Background Info


Unit Goals

Lesson Activities



A Mini-Unit for 4th Grade

By: Natalie K. Smith

Background Information for Teacher:


  • Japan first began when some tribes from eastern Asia came to the Japanese islands and began to borrow many ideas from the Chinese. They patterned after their writing, art, religion, and government.
  • In the beginning Japan had an emperor, like the Chinese, who collected taxes and owned all the land.
  • Later the emperor was overthrown and a different government was started. Now Japan is a constitutional monarchy. They still have an emperor, but they have little power in the government.
  • Now a prime minister is basically the head of the executive branch of the government and is chosen by the emperor.
  • The legislative branch is called the Diet and they are chosen by the people, who can vote at age 20.
  • There is a supreme court, district courts, and other courts below as well.


  • It is approximately the size of California. (Area =146,000 square miles. Length=1,880 miles.)
  • Most of the land is covered with mountains and hills.
  • The 3000 islands that make up Japan are actually the tops of a mountain range that is at the bottom of the ocean and stretches to the top of the water.
  • There are many earthquakes in Japan (approximately 1,500 each year). There are also tsunamis which are earthquakes under the water that make big waves.
  • There are many volcanoes and about 50 percent of them are still active. Mount Fuji is the most famous volcano there, but it hasn't erupted since 1707.
  • The four main islands of Japan are Shikoku, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Honshu.
  • It has a moderate climate. (North=22 degrees F in the winter to 68 degrees in the summer. South=60 degrees F in the winter to 83 degrees in the summer.)


  • Fishing is bigger here than anywhere else in the world (including eels, clams, salmon, squid, tuna, and more).
  • Agricultural products are not a large amount of the income in Japan, but they do produce things such as rice, cabbage, potatoes, eggs, and tea.
  • Manufacturing is where Japan gets most of the money it has making it one of the richest countries in the world.
  • Japan makes more television sets, ships, and pianos than anyone else in the world. They also are huge in the car, synthetic textiles, radios, and steel.


  • The population of Japan is approximately 125,922,000.
  • The official language of Japan is Japanese.
  • 75% of Japanese people are Buddhists. Other religions found on Japan are Confucianism, Shinto, and less than 1% Christian.
  • 99% of the people in Japan are fluent readers and writers.
  • Some Japanese sports are Sumo, Kendo, and Judo. Baseball has also become popular in Japan as well.
  • The yen is the currency used in Japan.
  • Haiku poems are a traditional three lined poem pattern from japan.
  • Paintings are popular in Japan, but are simple and use only a few brush strokes to depict the scene they are trying to portray.




Burmingham, Lucy. Children of the World: Japan. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 1990.

"Japan" The World Book Student Discovery Encyclopedia. 2000 ed.

Unit Goals:

1. Students will gain an understanding of the people of Japan and their culture.

2. Students will realize that one's environment affects the way they live.


Lesson Activities:


Time: 35 minutes

Goal: #1

Objective: Students will identify what they know about Japan, and what they want to know about Japan.

Materials: Various Japanese artifacts, a large chart paper, markers

Bring a few Japanese artifacts, or items relating to Japan to get the students interested in and excited about Japan. Do a KWL with the students all together about Japan. Make a big class chart. Have the students share what they know about Japan and write those things in the K column of the chart. Write down what they want to know in the W column of the chart. Explain that you'll be doing a Japan unit and learning about Japan. At the end of the unit we will fill in L column with what they've learned about Japan.



Time: 40 minutes

Goal #2

Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of how the islands of Japan are formed from the tips of a mountain range by making their own models.

Materials: Forming clay, clear plastic cups, water, blue dye (optional), map of Japan

Discuss that Japan is made up of many different islands. Explain to the students that some islands are actually the tops of a mountain range at the bottom of the ocean. The islands of Japan are these kinds of island. The students will get to form their own mountain range out of clay and place it in the bottom of a clear plastic cup so they can see it. Then they will be able to pour water in their cups to cover up the bottom of the mountain range so only the tips of the mountains show and form islands. The water can be blue to make it more fun, or just clear to make it more clean. The students will be able to see how the islands of Japan are. This will help them to better understand why there are many volcano tops and mountains in Japan.



Time: 45 minutes

Goal: #1 and #2

Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of the types of food found in Japan by displaying the information on a flag.

Materials: Teacher background information (see resources and industry section) about Japanese food products construction paper, scissors, glue, markers or crayons

After the previous days discussion on the land of Japan, introduce the food of Japanese people. Have the students brainstorm ideas of what type of food the Japanese people eat and why they think they would eat that type of food. Help them to connect the idea that they eat some things because it is readily available to get in Japan. Have the students design a flag (individually or in groups) that depicts or celebrates in some way the farming and food of Japan to put on display in the classroom. Have the students explain to the class their flag.



Time: 40 minutes x 2 days

Goal: #1 and #2

Objective: Students will practice research skills and use the information to create a menu for a Japanese restaurant.

Materials: Construction paper, scissors, glue, and markers, crayons, or colored pencils

After the students have become more familiar with the food industry of Japan, let them do a little research on the food they eat and how much it costs then have the students (individually or in groups) create a menu for a Japanese restaurant in Japan. They must include in their menu the name of the item, a description of the item, how much it costs, and the name of the restaurant.



Time: 45 minutes

Goal: #1 and #2

Objective: Students will be able to relate to the Japanese way of family living and apply that to their own lives through a drawing and discussion.

Materials: Book: The Boy of the Three-Year Nap, paper

Read the story, The Boy of the Three-Year Nap by Dianne Snyder. Discuss with the students the different rolls and responsibilities of the Japanese people. Relate to the students that because the country is so small and there are so many people that occupy it, many families live with their extended family. Have the students think about their extended families. Have them draw their house with all their extended family members living with them. Discuss  the difference it would make in their lives to have so many people living in one place and how it would affect them.



Time: 45 minutes

Goal: #1

Objectives: Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of Haiku poetry by writing one of their own.

Materials: Examples of haiku poems, paper

Find some haiku poetry and read a few haiku poems to the students. Ask the students if they know what kind of a poem that is. Have them pick out the similarities between the poems. Explain to them what a haiku poem is and where it came from. Talk about some traditions and arts that originated in Japan, including origami and haiku poetry. Write a haiku poem as a class and then let the students try one on their own. Share them in class if the students are comfortable with that.



Time: 2 hours

Goal: #1

Objective: Students will be able to relate to the Japanese people and culture by participating in several Japanese activities and ending discussion.

Materials: Guest speaker, house socks for students, Japanese food, chopsticks

The students will have a culminating activity day of life in Japan. The students will go through various Japanese traditional activities. Some activities will include taking off shoes for that period of class and wearing house socks. The students will eat a small Japanese meal with chopsticks as they kneel at small tables. The teacher will have Japanese music in the background. A guest visitor will wear Japanese clothes and talk about Japan, etc.  The day will end by coming back to the KWL and discussing what the children have learned throughout the unit. They will fill in the L section of the chart.