A fun and free cultural resource for Nikkei kids


Edited by Carol Kawase, Meg Mizutani, Arnold Shimizu, and Miwa Smith (a project of the Japanese American Citizens League, Legacy Grants Fund Program, 2015, 60 pp., free, PDF)

This 60-page booklet full of ideas for grandparents, parents and children interested in Nikkei culture is free.

Here are activities for exploring Japanese culture with children. Doesn’t this sound great?

The guide is organized by four virtues in Japanese culture: harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei) and tranquility (jyaku). Each virtue is introduced by a folk story that demonstrates the meaning of the virtue.

“Harmony,” chapter one, is introduced by the folktale Momotaro, the boy warrior found in a peach who chases away the ogres terrorizing his village. After reading the folk tale aloud, a discussion of teamwork and sharing will reinforce the qualities that Momotaro used to restore peace to the village.

The craft lesson for “Harmony” is making an origami kabuto (helmet). The guide offers a Momotaro song, and includes instructions for a kamizumo game (paper sumo wrestling).

The “virtue observations” for this game are:

Wa (harmony): understanding and following rules.

Kei (respect): learning about the importance of sumo in Japanese culture.

I would add that when watching a sumo match, the respect that the wrestlers and the referee demonstrate for each other is quite remarkable, especially when contrasted to American athletes who often have difficulty controlling their anger on the playing field.

Sei (purity): folding the origami paper carefully.

Jyaku (tranquility): calm state of mind to concentrate on playing well.

A food activity is making kibidango (millet ball or dumpling), which is what Momotaro used to entice the animals that helped him defeat the ogres. The recipe calls for mashed simmered millet, sugar or salt, depending on whether a sweet or savory flavor is desired.

I have provided just a preview of the first chapter, “Harmony,” in the “Waku Waku” resource guide. There are four chapters total, one for each of the four virtues.

The booklet begins with a quote from Dr. Mary Stone Hanley, an educator; and Dr. George W. Noblit, a sociologist. “Some 36 sociology studies conclude that culturally responsive pedagogy (educational theory) and positive racial identity can play a major role in promoting academic achievement and resilience for minority youth.”

The booklet’s authors state that their main goal is to support multi and biracial youth by offering resources with which to explore their Japanese heritage. The activities were taught at Taiko and Japanese Culture Camp in California’s Sonoma County, which began in 2004.

The activities are geared for ages 5-12. The phrase “waku waku” is a Japanese onomatopoeia (word formed by imitation of a sound, as meow, boom, cuckoo in English) to describe a feeling of excitement.

I hope you will take the opportunity to read the entire booklet and try some of these activities for children. They can be used at home, in a classroom, at Sunday school, or in a JA cultural school.

These cultural experiences are intended to tie to the four values: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

The authors hope the experiences will resonate at a deeper level than just the obvious fun created by stories, songs, crafts and food.

To request a copy of “Waku Waku,” e-mail sonomajacl@yahoo.com.

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