My daughter loves Japanese food, so I knew she will love a special Japan day in January. The weather was perfect to visit Hakone Gardens, an authentic replica of Japanese Samurai or Shogun’s estate garden. We’ve visited it before, but Smarty didn’t have any recollection of being there, and was thrilled with everything she saw here. We also happened to be listening about Japan in the 16th century in the Story of the World, so this visit was quite well aligned with our informal history curriculum without me planning it so. And, of course, we read several books
I am Tama, Lucky Cat by Wendy Henrichs was a very lucky find. The story describes the origin of ubiquitous “lucky cats” that you can find in every Asian restaurants. The story itself is lovely (might be a little long for younger children, but not impossible), told with Tama as a narrator and flows very naturally. Illustrations by Yoshiko Jaeggi are gorgeous and add a great deal of flair to the story. Smarty really enjoyed this book and reread it several times on her own.
Stories about Yoko by Rosemary Wells could be a good introduction to Japanese culture for younger children. Yoko is a Japanese child living in America and mastering American customs while preserving her own heritage. As a first generation immigrant, I certainly know how difficult it can be. Of course, Yoko’s Paper Cranes was just begging for some origami folding, but we were not able to fit it into our Japan Day (as usual, Smarty was not terribly interested in any sort of art projects).
Smarty didn’t care to read Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajkawa for several days, she said that the book is “dark”. To a degree, she is right, since it deals with a dark subject of a village destroyed by a “monster wave”. On a positive note, a selfless act of one person saves the villagers from death, and Smarty was commenting on beautiful torn paper collage illustrations by Caldecott winner Ed Young. The book is not long, but might not be appropriate for younger children because of the subject.
I highly recommend books by Allen Say for any Japan unit. He tells compelling stories and draws beautiful illustrations to them. I added several of his books to the carousel above, but my personal favorite is Erika-San. It also tells the story of a first generation immigrant, someone who is passionate about her new country and wants to learn as much about it as she can. Hint: new country is not America.