Konichiwa! Welcome to Japan! If you were to swim west across the Pacific Ocean from almost any point on the West Coast of the United States, Japan is the first place you’d hit. So in that sense it’s kind of a neighbor, but one more than 6,000 miles away! Tonight we are going to explore a few fun things Japan has to offer, eat some Japanese food, do some Japanese activities, and learn some fun things about a new country.
If you think about the world we live in, so many things all around us are from Japan. Maybe our car is. (Mine is.) Maybe our video games are. Maybe some of our favorite cartoons are, ones with characters like samurai or ninja or Pokémon. Maybe even some of the food we eat, things like teriyaki chicken or sushi, are from Japan. Now think about all those cool things. Wouldn’t it be even cooler to actually visit? So let’s go! Let’s visit Japan!
Parents: remember that this is just an outline. You know your kids better than anyone. Feel free to adjust this to fit your family and your kids’ interests. After all, the most important thing is to stoke a love of exploration and learning! And if you enjoy this, please click here to see all of our travel family nights.
Let’s Explore Japan!
Japan sits in the Pacific Ocean, off of the east coast of Russia, China, and Korea. It is made up of four main islands, but there are more than 400 with people living on them! There is so much to see, so let’s explore a few of the most fun things!
Parents: below is a map of Japan. I’ve added a few colored numbers that correspond to some of my favorite places in Japan, with pictures and descriptions below. However, you can add more, especially your own personal favorites if you’ve visited.
Tokyo is Japan’s capital, largest city, and economic center. While there are some great old temples here, Tokyo is really the focus of modern Japan. See a robot show, experience modern Japanese culture like video games, and just marvel at so many people all in one place. You can also visit the Toyosu Fish Market where people pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single tuna! For the best view, go to the top of Tokyo Tower, pictured below. Tokyo makes the perfect home base to explore so much of this part of Japan thanks to the famous bullet trains, the shinkansen, which will whizz you all over.
If Tokyo is the place for modern Japan, Kyoto is the city to see historic Japan. The old imperial capital, Kyoto is where you’ll find the prettiest temples and shrines, like the golden pavilion of Kinkaku-Ji (above) or the torii gates of Fushimi Inari (below). You may also run into a traditional Japanese performer, called a geisha.
Hiroshima is where the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, destroying nearly the entire city and killing many people, but helping to end World War Two. Today, many people come to Hiroshima to remember that peace sometimes comes at a very high price, and that we don’t ever want to fight again. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, below, tells us all how important it is to never forget.
Kobe is a modern port city near Osaka and Kyoto that is famous for one thing: the best beef in the world (below). But besides eating, take some time to walk through the historic sake district to learn how rice wine is made!
5. Jigokudani Monkey Park
Do you like hot tubs on cold days? Well, so do Japanese macaque monkeys! At Jigokudani Monkey Park, you can get up close with these awesome animals. Japan has a lot of cool sights like this, from seeing and feeding deer in Nara to other monkey parks (or even to hedgehog or owl cafes in Tokyo), but this is the most famous!
Let’s Make Sushi!
Sushi is one of the most famous Japanese foods, although most Japanese people don’t eat it more than once every week or two. We think of it as just raw fish, but the rice is what makes sushi what it is, cooked perfectly! Tonight, let’s use rice to make our own versions of sushi, with some of our favorite fish or veggies rolled inside.
Parents: sushi can be hit or miss with kids, or even with adults. If your children don’t like raw fish, use cooked fish. Or skip fish entirely and use veggies, beef, chicken fingers, or pretty much anything else that can be fit easily inside a sushi roll. You can use white rice or brown. You can use seaweed sheets for the outside, or roll your sushi in sesame seeds, or just leave it plain with rice. It will never look as pretty as in a restaurant, so don’t worry. Just have fun!
Dinner is always better with some learning, right? So here are some fun facts about Japan! What is the most interesting or funny to you?
-Greater Tokyo is the biggest metropolitan area in the world. More than 38 million people live there, almost as many as all of California!
-Japan has a mailbox that is 30 feet underwater and has collected more than 32,000 pieces of mail since 1999!
-In Osaka, a highway goes right through a building downtown, on its 5th, 6th, and 7th floors!
-Trains are so punctual in Japan that in 2017, when one train left from a station 20 seconds early, the company publicly apologized!
-Japan has more vending machines than any other country, selling everything from snacks to groceries to cars!
-In Japan, it is a sign of enjoyment and appreciation to slurp your noodles loudly!
-In Nara, the sacred deer living in the city are so comfortable with people that if you bow to one (the traditional greeting in Japan), it will bow back!
-In Japan it is considered rude to blow your nose in public. And if you do, there are very few public trash cans to throw away your tissue; the Japanese are expected to carry their trash with them and throw it away at home!
Let’s Fold Origami!
Origami, the art of folding paper, has been around for hundreds of years. It is more than just art; origami takes patience that is half meditation in practice. And we can make some amazing things just out of a single piece of origami paper!
Tonight, we are going to follow some instructions and fold some really neat shapes. And after, we can try to make our own shapes out of paper!
Parents: origami books and paper can easily be found on Amazon. The paper is not the same shape or thickness as printer paper, so it’s better to order a package. If you need a recommendation of an origami book, my cousin wrote this one. Many of the designs are very easy, and all are fun!
Japan is truly an amazing country, and I hope you enjoyed exploring it with me tonight. Thank you for letting me show you a place I really love!
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