Hana Matsuri (Buddha's Birthday) Mini-Unit

Subtopic: Hana Matsuri (Flower Festival ; Japan)
Grade Level: 5th-6th
Author: Kristy G. Jensen

Japan, an island country, is situated in the Pacific Ocean off the east coast of Asia. There are four main islands that are divided into 46 prefectures (these are similar to our states). Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is the third largest city in the world. Japan is one of the most industrialized nations in the world. Their electronics industry is one of the largest in the world, however there are many things about Japan that have not changed. They are also a group that holds fast to tradition. Japanese people value: education, respect for their elders, nature, and their family name.
Religious Ceremonies are very big in Japan. There are three main religions, Shintoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Shintoists believe in ancestor worship; Confusianists taught respect for elders, leaders, and for scholars; and Buddhists believe that one must never become too attached to anyone or anything in this world since all things change and pass away. Japanese people accept and adhere to many faiths. As you can see from the religions that I've just shared, it wouldn't be hard to believe in more than one. Most don't worship the way that Christians do, for example, having Sunday services at a temple or shrine. This makes many westerners think that Japanese people aren't religious. However, Japanese people do flock to the shrine festivals. Though they think of their festivals as acts of worship, an outsider may see it more as a carnival. Religious festivals in Japan are almost all connected with seasonal changes or joyous occasions when people give thanks for the blessings and beauties of nature. The seasonal celebrations are the birth of a new moon, the glory of the cherry blossom, the fall of the first snowflakes and the completion of the rice harvest. They celebrate with offerings and prayers. Things that they offer are flowers, fruit, wine, rice, and lengths of silk or linen. Although they have public shrines for people to visit, many of their homes have smaller shrines or altars where they worship. The glory of the cherry blossom, also known as the Flower Festival or Buddha's birthday is the one that I would like to focus on.
In the 6th century B.C. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama. As a prince in northeastern India, he lived a life of luxury. Then one day he saw an old man, a sick man, and a dead man. Like all Hindus the prince believed in reincarnation. The thought that people had to return to this world to suffer again and again troubled him. So he left his family to search for an end to suffering. He lived in extreme poverty and collapsed from starvation. When he recovered he decided that it is best to live the middle way, between luxury and poverty. After many years of meditation, the prince achieved a state called Nirvana-release from human desire and from reincarnation. He began teaching others how to gain this state. Buddha taught people to find enlightenment through the Four Noble Truths. 1) All forms of existence are subject to suffering. 2) Suffering and rebirth are produced by desire. 3) The end of suffering comes with the end of desire. 4) The end of desire is reached by following the Noble Eight-Fold Path: right beliefs, right aims, right conduct, right effort, right speech, right occupation, right thinking, and right concentration. People should strive for wisdom and morality through meditation. Those who followed this path would clear their minds of evil, cruelty, and ill will. This would free them from reincarnation. (Underwood 38)
April 8th is the anniversary of Buddha's birth. (The year of his birth is debateable: 563-483 B.C.) Those who visit a shrine on his birthday take an offering of fresh spring flowers (cherry blossoms), and so the festival is called Hana Matsuri or Flower Festival. Children dress up in kimonos, march through the streets to the shrine and sing Buddhist chants. Men, women and children all wear kimonos. The women and girls wear bright colored kimonos with a feminine pattern, carry colorful parasols, wear thong-like shoes with white mitten looking socks, paint their faces white, their lips bright red and either wear a headdress with flowers on it or wind their hair up with a fancy comb. The young men and boys wear a darker colored kimono with a more masculine pattern, and some wear a white head band in their hair, the older men wear straw hats that are used while working in the rice fields. The streets are decorated with white lanterns that have black and red writing on them, and streamers made to look like cherry-blossoms. There is a parade in the streets which has floats that are sometimes carried by several men, other floats are on large, wooden, golden wheels that are pulled instead of carried. One of them is always a huge white elephant bearing a small image of Buddha. (There are no elephants in Japan, but there are in India where Buddha spent most of his life.) The large elephant is often made out of paper-mache' and painted red and white. On the elephants back is a small house covered with pink flowers. The small statue of Buddha is found inside. The children come up to the statue and bow and pour sweet tea (hydrangea leaf tea) on the head of the infant. Some believe that it rained tea on the day that Buddha was born. The Japanese people are incredibly proper in their everyday lives, therefore it is very shocking and amazing to see them at a matsuri. The Hana Matsuri is a religious holiday that, as you may see, can be compared to the way many Christians celebrate Christmas.
Examples of other religious holidays:
Good Friday-Christians
Yom Kippur-Jews
Halloween-(Night Before All Saints Day)-Christians
Holy Saturday-Christians
Easter Sunday-Christians
Guy Fawks Day-Christians (England)
Rosh Hashanah-Jews
Sri Ramakrishna-Hindu
St. Anthony's Day-Christians (Mexico)
St. Lucia's Day-Christians (Sweden)
O-Bon-Shintos (Japan)
Holy Week-Christians
Night of Siva-Hindus


Watson, Jane Werner. Japan: Islands of the Rising Sun. Champaign: Garrard, 1968.

Buell, Hal. Festivals of Japan. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965.

Underwood, Lynn. Religions of the World. Milwaukee: Garreth Stevens, 1992.

Demi. Buddha. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Hunt, Shinaku. Buddhist Stories for Children. Honolulu: Takiko Ichinose, 1959.

Hughes, Paul. The Months of the Year. London: Young Library, 1982.

Holidays and Customs. Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational, 1976.

Fodor. Japan. New York: David Mckay, 1981.

Snelling, John. The Life of the Buddha. England: Wayland, 1987.

"Jaguar-Louis Phillipe." Universal World Reference. 1964.

Students will recognize that groups of people have religious celebrations unique to them.-

Given the story, "Buddhist Stories for Children" or "The Life of the Buddha" or "Buddha", students will be able to create a story line of the life of Buddha.

Students will write a haiku about the Hana Matsuri.

Students will write a letter to a Japanese pen pal asking them about their experiences at the Hana Matsuri.

Students will recognize that Japan has a money system different from our own.

Time Allotment: 4-5 class periods

Resources Needed:
Storyline handout
Paper and pencils
A story about the life of Buddha: (i.e. Buddhist Stories for Children, The Life of the Buddha, or Buddha)
Address for Pen Pals (included in lesson)
Origami paper (can be purchased at most craft stores)
Handout on making kimonos
Japanese recipes (and their ingredients)
Parent helpers
Parent Letter
Japanese currency page


A. Brainstorm
Ask students to name several religious groups and the holidays that they celebrate.

B. Story Extension
(Review Brainstorming) Explain that religious sects celebrate different things on different days. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter, Jews celebrate Passover, Hindus celebrate the night of Siva, and the Buddhists celebrate Buddha's Birthday. Tell students that you are going to share a story about Buddha and that you want them to create a storyline about it when you are finished. Explain what a storyline is. Have them keep an ear out for the setting characters, problem, action, and outcome. When you have finished the story, have the students create a storyline from the story.

C. Integrating Language Arts
Tell the students that on the day that the Japanese celebrate the Hana Matsuri, (Flower Festival, or Buddha's Birthday) they dress in kimonos, march through the streets to the shrines, and sing Buddhist chants. Many people carry flowers to offer Buddha. There is a parade with floats. One is a huge elephant bearing a small image of Buddha. (You may look at the background information for more detail, you may also show pictures from picture books.) Tell the students that a type of poem called a haiku was developed by the Japanese. These poems were originally about nature. Today people write about anything. Haiku appeals to the reader's emotions. Haiku is the most popular form of Japanese poetry. They are 3 lines long and contain 17 syllables. The first line has 5 syllables, the second line has seven, and the last also has five. I would prefer giving them an example about another subject so that I wouldn't take any of their ideas from them and so that I wouldn't make them feel that their haiku has to sound like mine.
Here is an example:
Clouds by Kristy Jensen
White, fluffy pillows;
animals of every kind;
swimming in the sky.
After introducing the haiku, have students write a haiku about the Hana Matsuri.
D. Hands-On & Letter Writing
Talk about the dress that the Japanese wear to the Matsuri and have the students make a kimono out of origami paper. (Information about kimonos is included in the Background) Remind them that men and women wear different colors.
Write the address for Japan Pen Pals on the board. Have the students glue the kimono to a paper folded in half and have them write on the card to a Japanese pen pal. Tell them that their purpose for writing is to ask about the students experiences with this holiday. Tell the students that Japanese students study English for 6 years in school. They can't speak it very well, but most of them can write it. Most of them would like to correspond with an American. I would pay for this myself, but a teacher may have the students bring in their own money.
Japan Pen Pals League
P.O. Box 121
Okayama 700-91
F. Hands-On
Last of all discuss things the students have learned that go on at the Hana Matsuri. Then tell them that there are also booths where one can buy Japanese foods that are sold at the Matsuri. Tell the students that there are different money systems in different countries. They don't all have the same value. There is the German Mark, the Mexican Peso, and the Japanese Yen, etc. Then tell them the exchange rate between the Yen and the Dollar.
U.S. Exchange Rate Japan Exchange Rate
73 cents 100 yen
1 dollar 137 yen
$72.99 10,000 yen
Have 3-4 booths set up where students can buy food. ( You can make the food previously to avoid having a large mess, or make it outside over a couple of fires if the weather is nice) Have a few parents help with the booths. (You may want to make decorations to place around the room. A description of decorations is found in the Background) Display prices of the items written in yen. Prices include: Okinomiyaki-100 yen, Fried Rice-100 yen, Gyozas-50 yen, Yakisoba-150 yen, Have chopsticks available for them to eat with.

Storyline will be assessed.
Haiku about the Hana Matsuri will be assessed.
Students will be assessed on appropriate questions about the Hana Matsuri in their pen pal letters.

Storyline Handout should include:
Setting: Time Place

Steps for making a kimono:
By following these steps you can make a miniature paper kimono. You can use a colored piece of origami paper for the outside and a solid piece for the inside (or you can use Christmas wrapping paper and a piece of tissue paper that is a solid color).
1. Measure the parts of the sample kimono that I've given at the end of this unit. Measure the length and width of the body, sleeves, and belt. Use these measurements for your kimono.
2. Cut a rectangular piece of the patterned paper that is the length of the body of the kimono and two times the width shown. Cut a piece of one-colored Japanese paper the same size.
3. Paste the wrong sides of the two pieces together.
4. Fold the body lengthwise towards the middle. This is done by dividing the width of your paper into four exact parts. Mark these divisions lightly at the top and bottom of the paper. Fold one quarter in towards the middle. Now do the same on the other side. Fold back the collar and left side of the skirt into small triangles to show the kimonos' lining.
5. Cut one long rectangle for the sleeve as shown.
6. Make the neck of the kimono from another rectangle of colored paper twice the length of the width of the kimono. Fold the paper in half widthwise. Then unfold it. You should have 2 halves that are rectangular shaped. Divide each rectangle in half into equal triangles starting at the top, center part of the page each time. Fold the two triangular creases inward towards you. Your paper should look like a sail now. Cut off the 2 equal outer edges of the sail.
7. Insert the neck piece and fasten it with a dab of glue. Make a belt (obi) from the plain colored paper. Glue the ends to the kimonos back.
8. Glue the body into the sleeves.

Letter to Parents:
Dear Parents,
We are studying the Hana Matsuri in Social Studies. It is a religious celebration in Japan that is similar to Christmas in our country. We are going to have decorations and food booths at the end of this unit. If any of you could help with this celebration on December 15, at 1:30 p.m. please return this note with the bottom space appropriately checked, or give me a call at the school between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. Thanks.
Mrs. Jensen
____ Yes, I would like to help out with the Hana Matsuri.
________________________ Parents Name _______________ Phone #

Hana Matsuri Recipes:

OKINOMIYAKI (Cabbage Pancakes)
2 c flour
1 c milk
1/2 c water
Mix the first 3 ingredients until they are like pancake batter.
2 eggs
1 chopped head of cabbage(cut into long, thin strips)
Combine this with the batter.
pinch of ginger
1/2 lb. of cheese
1/8 c of seaweed flakes(can be found at most supermarkets)
1 can of tuna fish, or chicken, or shrimp
Add these to the batter and stir.
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of baking soda
Stir and then pour into a frying pan and fry over medium heat.
Serve with sauce.
1 c mayonnaise
1 c ketchup
1/2 tsp salt

1 kg cooked rice
1 egg
2 slices of ham (chopped)
salt and pepper
1 small bamboo shoot (optional)
2 T oil
2-3 mushrooms (optional) green beans or peas
1 green onion (chopped)
2 tsp salt
Fry meat and vegetables. Add egg and fry. Add rice and fry vegetables using regular salad oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add some soy sauce if you desire.

32 gyoza skins (ask for them at the store)
1 carrot (chopped)
250 g cabbage (chopped)
4 mushrooms (chopped)
1/2 tsp ginger juice
1/2 t sesame oil
1 T soy sauce
1/2 c boiling water
200 g minced pork vinegar mustard soy sauce ( for the sauce)
Add cabbage to boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Take out the cabbage and drain off sixty percent of the water. Mix together pork, cabbage, mushroom, carrot, ginger juice, soy sauce and sesame oil. Wrap all ingredients in the gyoza skin. Fry until golden brown. Add 1/2 cup boiling water. Cook until the water completely boils away. Serve with a sauce made of mustard, vinegar, and soy sauce.

4 Chinese noodles
400 g pork
400 g cabbage
1 large onion
1 carrot
3-4 mushrooms
150 g bamboo shoots
3 green peppers
2 tsp salad oil
4 cups consomme soup
3 T soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
3 T starch (or vinegar)
Fry pork with all the vegetables. Add the sauce made by mixing the consomme soup, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and starch. Pour the vegetables and the sauce over the fried Chinese noodles.