Japan Unit Study: Week 2

This week is jam-packed full of fun! We will learn about Mount Fuji and volcanoes, the story and artwork of artist Hokusai, ninjas, storytelling in Japan, the island of Okinawa, sea turtles, and sushi! It will be the perfect mix of math, science, history, art, and creative writing. Let’s explore Japan’s incredible history and landscape with a few deep dives as we begin week two of our Japan Unit. Start here by printing this week’s skills tracker.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional chapter books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

The Wave art project:

DIY volcano puzzle (or you can purchase the below options from Etsy):

Optional supplies from Etsy:

Origami bookmark:

Origami throwing star:

Paper theater:

Turtle life cycle activities:

Endangered turtle game:

Felt sushi craft:

Sushi recipe:

  • sushi kit
  • 3 cups cooked & seasoned sushi rice [made from 1 cup (230g) Japanese rice]
  • 3 tablespoons 45g – ¼ cup (63g) Japanese mayonnaise (or sub for regular Mayo)
  • 200 grams (~6 pieces) imitation or cooked real crab meat , shredded (or try canned tuna or canned chicken if that is a more familiar flavor, or leave it out all together)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 (196g) avocado , seeded, pitted, & sliced
  • ¼ (110g) English cucumber, julienne cut
  • 2 sheets toasted sushi nori (roasted seaweed sheets)
  • 8 grams toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Sushi game:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

Today’s lessons are all inspired by Japan’s tallest mountain, Mount Fuji.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. Let’s learn about the tallest mountain in Japan. Click this page to learn nine facts about Mount Fuji. Watch this video to learn about visiting Mount Fuji. 

Activity 2: One of Japan’s most famous art pieces is called “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” also known as “The Great Wave” or “The Wave.” It was created by the great Japanese ukiyo-e artist, Katsushika Hokusai. Art Spot Curator, Cindy Ingram, has a free lesson plan and download all about Hokusai and his famous art pieces featuring Mount Fuji. The conversation questions are listed on the webpage and the download includes 36 art images. 

If desired, read the chapter book The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai for the life story of Hokusai. This beautifully illustrated book will bring this artist to life!

Are you inspired by all that art you just saw? Pull out your art supplies and try this art assignment! This art lesson will teach students how to divide an art piece into three parts: foreground, middle ground, and background. It also includes a color lesson. Tip: Try to follow the given instructions instead of just copying the original.

Activity 3: What is a volcano? What are the parts of a volcano called? And what is the difference between an active, dormant, and extinct volcano? Click this link to learn the answers to these questions.

Next, draw and paint your own volcano puzzle. (Or you can purchase this Montessori wooden puzzle or this felt one from Etsy instead.)

Lesson 2:

What to ninjas and origami have in common? Let’s find out today!

Activity 1: Read How to Live Like a Samurai Warrior page 24 and 25 to learn about the ninja. Next, read this web page. Draw a Venn diagram to detail the differences between samurai and ninjas. 

Activity 2: Next, let’s learn about the history of origami. Watch this video, starting at :40. Then, if your child is interested, follow the tutorial at the end to make a Pikachu bookmark.

Activity 3: Let’s combine what we have learned about ninjas and origami and make a ninja throwing star

Activity 4: If your child is ready for more, start reading the chapter book, Blue Fingers: A Ninja’s Tale. When you have completed it, write a book review. A book review is not a book report. Here’s a post that explains what a book review is. (Make a note to check on this assignment next week. If your child is finished reading the chapter book, work on the book review.)

Lesson 3:

There are many ways of exploring a culture. Reading about their folklore is one unique way to do so. Folklore shows the country’s view on things of the people through telling their stories, and the stories itself are interesting too. (source) Let’s do a few activities today to explore Japanese folklore and do a little storytelling of our own.

Activity 1: Japanese folklore and mythology dates back thousands of years and draws on influences from the country’s two main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism, as well as stories from India, China, and other countries. The influence of Shintoism can be seen in the wealth and diversity of magical creatures and spirits in Japan’s folktales.

There are dozens of folk stories in print that have been translated into English. Read a folk story from the book Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. Many of the stories have a moral lesson, or a lesson that teaches the reader what is wise or right. See if your child can identify the moral in some of the stories. For example, in the story “The Crab and the Monkey,” what is the lesson? 

Activity 2: Storytelling is an important part of Japanese culture. One form of storytelling that existed in Japan during the early 20th century was kamishibai, the paper theater. Read the story Kamishibai Man for more about this clever storytelling style.

Next, let’s tell our own story! This assignment will take several days to complete. Review the lesson and video in Week 1, Lesson 4, Activity 2 about storytelling before getting started.

Begin this assignment by once again thinking about the plot, setting, and characters your child wants to include in their story. Use this printable to map out the story. Once they have charted their story, assist them, as needed, in writing a first draft. Work on editing and revising the story for as long as needed. (Remember this tip from Brave Writer: No need to correct every mistake a child makes in writing. Focus on a few things per assignment so that they don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed.) 

If your child is having a hard time coming up with their own story, use the Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories as inspiration. Have them write what happens next in their favorite story from the book!

Once your child has a final draft, move onto the next part: Make your story box. Create a paper theater using a medium sized box, large sheets of paper, markers or colored pencils, and any props you need to tell your story. Ask your child to draw pictures to help tell the story using the same technique as the Kamishibai man. These can be pictures that detail the setting or other story details that remain consistent throughout a particular scene, like the background of a stage during a play. Look for props and items that can be used to create sound effects to help the story come to life. Once the story is complete and your paper theater is created, present the story to your family. 

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll work on a little geography and biology as we explore the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa and get to know some sea turtles.

Activity 1: Read + Discover. The Ryukyu Islands consist of 55 islands and islets divided into three major groups: the Amami island chain in the north, the central Okinawa islands, and the Sakishima islands in the south. Only 36 are suitable for permanent human settlement. As a result of their location, Ryukyuans have been affected by both Japanese and Chinese influence. 

Okinawa is presently part of Japan, but in ancient times the islands formed an independent kingdom. It was annexed to China, then to Japan, and at one point occupied by the United States. The island has its own culture and dialect, separate from mainland Japan. This island is filled with rich jungle and surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. This makes the island an amazing animal habitat. (source)

Watch this tourist video of the island for a quick view of the mountains and the ocean. Pretty beautiful, right!?

Activity 2: One of our favorite residents of Okinawa is the sea turtle. Download and print the Educator’s Teachers Guide PDF from the World Wildlife Fund. (Note for grownups: You should be familiar with the details in this packet before sharing the information with your child to be able to discuss and answer questions about sea turtles. It is meant to be a resource for you, not a read aloud.) Share the “fun facts” with your child as you take a virtual swim with a sea turtle here

Next, read the story Turtle Watch (available here on OpenLibrary). Talk about helping sea turtles by keeping beaches clean and clear of trash in your area. (There are talking points in the PDF linked above.)

Activity 3: Turtles + Life Cycle. Read Turtle, Watch Me Grow (available here on OpenLibrary) or National Geographic Kids Mission: Sea Turtle Rescue: All About Sea Turtles and How to Save Them (or any book you have in your library about turtles) to learn about their migration patterns and life cycle. Next, watch this video to see baby turtles make their way to the ocean.

Choose a sea turtle activity from this website. (We’ve suggested two below, but obviously do whatever looks best to you.)

Activity 4: Turtle Migration Game. Click this link and look for the download called “Endangered Caribbean Sea Turtles: An Educator’s Handbook.” This is an enormous PDF with tons of information, but we will only be focused on activity 4F on pages 106-116. Review the directions on page 106 so that you know how to print out the pages and play the game. In addition to printing out (and possibly laminating) the PDF, you will need dice for this activity. 

Lesson 5:

For our final day this week, we’ll explore more about that famous Japanese dish, sushi!

Activity 1: Read + Discover the history of sushi. Read Honest History magazine pages 38-39 or this link for a history of sushi in Japan. Watch this video next. 

Activity 2: Make this felt sushi craft that can then become free play.

Activity 3: Prepare this sushi recipe. California rolls don’t come from Japan, but are a good introduction to sushi for a child who hasn’t had it or isn’t ready for raw fish.

Alternatively, you could visit a Japanese restaurant for authentic Japanese sushi or sashimi.

Activity 4: Play Sushi Go Party!


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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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