Or, hello! Today I’m launching a series of posts focusing on Japan for kids. It’s all things Japan to help you and your family learn more about the country. This post is about Japanese Culture for Kids. I lived there as a child, myself, so this post is especially fun for me to write. Learning about the culture helps enhance the experience of reading Japanese Children’s Books.
I’m following a similar template as I do for other “culture for kids” posts on Kids Travel Books. These are foundation items that are easily recognizable in a kid’s own culture to help them learn by comparison. And I have a little printable at the end that you can download. It corresponds with these fun facts.
10 Fun Facts about Japan Culture for Kids
1. Japan is composed of 6,852 islands.
While only the 62nd largest country in the world, it sure has a lot of islands. Japan is an archipelago, or, island chain. There are 4 main islands that make up the bulk of Japan: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Honshu holds most of Japans most popular cities. I’ll talk more about the islands below.
There is another archipelago south of mainland Japan known as the Ryukyu Islands. The Ryukyu Islands are also part of Japan. They are a subtropical chain of islands. The largest island, at 433 square miles, is Okinawa (and is where I lived as a kid.)
2. Japan’s population is 11th largest in the world.
Almost 127 million people. Most (97%) live on the four largest islands.
By metropolitan and urban area estimates, Tokyo, the capital, is the world’s largest city at around 38 million. (If you go by city-proper limits, Tokyo is 9th largest.)
3. Japan’s Four Main Islands have some things in common, but mostly a lot of differences.
- The northernmost Japanese island.
- They have cool summers and cold winters.
- The center has volcanoes and mountains, with coastal plains along the edges.
- The regional capital is Sapporo.
- A great destination for nature and food lovers.
- It’s about the size of South Carolina.
- One very popular event is the Sapporo Snow Festival in February.
- The largest and most populated Japanese island.
- It’s the worlds 7th largest island and the second most populated island in the world.
- It is divided into 5 regions: Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, and Chugoku
- Japan’s largest cities are in Honshu including Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.
- There are a lot of mountains and its mountainous area is known as the Japanese Alps.
- The country’s largest river, the Shinano River, is on Honshu.
Related: Here are some fun things to do in Kyoto with kids.
- Shikoku is the smallest of the main islands.
- The high mountains and steep cliffs make it difficult to inhabit.
- Because of the high mountains and steep cliffs, it’s also more isolated than the other islands and kept to its Japanese traditions longer.
- The Udon noodle is from here.
- A mountainous island
- The one with the most tectonic activity, such as hot springs and volcanoes.
- It’s home to Japan’s largest volcano, Mt. Asa.
4. Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu Island chain which is a part of Japan, but has its own distinct history and characteristics.
Okinawa is part of Japan, but not part of the main islands. It’s quite a bit south of the mainland at almost 1000 miles south of Tokyo.
Aside from the distance to mainland Japan, there are some other major differences. The history of the two didn’t intersect until the 1800s. Before then Okinawa was ruled locally by the King of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. Additionally, it’s been under American occupation since World War II.
I also wrote a whole post about it a few years ago.
5. “He who climbs Mt. Fuji is a wise man; he who climbs twice is a fool.”
As you’ve probably noticed above, a lot of Japan is mountainous. Actually, it’s 73% of Japan. The tallest is Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji sits on the island of Honshu. It last erupted in 1707. Watch this first video for more information. The second video shows a girl climbing Mt. Fuji with her family.
5. Japan has 23 UNESCO Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites.
There are 19 UNESCO World Heritage Cultural and 4 Natural sites in Japan. We learned about one of the most popular natural sites, Mount Fuji, above.
Of the Cultural sites, one very iconic one is the Itsukushima Shrine. It is known for its Torii Gate that sits on the water.
6. Japan has two alphabets – Hiragana and Katakana. There’s also one character set – Kanji.
Hiragana: Translates to “ordinary” and is a phonetic way to write native Japanese words.
Katakana: This is the phonetic way to write foreign words being translated to Japanese.
Kanji: This is a symbol/character to represent a word. They are based on Chinese characters and have many similarities to other Chinese-based characters in other Asian countries. There are over 50,000 kanji. And while we won’t go into it here, the process of learning kanji can be very fun.
7. Hiragana has 46 syllables
The first alphabet I learned was Hiragana.
Learning Hiragana was one of my favorite things when I was in school in Okinawa. While I didn’t really learn the written form until I took Japanese in college, the sounds of the letters stuck with me throughout my life.
Below I created a chart. Basically, reading it from left to right, the first lines have the sounds like A=ah, I=ee, U=ew, E=eh, O=oh. Then you go down to the next line with the K, and reading it across it’s Kah, Kee, Kew, Keh, Koh. Then Sah, Shee, Sue, Seh, So… and so on.
Try these out for yourself and then watch the video afterward to see how your pronunciation compares.
*This chart is taken from the free printable available to download further down in the post.
The importance of stroke order when writing.
Another thing that fascinated me when I was studying the Japanese language in college, was the pattern to which things are written. This is hard to explain, so I tried to find a video about it. This is the best video I could find that discusses stroke order (which applies to hiragana as well).
8. Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes.
Folding Origami is one of my favorite pastimes. In my download below, I give instructions on how to fold an origami cup, but it’s hard to replicate with drawings and I thought it would be useful to include a video.
My second favorite thing to fold is the paper crane. It is known as Orizuru in Japanese. It is one of the most classic origami designs, and though it needs a bit more skill and practice than the cup, it is worth the effort.
9. The Japanese National Anthem is called Kimi Ga Yo and one of the world’s oldest
Kimi Ga Yo roughly translates to “His Imperial Majesty’s Reign.” The lyrics are from a poem written sometime in the 8th-12th century. A visiting Irishman named John William Fenton encouraged Japan to have a national anthem. He wrote the original melody with the selected lyrics that were reminiscent of the British National Anthem. However, a few years later they had one of Fenton’s pupils write a new melody.
10. There are 16 national holidays in Japan
There are 16 National Holidays in Japan.
When the National Holiday falls on a Sunday, the following working day is a public holiday and is known as a “transfer holiday”.
You’ll notice several holidays fall on a specific Monday, it is part of the Happy Monday System in Japan. These holidays were moved to Mondays around the year 2000. This is to allow for a three-day weekend. (And, yes, the United States did this with many of their holidays with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1969.)
Koinobori – Song for Children’s Day in Japan
|January 1||New Year’s Day|
|Second Monday of January||Coming of Age Day: Celebrating those turning 20 in the year|
|February 11||National Foundation Day|
|February 23 *||The Emperor’s Birthday|
|Around March 20||Vernal Equinox Day|
|April 29||Shōwa Day|
|May 3||Constitution Memorial Day|
|May 4||Greenery Day|
|May 5||Children’s Day|
|Third Monday of July||Marine Day|
|August 11||Mountain Day|
|Third Monday of September||Respect for the Aged Day|
|Around September 29||Autumnal Equinox Day|
|Second Monday of October||Health and Sports Day|
|November 3||Culture Day|
|November 23||Labour Thanksgiving Day|
- *The Emperor’s Birthday changes for every new Emperor
Tips for Experiencing Japanese Culture for Kids First Hand
Now that you have all of this information, what do you do? Find out ways to celebrate Japan first hand.
Learn about the things above, read some children’s books set in Japan, download the free cultural activity printable at the end of this post, and try these things.
Listen to Japanese Music
There are a lot of sources available for Japanese Music. I found this list of popular songs from the past 50 years on Spotify. They have a lot of options to search through. Younger kids may prefer Japanese children’s songs.
Eat some Japanese Food
I will always recommend trying to make the food at home. I just think making recipes from another country give you more insight than anything else. There are several free recipe resources online. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Food by Country, Japan: I love this website because their recipes are easy, delicious, and include a brief history of the food culture in the country.
- Tasty Japan: I’m a bit addicted to Buzzfeed’s Tasty videos. It’s fun to watch from above and even my own kids enjoy it.
If you want to purchase more ideas, here’s a few things:
- Yum-Yum Bento Box I have this book. I love the idea of creating fancy bento boxes in a more traditional way for my kids. I’ve only done it a few times (2 or 3), but my Bento supply closet is stocked as if it’s a regular habit.
- Bento USA: Speaking of Bento supplies, here’s a place to go and buy your own
- Tokyo Central: If you keep your eyes peeled, you should be able to find many Japanese groceries at your local grocery store, Asian food store, and even World Market. However, if you need something more specific you may want to turn to online grocery shopping.
Check out Japanese Museums
There are Japanese Museums throughout the United States. Find one local or visit one on your next trip. While I have a list of Japanese-specific Museums in the US below, you may also find permanent and temporary exhibits in your local museums as well.
- Hammond Museum & Japanese Stroll Garden, New York
- Harada House, Riverside, CA
- Japanese American Museum of San Jose
- Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles
- Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii
- Japan Society, New York
- Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida
- The Noguchi Museum, New York
- Portland Japanese Garden
Not a museum, but popular for families – The Japan Pavillion at EPCOT Center in Disney is one of my favorites. The shop is actually owned by a Japanese Department store, too. Lots of amazing finds.
Join a Japanese Organization or attend a Japanese Festival
Most major cities will have at least one cultural organization dedicated to Japan. Find it. They’ll usually host annual celebrations.
The National Association of Japan-American Societies is a good first step for finding something near year. Contact them and they should be able to point you to what you’re looking for.
Don’t Forget: On one of the fun facts about Japan I mention the national holidays, there’s likely going to be a celebration planned around at least one of these holidays.
Japanese Culture for Kids Printable
I have two awesome things for you. A free printable that relates to the fun cultural things I mention at the beginning of this post AND a link to Japan Crafts for kids I’ve been collecting on my Pinterest Page. Best part? I’m always adding to it.
Do you want to join other like-minded families who are interested in learning about other cultures via books and travel? Join our Facebook Group. I approve new members daily. It’s still small but growing.