987]