Japanese Language and Culture Kit
Adventure of Momotaro, the Peach Boy. McCarthy, Ralph F. Saito, Ioe, Ill. Kodansha International, 2013. ISBN: 9781568365282.
Perhaps the most beloved of all Japanese folk tales is the story of Momotaro, the boy born from a peach. Momotaro’s expedition to the Land of the Demons, accompanied by his faithful companions, the Dog, the Monkey, and the Pheasant, is filled with fun and excitement. Written in both English and Japanese. CD included.
Ainu: A Story of Japan’s Original People. Shigeru, Kayano & Howlett, Peter. Shunichi, Iijima, Ill. Tuttle, 2003. ISBN: 9780804835114.
The unique indigenous culture of the Ainu people of Hokkaido, Japan, is brought to life in this book through beautiful illustrations and a fascinating narrative relating folktales, customs and ceremonies, leaving the reader with a deep impression of the power of gods and nature in the daily lives of the Ainu.
Ainu and the Fox. Kayano, Shigeru. Ishikura, Kinji, Ill. RCI Publications, 2006. ISBN: 9781741260533.
One night, an Ainu elder is awakened from his sleep by the sound of a fox’s cry. He gets out of bed, and goes to the riverbank and sees the fox addressing all Ainu – charging the tribe of taking more than their fair share of salmon from the river. The man is deeply moved by the fox’s appeal and calls the Ainu together to apologize to the fox god and to end their selfish behavior. Japanese and English, translated by Deborah Davidson. CD included.
Animals. Mado, Michio. Anno, Mitusmasa, Illus. Margaret K. McElderry, 1992. ISBN: 9780689505744.
Poems by Michio Mado, perhaps the foremost contemporary Japanese poet writing for children, are widely known and read throughout Japan. Now Her Majesty Empress Michiko has chosen and translated 20 of his poems about animals for this collection. Written in both Japanese and English.
Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. Kaneko, Misuzu. Hajiri, Toshikado, Ill. Chin Music Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781634059626.
In early-1900s Japan, Misuzu Kaneko grew from precocious bookworm to instantly beloved children’s poet. But her life ended prematurely, and Misuzu’s work was forgotten. Decades later her poems were rediscovered—just in time to touch a new generation devastated by the tsunami of 2011. This picture book features Misuzu’s life story plus a trove of her poetry in English and the original Japanese. Translated by Sally Ito.
Bamboo Sword. Preus, Margi. Amulet Paperbacks, 2016. ISBN: 9781419708244.
Set in 1853 Japan, this novel follows Yoshi, a Japanese boy who dreams of becoming a samurai, but as part of the serving class, he can never become a warrior. He is taken in by Manjiro, and becomes his servant and secret watchdog. Meanwhile, Commodore Matthew Perry and his squadron of steamships arrive in Edo Bay demanding that Japan open its ports to foreign trade. Aboard the commodore’s flagship is Jack, a cabin boy who becomes separated from his American Companions. He and Yoshi set out on a grand adventure to return Jack to his ship before he is discovered by the shogun’s samurai.
Barefoot General. Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima. Nakazawa, Keiji. Last Gasp, 2004. ISBN: 9780867196023.
This harrowing story of Hiroshima was one of the original Japanese manga series. New and unabridged, this translation of the author’s first-person experiences of Hiroshima and its aftermath is a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people. Volume one of this ten-part series details the events leading up to and immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Boy of the Three-Year Nap. Snyder, Dianne. Say, Allen, Ill. HMH Books, 1993. ISBN: 9780395669570.
A Japanese folk tale in which a lazy boy turns trickster to ensure a life of perpetual ease, but is outwitted by his mother. Taro has earned his nickname by leaving his mother to struggle for their meager living while their house deteriorates and he sleeps. One day he rouses himself enough to impersonate a god and tell his rich neighbor to marry his daughter to none other than Taro. Frightened, the neighbor visits Taro’s mother, who exacts several conditions–including putting Taro to work in the merchant’s storehouse.
Cool Melons – Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa. Gollub, Matthew. Stone, Kazuko G., Ill. Lee & Low, 2004. ISBN: 9781584302414.
The title of the book, Cool Melons – Turn to Frogs!, comes from a haiku by the Japanese poet, Issa. Told in prose interspersed with 33 of Issa’s most delightful poems, the book is both a biography of the famed poet and an introduction to haiku. The poems also appear in Japanese along the outside edges of the pages.
Friends. Yumoto, Kazumi. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN: 9780374424619.
Kiyama and his two awkward sixth-grade friends decide to spy on a solitary old man in their small Japanese town. They want to see what happens when he dies. For them, death is the stuff of nightmare and ghosts, a fearful unknown. At first, the old man is angry, but their attention revitalizes him, and he draws them into his home. Together they fix his house, clean up his yard, plant a garden, and every day after school they gather there. When he does die, there’s no horror–only heartfelt grief and loving memories that give them strength to go on. Translated by Cathy Hirano.
Grandpa’s Town. Nomura, Takaaki. Kane Miller, 1991. ISBN: 9780916291365.
A young Japanese boy, worried that his grandfather is lonely, accompanies him to the public bath. There he learns that his grandfather has many friends that he enjoys spending time with. Written in both Japanese and English.
Guri and Gura. Nakagawa, Rieko. Yamawaki, Yuriko, Ill. Tuttle, 2003. ISBN: 9780804833523.
Two exuberant mice find a huge egg in the forest and decide to use it to make “a sponge cake so big we can eat it from dawn to dusk and still have some left over.” Realizing that the egg is too big to move, Guri and Gura haul a huge frying pan (and everything else they need) over to the egg, mix up the batter, build a fire and share the results with all the animals that have sniffed out their cake. CD included.
Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog. Turner, Pamela S. Nascimbene, Yan, Ill. HMH Books, 2004. ISBN: 97800618140947.
Hachiko was a real dog that lived in Tokyo, a dog who faithfully waited for his owner at the Shibuya train station long after his owner could not come to meet him. He became famous for his loyalty and was adored by scores of people who passed through the station every day. This is Hachiko’s story through the eyes of Kentaro, a young boy whose life is changed forever by his friendship with this very special dog.
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin. Uegaki, Chieri. Leng, Qin, Ill. Kids Can Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781894786331.
During a summer visit to Japan, Hana Hashimoto listens attentively to the music of her grandfather. Each day, Ojiichan practices classical music he performed as a violist with a symphony, and in the evening, he creates sounds like crickets chirping or raindrops falling on umbrellas. Back home, Hana starts studying violin and after only three lessons signs up for the school talent show. Despite her brothers’ teasing, she practices diligently and overcomes last-minute jitters for a unique performance of sound effects that are inspired by Ojichan’s playing but that definitely are her own creations.
Hannah’s Winter. Meehan, Kierin. Kane Miller, 2009. ISBN: 9781933605982.
When Hannah’s writer mother travels from Australia to Japan to do research for a new book, she takes her reluctant daughter with her. While Liana travels throughout the country, the 12-year-old stays with her mother’s friends, the Maekawas. When Hannah and her new friend Miki find an ancient message in the stationery shop, they are drawn to solving a mysterious riddle. Why do the beans go berserk during the bean-throwing festival? Who is the evil-eyed woman at Sarumaru Shrine? Why is Hannah attacked by flying donuts? Is the ocean boy really trying to tell her something? A compelling combination of fact, fantasy, and humor.
Heart of the Samurai. Preus, Margi. Amulet Paperbacks, 2012. ISBN: 9781419702006.
In 1841 a Japanese fishing vessel sinks. Its crew is forced to swim to a small, unknown island, where they are rescued by a passing American ship. Japan’s borders remain closed to all Western nations, so the crew sets off to America, learning English on the way. Manjiro, a 14-year-old boy, is curious and eager to learn everything he can about this new culture. Eventually the captain adopts Manjiro and takes him to his home in New England. The boy lives there for some time and then heads to San Francisco to pan for gold. After many years, he makes it back to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the emperor to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.
Ho-Limlim: A Rabbit Tale from Japan. Fujimura, Hisakazu. Tejima, Keizaburo, Ill. Philomel, 1990. ISBN: 9780399221569.
Ho-limlim (a refrain marking the rabbit’s bounding motion) is set in the forests of northern Japan, and comes from the oral tradition of the Ainu, the indigenous of Hokkaido. The tale is simply the first-person account of an aging rabbit’s one last foray far from his home, an aging rabbit decides he prefers to rest in his own garden and let his children and grandchildren bring him good things to eat.
Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars. Weston, Mark. Yamasaki, Katie, Ill. Lee & Low, 2014. ISBN: 9781600602467.
This picture book biography outlines the life of Japanese automaker Soichiro Honda, born in 1906. Honda repaired vehicles, and after World War II, designed and built motorcycles, and started the Honda Motor Company, eventually building the fuel-efficient Honda Civic.
I Lost My Dad. Gomi, Taro. Kane/Miller, 2001. ISBN: 9781929132041.
When a little boy loses sight of his father at a big department store, he searches all over the establishment, tracking people whose appearances match his father in some way.
In Search of the Spirit: The Living National Treasures of Japan. Hamanaka, Sheila & Ohmi, Ayano. Hamanaka, Sheila, Ill. HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN: 9780688146078.
After World War II, the Japanese government designated as Living National Treasures men and women who had devoted their lives to traditional Japanese crafts and performing arts. For this exemplary book, the authors visited six of these extraordinary artists, and then blended a brief, illuminating text with color photographs, calligraphy, and illustrated sections to convey the essence of each art form.
Japan: Panorama Pops. Smith, Anne, Ill. Candlewick Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780763675042.
Want to remember a trip to Japan? Looking forward to visiting someday? This beautifully illustrated guide highlights a dozen of the country’s most famous locations, including the Imperial Palace, Shibuya Crossing, Meiji Shrine, Rainbow Bridge, Himeji Castle, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and Itsukushima Shrine.
Kamishibai Man. Say, Allen. HMH Books, 2005. ISBN: 9780618479542.
The Kamishibai man used to ride his bicycle into town where he would tell stories to the children and sell them candy, but gradually, fewer and fewer children came running at the sound of his clappers. They were all watching their new televisions instead. Finally, only one boy remained, and he had no money for candy. Years later, the Kamishibai man and his wife made another batch of candy, and he pedaled into town to tell one more story—his own. When he comes out of the reverie of his memories, he looks around to see he is surrounded by familiar faces—the children he used to entertain have returned, all grown up and more eager than ever to listen to his delightful tales.
Kenta and the Big Wave. Ohi, Ruth. Annick Press, 2013. ISBN: 9781554515769.
Inspired by an actual news story after Japan’s record-breaking 2011 tsunami, this simple story recounts a boy’s loss when a wave strikes his small coastal village. When Kenta hears the warning siren, he and his dog immediately run uphill to the school, away from the big waves. Along the way, he drops his soccer ball, which bounces down into the sea. After the high waters recede, he and his parents return home to find their house badly damaged and their belongings washed away. Meanwhile, Kenta’s soccer ball floats across the ocean to a beach, where a boy picks it up. After finding someone who can read the name and address on it, he sends it back to Kenta.
Little One Inch and Other Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. Sakade, Florence. Kurosaki, Yoshisuke, Ill. Tuttle, 2008. ISBN: 9784805309957.
Welcome to a fantastic world populated by mischievous monkeys, a dragon king and a host of other characters from Japanese folklore passed down from generation to generation. The ten enchanting stories collected in this Japanese children’s book have been carefully retold for today’s readers. Packed with thrilling adventures, funny discoveries, and valuable lessons, they serve as an introduction to Japanese culture.
Moon Princess. McCarthy, Ralph, F. Oda, Kancho, Ill. Kodansha International, 2013. ISBN: 9781568365275.
An old bamboo cutter finds a tiny child in the hollow of a bamboo stalk. Thus begins the beloved story of the Moon Princess, whose unearthly beauty brings her fame and would-be husbands from throughout the land, but whose destiny shines far off in the sky. Written in Japanese and English.
Moribito, Guardian of the Spirit. Huehashi, Nahoko. Scholastic, 2008. ISBN: 9780545160223.
Balsa was a wanderer and warrior for hire. Then she rescued a boy flung into a raging river — and at that moment, her destiny changed. Now Balsa must protect the boy — the Prince Chagum — on his quest to deliver the great egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo and discover the truth about the spirit, they find themselves hunted by two deadly enemies: the egg-eating monster Rarunga . . . and the prince’s own father. Japanese myth merges with the Western fantasy tradition.
My Awesome Japan Adventure: A Diary about the Best 4 Months Ever. Otowa, Rebecca. Tuttle Publishing, 2013. ISBN: 9784805312162.
My Awesome Japan Adventure is the diary of an American fifth grader who travels to Japan to spend four exciting months with a Japanese family. He records all his adventures in this diary so that he can tell his friends back home about what he did and saw during his time in Japan. With the help of a Japanese foster brother and sister, he visits a Ninja village, tries new foods, learns brush painting, and gets the inside information on daily life in a Japanese school. Experience Japan from a kid’s point-of-view.
My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book of Japanese Language and Culture. Brown, Michelle Haney. Padron, Aya, Ill. Tuttle, 2017. ISBN: 9780804849531.
The words in this book are all commonly used in the Japanese language and are both informative and fun for English-speaking children to learn. Children will become familiar with the sounds and structure of Japanese speech, the core elements of Japanese culture, and the ways in which languages differ in their treatment of everyday sounds and how, through cultural importation, a single word can be shared between languages.
My First Japanese Kanji Book: Learning Kanji the Fun and Easy Way! Sato, Eriko & Sato, Anna. Tuttle, 2009. ISBN: 9784805310373.
This book introduces 109 kanji characters to children with poems and illustrations. It includes all the Japanese Government specified first-grade level kanji characters and a sprinkling of simple second to sixth-grade characters. The kanji are introduced in the context of 36 colorful paintings and poems by 14-year-old Anna Sato, herself a kanji learner. Each of the poems is presented in both Japanese and English. All kanji are accompanied by furigana (small hiragana letters), stroke-order diagrams, sample vocabulary and boxes for writing practice. CD included.
My Japan. Watanabe, Etsuko. Kane/Miller, 2009. ISBN: 9781933605999.
Come discover Japan. Yuko will introduce us to her family, her home, and her city. Readers learn what she does in school, how she celebrates holidays, and lots more. From a typical bedroom and bathroom (two different kinds of toilets!) to a typical day in school (the students are responsible for cleaning it!), these snapshots of Japan are informative and interesting, presenting the questions and answers about the topics kids are curious about.
Origami Activities for Kids. LaFosse, Michael G. Tuttle, 2018. ISBN: 9780804849432.
This book provides instruction fro hands-on paper folding projects that give readers a look at a traditional craft while developing a better understanding of Asian culture. The 19 projects range from simple to challenging and the easy-to-follow instructions make these designs easy to create.
Origami Master. Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel. Sogabe, Aki, Ill. Albert Whitman, 2008. ISBN: 9780807561348.
Shima is an origami master who lives in the mountains of Japan with only his folded-paper creations for company. A warbler is building its nest in a tree in his yard and watches him at his work. For three nights, while the master is asleep, the little bird flies to his desk and folds a figure in the manner he has observed—each figure amazing the man with its simplicity and beauty. When a hiding Shima discovers the warbler at his desk, he decides to capture it in order to watch its skills firsthand, but the bird has another kind of lesson to teach him.
Park Bench. Takeshita, Fumiko. Suzuki, Mamoru, Ill. Kane/Miller, 1989. ISBN: 9780916291211.
All through the sunny day the white bench in the park provides pleasure for the many people who come by, from the old man taking a walk to the children playing in the park. A day in the life of a park bench In English and Japanese translated by Ruth A. Kanagy. CD included.
Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story. Moore, Sandra. Wilds, Kazumi, Ill. Tuttle, 2015. ISBN: 9784805313473.
This true story is told by a little bonsai tree, named Miyajima that lived with the same family in the Japanese city of Hiroshima for more than 300 years. At the end of WWII, the Yamaki family and the tree survive the bombing. In 1976, the tree was donated to the National Arboretum in Washington DC as a gesture of friendship between America and Japan to celebrate the American Bicentennial.
Remember March 11, 2011. Shomei, YOH. Kosei-Kodomonohan, 2012. ISBN: 9784333025305.
This is the story told by a young boy who is remembering the day, March 11, when an earthquake caused a great tsunami in Japan. During this disaster, the boy is separated from his family. He recounts that day . . . seeing the devastation, searching for his family, finding a puppy, being reunited with his family, and losing his grandfather.
Sadako. Coerr, Eleanor. Young, Ed, Ill. Puffin Books, 1997. ISBN: 9780780776661.
Japanese legend holds that if a person who is ill makes a thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant that person’s wish to be well again. Hauntingly beautiful illustrations by Caldecott-medalist Ed Young enhance the story of Sadako, a young girl dying of leukemia as a result of the atom bombing of Hiroshima. The poignancy of Sadako’s brave struggle will touch children of all ages in this revised version of Eleanor Coerr’s classic novel.
Sound of Silence. Goldsaito, Katrina. Kuo, Julia, Ill. Little Brown, 2016. ISBN: 9780316203371.
On a rainy, bustling morning in Tokyo, a young boy is surrounded by a symphony of sounds: boots squishing, raindrops pattering, cars rushing, and, to his delight, a koto player producing a range of high, low, and “twangy and twinkling” notes as she tunes her instrument. When Yoshio asks the musician what her favorite sound is, she answers, “Ma,” the silence between sounds. Intrigued by her comment, the boy spends his day in search of the elusive ma.
Storm. Miyakoshi, Akiko. Kids Can Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781771385596.
A little boy is excited about a trip to the beach planned for the following day. He watches, as the sky grows darker through the afternoon. His mother and father close the shutters and bring the potted plants indoors. The storm arrives and through the evening, the rain beats hard against the shutters. The wind howls and blows, and the boy tries not to be scared. At bedtime, he wishes he had a ship with big propellers that would spin stronger winds to drive the storm away. When morning comes, the skies are blue, and his family is ready for the beach.
Sumo Boy. Nakagawa, Hirotaka. Hasegawa, Yoshifumi, Ill. Hyperion, 2006. ISBN: 9780786836352.
A strikingly original picture book, sprinkled with the true Japanese customs of sumo wrestling, introduces Sumo Boy, an expert sumo wrestler who fights for justice. With the battle cry DOSUKOI!, he flies through the air, and, with an open-hand push, inside leg trip, and overarm throw, he defeats his foe.
Tea Ceremony: Explore the Unique Japanese Tradition of Sharing Tea. Sato, Shozo. Tuttle, 2017. ISBN: 9780804849883.
Explore the unique Japanese tradition of sharing tea as a way to introduce Asian culture to children. Readers will learn all of the elements for performing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, including: tea utensils, Fukasa, proper technique for whipping tea, and the different kinds of teas used.
Unko Nikki/Poop Diary. Muranaka, Rie. Kawabata, Nakoto, Ill. BL Shuppan, 2004. ISBN: 9784776400776.
As the title suggests, this book is about bathroom habits. Written in Japanese.
Up from the Sea. Lowitz, Leza. Ember, 2017. ISBN: 978055354771.
On the day the tsunami strikes, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about. But a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11 gives him new hope and the chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of disaster is to return and rebuild. Heartrending yet hopeful, Up from the Sea is a story about loss, survival, and starting anew.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Carle, Eric. Kaisei-sha, 1989. ISBN: 9784033280103.
This is the traditional story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that tells readers about the life of a caterpillar from egg to butterfly. This book teaches first words in a story format that teaches the days of the week, numbers and counting, and names of some foods. Written in Japanese.
Wakame Gatherers. Thompson, Holly. Wilds, Kazumi, Ill. Shen’s Books, 2007. ISBN: 9781885008336.
Nanami has two grandmothers: Baachan, who lives with her family in Japan, and Gram, who lives in Maine. When Gram visits Japan for the first time, Baachan takes her and Nanami on a trip to the seaside to gather Wakame, a long, curvy seaweed that floats near the shore. While the three assemble their equipment and ride the streetcar to the beach, Baachan explains how Wakame and other seaweeds are used in Japan. Gram shares stories about how seaweeds are used in Maine, and Nanami translates for them both. This book tells of a young girl who easily moves between two cultures and languages.
Yotsuba & !, Vol. 1. Azuma, Kiyohiko. Yen Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780316073875.
This is the story of the new kid in town – little Yotsuba, a green-haired and wide-eyed girl who doesn’t have a clue… about anything! With no knowledge of the world around her, and an unnatural fear of air conditioners, Yotsuba has her new neighbors’ heads spinning.