Category Archives: Geography

Japan – History & Geography

Japanese Ink Wash Painting - Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540
Japanese Ink Wash Painting – Evening Landscape (anon) c.1540

This post is about some “spin-off fun” we’ve been having as we’ve been learning about medieval Japan.

We’re using The Story of the World vol 2 as our “guidebook” for the Middle Ages, but this year we’re not using an accompanying activity guide or curriculum.

Instead, we’re enjoying coming up with our own ideas for spin-off activities. When I say “we” come up with ideas, of course I initiate most of them – but I’m guided by the children’s level of engagement and interest when it comes to how fully we explore each idea, and I’m always open to being led down new paths of their choosing. Sometimes we go off on tangents that take us far away from history, and that’s ok.

Japanese Writing

Japanese writing is made up of three alphabets, one of which is a collection of Chinese characters. We had recently looked at Chinese characters when we learned about Chinese New Year, so I thought it would be interesting to compare Japanese writing with Chinese. The article I found also compared Korean, so we looked at that too.

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids
Comparing Japanese, Chinese and Korean writing

I found two examples each of Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing (using Google Images). We examined one set of examples and talked about similarities and differences. Then we used this article to help us distinguish them further. (In a nutshell, Korean has lots of ovals and circles, Chinese characters are the most complex, and Japanese contains some Chinese characters plus other characters, many of which are curvy.)

comparison of japanese chinese and korean for kids

Finally, the children looked at “blind” copies of each type of writing (I had cut off anything that identified what they were). They found it fairly easy (and enjoyable) to identify where each type of writing came from.

japanese name translator
Writing our names in Japanese

We then looked up our names in Japanese. This name translator translates into various writing styles, including traditional Japanese and Manga. We wrote out our names in both styles using paintbrushes dipped in black ink, and C also wanted to write hers out using her calligraphy pen.

japanese name translator
Using black ink and a paintbrush to write Japanese letters

Ink Wash Painting

While we had the black ink and paintbrushes out, I showed the children some examples of Japanese ink wash painting and they decided to have a go. We didn’t have Japanese rice paper so we used diluted black ink on wet watercolour paper. (I have to ‘fess up – I did buy some A4 edible rice paper before I realised this is not the stuff the Japanese paint on! Oh well, I’m sure we will find a fun way to use it!)

Hasegawa Tohaku Pine Trees Japanese Ink Wash Painting
“Pine Trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)

I based my painting on Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610). The children’s designs were, of course, were much more original!

japanese ink wash painting for kids
Our ink wash paintings

Origami Kimonos

We were amused to learn that the exotic-sounding word “kimono” actually translates as “thing to wear”! It is composed of two Chinese symbols. “Ki” comes from “kuru” and means “to wear”, and “mono” means thing.

japan lapbook - origami kimono
From C(9)’s Lapbook

C(9) thought this origami kimono girl would look good in her lap book. The directions are simple, and no special paper is required – you just print out the page and then cut out, fold and assemble the pretty patterned kimono pieces. C(9) did comment that it was a bit of a cheat as real origami wouldn’t call for glue!

Japanese Kites

Kites were first brought to Japan from China by Buddhist missionaries, for use in sacred ceremonies. The Japanese developed their own distinctive style of kites, and began to use them for practical purposes, such as lifting building materials and sending messages. They were also used to raise soldiers into the air to act as spies or snipers!

Find out more about the origin of kites here and Japanese kite history here.

Japanese kites lapbook  minibook
C(9)’s minibook on Japanese kites

C(9) loved researching Japanese kites and enjoyed making a mini-book about them.

Geography

We learned that Japan is an archipelago – a large group of islands – and we compared the islands’ size with the island we live on, Britain. (See this image for a comparison of Japan’s size with the USA). When we saw that the distance from the north to the south of Japan is the same as the distance from Scotland to the south of Spain, we understood why Japan has such a varied climate.

salt dough map of japan
Salt dough map of Japan

Japan is located on the “Ring of Fire” – the zone of volcanic activity surrounding the Pacific Ocean. We contrasted Japan’s position on the boundary of several tectonic plates with Britain’s location inside the Eurasian Plate, and reflected on what this means for our respective societies. This has also launched a spin-off project on volcanoes and earthquakes!

We’re away next week, but when we get back I’ll be sharing more Japan spin-off fun, involving Samurai and Zen gardening.

To see what other homeschoolers have been doing this week, visit It’s A Wrap at Hammock Tracks and Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners.

For more geography and history ideas, visit Adventures in Mommydom.

 

Homegrown Learners

A Day In Spain

Today we went to Spain! Well, virtually 🙂 With the help of You Tube, we tapped our feet to flamenco guitar, danced to the Gypsy Kings, and watched in awe as robed, hooded figures carried the Virgin Mary up Granada’s winding, hilly streets during a silent midnight Semana Santa parade.

We admired Spain’s flag: C took pleasure in colouring its intricate coat of arms beautifully.

J was surprised to find chain mail on the flag.  (We recently tried our strength lifting chain mail at a Medieval History Activity Day – we have new respect for medieval knights!)

We found Spain on our inflatable globe, coloured it on an outline map of Europe, and C and J noted with surprise the anomalous British rock, Gibraltar, off Spain’s southern-most coast (and enjoyed my stories of how I would treat myself to Heinz baked beans and Typhoo tea there when I lived in Spain!)

J and C learnt some essential Spanish phrases – hello, thank you, chocolate ice cream, etc.  And best of all, we lunched on patatas bravas, chorizo and tortilla at our local tapas restaurant, which really made us feel like we were ‘”de vacacionnes en España” 🙂

A Tuscan Adventure

We’re just back from Italy!  And I’m reeling with joy, not just because of the fantastic experiences we’ve had over the last four days, but also with the sheer delight of having witnessed a desire manifest so exquisitely!

The trip was so good I’m in danger of letting the old perfectionism get in the way of writing about it …  so, while my memories are still fresh, I’ll list a few of the highlights of our Tuscan experience:

  • The best thing of all, and the one that’s hardest to put into words, was how C totally “got” the joy of Italy: chic Italians eating ice creams as they go about La Passeggiata; narrow streets winding their way between beautiful old buildings;   the legacy of centuries of magnificent art strewn liberally around the city; golden sunlight on the Ponte Vecchio in the early evening…

  • The view from our Florence hotel room

  • The children’s excitement at spotting things on the “treasure hunt” I “put together”.  (I use both terms loosely; I am really good at launching ideas and less good at following through – what started out in my head as something involving laminated photos and a treasure map ended up as post-it notes flagging pages in our guidebook.  The kids didn’t mind a bit though.)
  • We’ve been lucky enough to take the children abroad many times, but mostly on package holidays to the beach or ski slopes, so this felt like their first real experience of another culture, close-up.  They were thrilled, as I still am, by simple experiences like taking Italian trains, window-shopping and enjoying the early morning sunshine at pavement cafes, savouring super-sweet croissants while locals at the bar chatted noisily over their breakfast cappuccinos.  J admired the taxi which took us back to Pisa airport: “it looks like a racing car!” (earning him an appreciative grin from our suave young driver), while C remarked, excitedly, “I’ve never been in a foreign taxi before!”

  • C’s delight in the miniature statue of Michelangelo’s David she begged me to buy for 4 Euros from a Florence souvenir stall.  I cherish her innocence of any cynical grown-up notions of tackiness!
  • Climbing the narrow, windy steps (and ladders!) to the very top of the Duomo (dome) of Florence Cathedral.  This really was the perfect culmination of a desire which began with our reading of “Pippo The Fool”, the story of how Filippo Brunelleschi designed the dome.

  • Our afternoon wandering around Boboli Gardens, the grand, sweeping gardens just south of the river Arno, laid out nearly five hundred years ago by the Medici family.  My consistent inability to orient us on the map made for wonderful meanderings through parts of the gardens we never would have seen had I had more of a clue where we were at any point!  We spent about an hour indulging our senses on this smooth, cool piece of marble nestled in a dappled glade.

The children spent another hour happily messing around with the trickle of water flowing down here…

While  I took  photos.

And of course there was ice cream at the end of our travels.

  • Pisa: basking in the sunshine with C in the Field Of Miracles (while a few feet away J added “in the shadow of the leaning tower of Pisa” to his list of “places I have played my Nintendo DS”!); playing “I Spy” in the botanical gardens; J’s photos!

One of my favourite things to do when I’m on holiday is fantasize about the next one. (I used to worry that this was detracting from enjoying the moment; but when I checked in with myself I realised that, for me, it enhances it!)  I’d like to continue the Southern European theme and make our next destination the Spanish city of Granada, where I spent a wonderful year when I was in my twenties.  In my planning I’ll take on board one of the things we learned in Italy – that, as introverts, we need to balance time spent in the exciting hustle and bustle of a city, with green open spaces and, in warm weather, cooling water to play in .  Granada, home of the magnificent Moorish palace, the Alhambra, with its delightful Generalife gardens, is perfectly situated right next to the beautiful Alpujarra mountains and within easy reach of the beaches of the Costa Tropical.  I’m getting excited already!

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