This will be an ongoing resource for all things Japan. Note: this page includes affiliate links – at no cost to you, I may earn a commission from links clicked.
The island nation of Nippon, or Japan as it is referred to in English, is home of Mount Fuji; the world’s largest city, Tokyo; and the creation of the largest amount of anime on Earth.
Japan packs a lot of stuff in a tiny space. It hosts a large population for an island nation and has been a technological powerhouse in the East Asian area. From the Nintendo to the Toyota, the country has manufactured brands known throughout the world. Let’s learn more about the home of Pikachu:
Today we’ll go over resources for a Unit Study on Japan.
- Picture Books about Japan
- Novels for Young Readers, Chapter Books about Japan
- Movies about Japan
- Resources for Japan
- Animal Study
Here are some great options for Japan in picture books:
Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki is a children’s
Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories: Anniversary Edition by Florence Sakade. This book is a generational favorite, originally published in 1989. The biggest critique is that some stories feature ‘outdated scenes (and occasional moments of cruelty, like a Grimms tale or Hanzel & Gretel. with cartoon harm but no gore). For many families, these are stories from their childhood. Plenty of stories inside, just do some pre-reading with young readers.
For more favorite children’s stories, there are also More Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade, published in 2004.
Japan in Middle Grade Novels
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. This tells a story about the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako is an ordinary girl, excited about Peace Day who gets sick and develops childhood leukemia. She makes a pledge to fold a thousand paper cranes as a sign of hope.
This book is most regularly given to 4th graders (it is a light and quick chapter book), as a first introduction to peace and the effects of nuclear radiation. However, sensitive souls may want to wait on reading the book, since the main character dies. (It is written as a far gentler, more peaceful/hopeful death than other childhood novels about loss.)
The Ghost of Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler, is a story set in 1735 feudal Japan, where a boy dreams of being a samarai and joins a kabuki theater.
A Place to Belong, by Cynthia Kadohata, tells a story of a Japanese-American girl whose family moves back to Japan after World War 2. This means they see Japan during the post-war era of rebuilding in the 1950s. It is recommended for middle school grades, 5th to 9th grade.
The Children’s Books of Allen Say –
The Picture Books of Allen Say
How My Parents Learned to Eat, by Ina R. Friedman, illustrated by Allen Say. A couple, a Japanese woman and American man, are nervous and embarrassed because she’s not used to using forks, and he’s not used to using chopsticks. In the end, they become good at both to use when meeting the in-laws. This book is set in the past, like a story of how the couple met and built intercultural connection.
Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say. The grandfather’s journey from Japan to America.
Tea With Milk, by Allen Say. This story is about a man and woman, both Japanese, who live in the dual worlds of Japanese culture and English-language culture. They think of themselves as “not good enough”, as embarrassing or unusual, but they notice each other and their trademark knowledge and the rest is history, as they say. They become a Japanese couple who lives outside of Japan. Allan Say covers the dual culture world really well.
Tree of Cranes, by Allen Say. This is a Japanese boy’s first Christmas, celebrated in Japan.
Kamishibai Man, by Allen Say. This story is set in old Japan. It is a generational tale, similar to The Giving Tree. Kimishibai Man serves the children. They move away, grow up, but then come back and remember how much cheer he provided them, as they become parents themselves.
Erika-San, by Allen Say. An American woman dreams of moving to Japan. But like Goldilocks, her initial location in Japan is not as she imagined it. Neither is the second place. But eventually she finds the perfect spot for her in Japan, and along with it comes a happy ending. Some people criticize this book, but I think it comes from Say’s own perspective, his mom was Japanese and settled into her perfect spot in America. The idea is that if you search, you will find a place that feels like home.
Japan in Children’s Movies
Studio Ghibli is children’s movies in Japan. Here are some of the most classic children’s films (similar to watching Cinderella, Moana, Frozen, and Finding Nemo from Disney/Pixar Studios in the United States.) These films were directed by Hiyao Miyazaki.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
My Neighbor Totoro (1998)
For children (and adults) 8 and up, recommendations include Howl’s Moving Castle, or this 2016 top movie of Japan called Your Name. A boy and girl get transformed into each other bodies, have to figure out school and life in each other’s lifes, and then a twist happens. The movie is so beautifully drawn – it is a mesmorizing work of art.
It has 15,000 five-star reviews. Trust, this movie is goooood.
It is rated PG, but I would have guessed it to be rated PG-13. There’s some mild references to puberty, and there’s tragedy within it that is resolved.
I would say Your Name is not a movie designed for very young kids, but at the age you’d let a child watch The Titanic (fast-fowarding though a scene or two), which seemed to be around 8 to 10 in my friend group, this movie is much safer than Kate Winslet and Leo on a boat.
For sensitive kiddos, this movie is a skip and watch later – no need to cry over spilt animation.
Your Name is approximately PG-9 (if that existed). Adults loved the film, and I think older kids, preteens, and teens would find this movie really hitting home for them, too.