Tsutenkaku Tower was built in 1912 around an amusement park and the landmark. Shinsekai was considered state-of-the-art entertainment in its pre-war heyday. (Courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organization)

Discover Japan

I remember when I was in the third grade, we learned the most incredible things about countries around the world.

I still remember the day we had “Japan Day” in our small West Seattle classroom at Arbor Heights Elementary School.

Parents brought in sticky white rice and raw fish for us to sample. I tried a little of the raw fish, I wasn’t too excited about it then. To this day I’m not a huge sushi lover.

We made paper fans and a classmate came dressed in a kimono.

We learned a few Japanese words, and we were all given a Japanese name to use for the day.

I still remember, more than 50 years later, the sense of awe and wonder I felt discovering there could be such a different place in the world from what I knew. (I was also very happy I wasn’t born in a country where I would have to eat raw fish.)

Every month, we learned about a new country. It was, perhaps, some of the most important lessons I ever learned.

Teach your children about the amazing world that exists outside our own borders. Travel is the best teacher, but if you can’t afford a trip to Tokyo, here’s a few tips to expand your children’s understanding of the world. This feature is not designed to be an “all-encompassing” look at Japan, but rather a chance to expose your elementary age child to a different culture in a fun way.

Japan: Facts

In Japanese, the name “Japan” is Nihon or Nippon, which means “Land of the Rising Sun.”

A great exercise is to show your child photos that represent Japanese life. Examples of photos you can find online include: Mt. Fuji, cherry trees in bloom, the Tokyo skyline, ancient samurai‎ warriors, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, women wearing kimonos, rice fields and sushi.

If you have a globe of the Earth show your child where they live now (on the globe) and then where Japan is located on the globe. A globe is a great learning tool, not only does it reinforce that the world is round, it is the most accurate way to represent Earth’s curved surface, as well as a sense of distance from point to point.

For older children, you can list facts about Japan, to put the nation in perspective in relation to the United States or California.

Size (square miles): Japan consists of more than 6,800 islands and covers 145,936 square miles. The United States covers 3.797 million square miles (about 26 times larger than Japan). Japan is approximately the size of California.

Population: The 2017 population of Japan was estimated to be 126.8 million people. The population of the United States was estimated at 325.7 million, and California has 39.54 million residents.

Economy

Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, after the United States and China. Many of the products we buy in the United States are purchased from Japanese companies. Fujifilm, Canon, Sony, Nintendo, Panasonic, Toyota, Nissan and Honda are just a few of Japan’s most prosperous companies. In agriculture, rice is the most important crop.

Popular Culture

Anime, or animated Japanese films and television shows, account for 60 percent of the world’s animation-based entertainment. Countless childhood phenomena of the past 30 years has come from Japan: “Transformers,” “Power Rangers,” Tamagotchi, “Pokémon,” Hello Kitty and more. Japanese manga (or Japanese comics) continue to escalate in popularity in the U.S. Anime conventions are now held annually in hundreds of cities across the United States and attract thousands of devotees. (The L.A. Anime Expo held annually at the L.A. Convention Center attracts more than 100,000 participants.)

Sapporo has been brewed since 1877, and the Sapporo Beer Museum was opened in 1987 to display the Sapporo Beer brand. (Courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organization)

Flag

The flag of Japan is a rectangular white banner with a crimson-red disc at its center.

Education

Children who have their sixth birthday on or before April 1 enter the first grade of elementary school of that year. The school year in Japan begins in April, and classes are held from Monday to either Friday or Saturday, depending on the school. The school year consists of two or three terms, which are separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a six-week-long summer break. Most children also attend after-school clubs and many also go to juku (cram school) in the evening to do extra studying. The basic school system in Japan is composed of elementary school (lasting six years), middle school (three years), high school (three years), and university (four years).

Food

The Japanese eat more fish than any other people in the world, about 17 million tons per year. Some of the most popular dishes in Japan are sushi and ramen.

Sushi:  The term sushi actually refers to foods that use a type of rice seasoned with vinegar, not just the rolled rice and seaweed variety we see at most establishments in the United States. Sushi has become the international symbol the Japanese cuisine. Take your child to a sushi restaurant and have them watch the sushi chef in action. Kisho Japanese Restaurant, O Sushi and Sushi 661 are a few popular local options.

Ramen: Do not confuse supermarket and dorm room staples Cup ‘O Noodles, or Top Ramen, with the real ramen served in Japan. Ramen is made with Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, nori (dried seaweed), menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and scallions. Just about anything can be added to ramen broth including eggs, lobster and assorted vegetables. To experience authentic ramen in the SCV without having to make it yourself, visit Masa Ramen, Sushi 661 or

Umaichi Ramen.

Dinner in Japan

Have your children help you prepare a Japanese-style dinner. In Japan, a typical dinner at home involves a single course with several dishes presented all at once. You will find on your plate: rice, seaweed (nori), furikake (rice seasoning), or tsukudani (topping for rice), soup, pickles, protein, mixed protein and vegetable dish and vegetables​.

Each item should be placed in a separate small bowl and placed on a larger rectangle or square-shaped plate. Hot green tea commonly is served in small Japanese teacups.

Dessert can be purchased with ready-made green tea or red bean ice cream found at many supermarkets or Trader Joe’s. Mochi ice cream is a small, round confection consisting of a soft, pounded sticky rice dumpling (mochi) formed around an ice cream filling. My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream is in stock at the Walmart on Carl Boyer Drive in Santa Clarita.  

Recipes for a traditional dinner can be found here: www.japanesecooking101.com/japanese-dinner-menu-1 and at www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIFsmRLW_a4.

Popular Names

Have your child choose a Japanese name for the day. The most popular names for boys are: Haruto, Yuto, Sota, Yuki, Hayato, Haruki, Ryusei, Koki, Sora and Sosuke. The most popular girl’s names are: Yui, Rio, Yuna, Hina, Koharu, Hinata, Mei, Mio, Saki and Miyu.

Travel

A trip to Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles is also an easy way to expose your children to Japanese the culture and lifestyle. Numerous restaurants and stores, as well as Japanese markets, provide a window into Japanese food and products. Ride Metrolink from any SCV station to Union Station downtown. Switch to the Red Line subway and get off at the first stop, Civic Center. Walk a few blocks downhill to the Japanese Village Mall, 335 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, 90012 to begin your adventure. Don’t forget to visit the Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop, a family-owned and operated confectionery store since 1903 specializing in Japanese treats and mochi, 315 E 1st St, Los Angeles.

Craft: Make a Carp/Koi Fish Kite

Traditionally, carp (or koi) kites, windsocks, streamers and banners are flown from April through early May in honor of Kodomo no Hi or Children’s Day, held on May 5. “Koinobori,” carp/koi windsocks, carp streamers or carp banners, decorate the landscape of Japan from April through early May, in honor of Children’s Day (originally Boys’ festival) on May 5.

In Japanese culture, the carp symbolizes courage and strength because of its ability to swim up a waterfall. Originally, the banners were used by samurai warriors on the battlefield.

Instructions for making a carp/koi fish kite can be found here: www.cantonart.org/sites/default/files/kimono_carpkites.pdf

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