Submitted by Seiko Sigmund, Center for Global Studies, Norwalk, CT  USA

Theme: As is the case with many countries, Japan has a unique set of traditions. Traditions are defined as “an inherited, established or customary patterns of thought, action or behavior.”
Overview: This activity invites students to explore interesting aspects of Japanese culture and a few Japanese traditions.
Target Audience: 9-12 grade students
Time required: 45 minutes
Preparation: Ensure that your students have access to this website or print out copies of the following 4 artworks included here: First Visit to The Year to the Shrine, Tanabata Festival, Boy’s Festival, and The Game of “Kendo”.


1. Divide class into groups and assign a different piece of art to each group.

2. If each group doesn’t have access to a computer, print out the art and artist descriptions, and hand one set to each group. Also, if necessary, copy, print, and hand out the appropriate questions for each piece.

3. Students examine and discuss each picture and then answer the following:

4. Allow 5 minutes per group (20 minutes in all for 4 groups) to display their assigned art piece, present their discoveries and insights and lead a short discussion.

5. End with a brief discussion of what the students have learned about Japan and the importance of tradition in Japanese culture.

6. Suggested additional activity, if time allows: Re-enactment: group members form a “tableau” with each member selecting one person in the scene. Copy their body position, facial expression, etc. and freeze. At the signal, each participant unfreezes and all group members interact and act out in action and dialogue what might happen next.

1999_ACTIVITIES_71_largeFirst Visit of the Year to the Shrine, Artist: Mariha I. from Tokyo, Japan

a) Visiting a shrine on _______________ is one of the typical Japanese customs.
b) What do they give to the shrine?
c) What are they wearing?

a) Temples in Japan strike ___________ times on the eve of the New Year. Why?
b) Why is the New Year’s holiday so important to the Japanese?
c) What do the visitors do at the shrine on New Year’s Day?


a) Is there a special place where you can make your wish in your culture?
b) What is your wish?
c) Why are traditional days/holidays so important to different cultures?

“Tanabata” Festival, Artist: Takahisa T. from Hokkaido, Japan

a) What’s on the tags that are hanging from the tree?
b) When is the “Tanabata” festival?
c) What do they do with the tree after the festival? Why do they do that?

a) “Tanabata Festival” is originally from ____________.
b) What is the legend of Tanabata?
c) Which main characters are there in the “Tanabata” story?


a) Does this festival remind you of any festivals or traditions you celebrate in  your culture?
b) What other cultures use smoke to send a message to their deities?

JAP-10-052 (1)
The Boy’s Festival (currently called Children’s Festival) Artist: Syou M. from Hiroshima, Japan

a) When is the Boy’s Festival?
b) What kind of fish do you see in the picture?
c) What do the Japanese celebrate on the day? How do they do it?

a) What is the Japanese wording for “Children’s Day”?
b) A carp is a symbol of ______________________________________.
c) Do children use this day to thank and show respect for their teachers, parents, and relatives?


a) Do you have a similar symbol to represent health and/or strength in your culture or country?
b) Do you think every culture should have a “Children’s Day” festival?

1999_SPORTS_TIME_51_largeThe Game of “Kendo”, Artist: Tomoki O. from Tokyo, Japan

a) Kendo is the art of____________?
b) It is derived from sword fighting techniques practiced by   ____________warriors 1000 years ago.
c) What is required to play Kendo well?

a) Instead of a metal sward, in Kendo, ________________ is used.
b) What does this sport remind you of?
c) How important is speed and timing in this sport?


a) How important is competition in your culture?
b) Should Kendo be one of the Olympic Games?

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