Japan is a country, which,
like many ancient Asian kingdoms, sealed itself off from the rest of the world
for long periods of time, ironically following these with periods of violent
expansion and conquest. In modern
history, the Second World War concluded a period of horrific regional
domination with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
August of 1945, forcing their unconditional surrender. Having risen from the ashes in its own unique
way, Japan is now a huge producer and innovator of cars and technology which
have impacted societies around the world in unprecedented ways.
The culture has unique
iconic elements familiar even to outsiders: samurai, ninjas, geishas, karate,
sushi. More recently, Japanese manga,
anime, J-pop and video games have flooded the youth culture market. There is a great deal from both the ancient
Japan and the modern that will no doubt fascinate your child.
For this day, center the
following projects around the idea that you’re preparing to have a Japanese tea
ceremony. Note that it isn’t entirely
necessary to get all the details correct: the point is the idea of mindfulness
and appreciation of beauty.
Start by painting your
faces in the style of traditional Kabuki
theatrical masks. There are many
websites you can look to for inspiration such as this Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/446982331756372284/?lp=true
Ikebana is the traditional art of
flower arrangement. The idea isn’t to
take a crash course, but rather to take real, or even home-made paper flowers
and place them harmoniously and artistically in a vase.
Calligraphy: you can make basic
calligraphy-looking strokes using a small flat paintbrush. Teach your child to write their name
kanji-style using only straight lines without turning their wrists. Make placemats for each member of the family.
Origami creatures are a lovely
addition to any place setting. Don’t go
out and buy expensive speciality paper, any square piece of paper will do
(plain printing paper is good, newspaper and construction paper are
respectively too thin and too thick…don’t ask me how I know.) Find instructions for basic beginner’s figures
to try. This will be a challenge for a
young child’s dexterity, so exercise patience.
Prepare green tea and, if
you wish, a Japanese treat such as mochi. The recipe we used can be found here: https://www.japanesecooking101.com/sweet-mochi-recipe/. However, be careful: eat small bites and chew
slowly to avoid choking (https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/mochi-the-deadly-japanese-snack/
Place a picnic blanket on
the floor, prepare the place settings and sit down cross-legged to enjoy your
If your child hasn’t done
any martial arts, karate is an interesting place to start. Find videos teaching a few basic steps of karate. Also, Geronimo Stilton in The Karate Mouse (note, the author is
officially listed as Geronimo Stilton, though I’m sure there may have been
humans who helped)makes for a
surprisingly informative read.
The Japanese don’t have a
history of mathematics in quite the way the Ancient Greeks or the Maya
did. However, one idea I liked was that
monks would often leave elaborate math puzzles on temple walls for other monks
to try and resolve. Naturally, these
math puzzles were also esthetically beautiful.
This gave me the idea of “stealth” math which I developed into the
following game: instead of a boring old math book, you can turn a math lesson
into a series of Ninja missions.
Depending on your child’s age and abilities, you can have them run
around the house collecting a series of numbers or envelopes with math puzzles. The challenge, of course, is that ninjas need
to move without anyone hearing or seeing them, so this shouldn’t be a noisy
game. Give your child a simplified,
hand-drawn map of your house or apartment with Xs to show where the math
puzzles are. Your child is then tasked
with planning when and how to get into each room without anyone knowing and
solve each puzzle. After solving it,
they have to leave it in its original place for you to sneak around and correct
afterwards. You can leave comments or
even stickers in the envelopes. This
game can take all day as you both have to wait until no-one is looking before
you sneak off.
The games of Go and Sudoku also practice strategy and math.
As a teenager, I used to
quite enjoy Sailor Moon, though Dragon Ball Z might have greater appeal for
boys. No doubt your family will find
their own favorite anime series.
Japanese cuisine is rich
and varied. Depending on your cooking
skills, you can find recipes ranging between easy and nearly impossible. Don’t overdo the wasabi.
The tea ceremony was great,
because a lot of the fun of an event is the planning. The idea actually came from an experience we
had when my mother came for a visit: my mother had brought Barbie and Ken dolls
from Canada and we spent an entire day planning their wedding, including
decorating the house, baking a cake and writing invitations to all of the other
dolls. The wedding itself lasted about
15 minutes after all that, but it felt like a day well spent and we had lovely
memories. I thought it might be nice to
repeat the experience by spending the better part of the day preparing for the
tea ceremony. My mother had already
returned to Canada but Child’s Father joined us for the ceremony.
We had fun painting our
faces, and Child insisted on doing her own, so we sat like a pair of theatre
stars side by side in front of a mirror.
I helped her with some of the more intricate flower designs. We practiced calligraphy, but at the time
Child was deeply resentful of any attempt to teach her to read and write, so we
didn’t linger on that part. Origami, too, was a failure. I, myself, can only make a frog well, and
Child got frustrated trying to make her own and just wanted to watch me. So, I
made a couple of frogs and we moved on. Ikebana was fun because we cut out
flower petals out of different coloured paper and glued them into some nice
flower arrangements. Most flowers have a
Fibonacci number of petals (5,8,13, 21) so we got to review that idea. Later that afternoon on our walk, we counted
flower petals on flowers rowing by the side of the road and found Fibonacci
numbers every time.
Then I got to relax while
Daddy was karate sensei
(teacher). He taught her to count to ten
in Japanese while practicing the moves.
We had already read the Geronimo Stilton book over the previous week,
and Child was interested in the karate lesson.
Then again, she likes anything involving sanctioned kicking.
The math game, as described
above, did take all day. But, truth be
told, Child is the noisiest ninja ever and it took great acting on my part to
pretend not to notice her stomping and crashing about. She got most of the math right, though, and
loved the stickers she got for correct answers.
We both hate Sudoku and I didn’t have time to learn
For dinner we had a simple
teriyaki vegetable stir fry with rice which was quite nice.
Additional note: Last time we were in an airport, Child loudly
(and rather embarrassingly) announced that the lady in line behind us must be
Chinese because of her face. The lady
leaned forward and kindly explained that she was Japanese. Child unhesitatingly placed her hands
together, bowed and said “Konichiwa”!