First rule: There are no rules. These resources are completely free and at your disposal. Use as much, or as little, as you want. Study casually, or work to create a portfolio of academic work that will blow the socks off of the educational establishment.

Feel free to adapt the materials for your own purposes. We expect families, business people, backpackers, college students, high school kids, middle aged vacationers, and retirees who are on a late life adventure to take these materials and run with them. We’d be very happy for teachers or travel group leaders to add these materials to their study abroad packets as well.

The nature of open source is collaboration, so please feel free to contribute when you become aware of resources we haven’t listed, or you have project ideas that we haven’t developed. Send us your work and inspire others to reach higher and deeper as they travel!

Our goal with this project is to inspire adventure and further education through experiential learning around the world. Please send us a note and let us know how you used these resources!

Buffet Style Learning

Does the menu look overwhelming? Looking for a formula to use as a skeleton for your studies in Japan?


  • Two books
  • Two films
  • Three articles
  • One Problem & Solution or Project Option
  • One Cultural Assignment

Table of Contents

Book Recommendations


japan-etiquetteEtiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules that Make the Difference!

by Boye Lafayette De Mente

Minding your manners is an acquired skill, but what serves you well elsewhere could trip you up in Japan. Save yourself possible embarrassment with Etiquette Guide to Japan. An inside look at Japanese social graces, it answers all the questions of the thoughtful traveler. Extensive, specific information on Japanese business etiquette assists readers traveling to Japan for business.

This updated and expanded edition of the best-selling Japanese etiquette guide addresses not just the puzzling protocols relating to name cards, bowing or shaking hands, bathrooms and public baths—but also what to do when entertaining Japanese dinner guests, attending a Japanese tea ceremony, taking the subway, and much more! It also provides the latest etiquette in mobile phone manners, texting, social media and other forms of digital communication.

japan-guideA Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen, and the Tea Ceremony

by Hector Garcia

Comprehensive and well informed, it covers a wide array of topics in short articles accompanied by sidebars and numerous photographs, providing a lively digest of the society and culture of Japan. Designed to appeal to the generations of Westerners who grew up on Pokemon, manga and video games, A Geek in Japan reinvents the culture guide for readers in the Internet age.

Spotlighting the originality and creativity of the Japanese, debunking myths about them, and answering nagging questions like why they’re so fond of robots, author Hector Garcia has created the perfect book for the growing ranks of Japanophiles in this inspired, insightful and highly informative guide.

japan-killingKilling the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan

by Bill O’Reilly

Autumn 1944. World War II is nearly over in Europe but is escalating in the Pacific, where American soldiers face an opponent who will go to any length to avoid defeat. The Japanese army follows the samurai code of Bushido, stipulating that surrender is a form of dishonor. Killing the Rising Sun takes readers to the bloody tropical-island battlefields of Peleliu and Iwo Jima and to the embattled Philippines, where General Douglas MacArthur has made a triumphant return and is plotting a full-scale invasion of Japan.

Across the globe in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team of scientists are preparing to test the deadliest weapon known to mankind. In Washington, DC, FDR dies in office and Harry Truman ascends to the presidency, only to face the most important political decision in history: whether to use that weapon. And in Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito, who is considered a deity by his subjects, refuses to surrender, despite a massive and mounting death toll. Told in the same page-turning style of Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and Killing Reagan, this epic saga details the final moments of World War II like never before.

japan-lostLost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan

by Alex Kerr

Originally written in Japanese, this passionate, vividly personal book draws on the author’s experiences in Japan over 30 years. Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualized world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo’s boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home. But the book is not just a love letter. Haunted throughout by nostalgia for the Japan of old, Kerr’s book is part paean to that great country and culture, part epitaph in the face of contemporary Japan’s environmental and cultural destruction.

japan-mythsMyths and Legends of Japan

by F. Hadland Davis

This handsomely illustrated book includes myths of gods, heroes, warriors; legends of Buddha, Benten and Daikoku; tales of the sea and of Mount Fuji; accounts of superstitions; and much more. 32 full-page illustrations offer compelling images of Buddha and the Dragon, The Firefly Battle, and other subjects of these myths.

japan-yearA Year in Japan

by Kate T. Williamson

The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. Recent films such as Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha seem to have made everyone an expert on Japan, even if they’ve never been there. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year experiencing, studying, and re?ecting on her adopted home. She brings her keen observations to us in A Year in Japan, a dramatically different look at a delightfully different way of life.

Avoiding the usual clichés–Japan’s polite society, its unusual fashion trends, its crowded subways–Williamson focuses on some lesser-known aspects of the country and culture. In stunning watercolors and piquant texts, she explains the terms used to order various amounts of tofu, the electric rugs found in many Japanese homes, and how to distinguish a maiko from a geisha. She observes sumo wrestlers in traditional garb as they use ATMs, the wonders of “Santaful World” at a Kyoto department store, and the temple carpenters who spend each Sunday dancing to rockabilly. A Year in Japan is a colorful journey to the beauty, poetry, and quirkiness of modern Japana book not just to look at but to experience.


by James Clavell – Fiction

A bold English adventurer. An invincible Japanese warlord. A beautiful woman torn between two ways of life, two ways of love. All brought together in an extraordinary saga of a time and a place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust, and the struggle for power…

japan-riceRice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture

by Matt Goulding

An innovative new take on the travel guide, Rice, Noodle, Fish decodes Japan’s extraordinary food culture through a mix of in-depth narrative and insider advice, along with 195 color photographs. In this 5000-mile journey through the noodle shops, tempura temples, and teahouses of Japan, Matt Goulding, co-creator of the enormously popular Eat This, Not That! book series, navigates the intersection between food, history, and culture, creating one of the most ambitious and complete books ever written about Japanese culinary culture from the Western perspective.

Written in the same evocative voice that drives the award-winning magazine Roads & Kingdoms, Rice, Noodle, Fish explores Japan’s most intriguing culinary disciplines in seven key regions, from the kaiseki tradition of Kyoto and the sushi masters of Tokyo to the street food of Osaka and the ramen culture of Fukuoka. You won’t find hotel recommendations or bus schedules; you will find a brilliant narrative that interweaves immersive food journalism with intimate portraits of the cities and the people who shape Japan’s food culture.

This is not your typical guidebook. Rice, Noodle, Fish is a rare blend of inspiration and information, perfect for the intrepid and armchair traveler alike. Combining literary storytelling, indispensable insider information, and world-class design and photography, the end result is the first ever guidebook for the new age of culinary tourism.

japan-defeatEmbracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

by John W. Dower

Drawing on a vast range of Japanese sources and illustrated with dozens of astonishing documentary photographs, Embracing Defeat is the fullest and most important history of the more than six years of American occupation, which affected every level of Japanese society, often in ways neither side could anticipate. Dower, whom Stephen E. Ambrose has called “America’s foremost historian of the Second World War in the Pacific,” gives us the rich and turbulent interplay between West and East, the victor and the vanquished, in a way never before attempted, from top-level manipulations concerning the fate of Emperor Hirohito to the hopes and fears of men and women in every walk of life.

Already regarded as the benchmark in its field, Embracing Defeat is a work of colossal scholarship and history of the very first order. John W. Dower is the Elting E. Morison Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for War Without Mercy. 75 illustrations and map.

japan-teaThe Book of Tea

by Kakuzo Okakura

That a nation should construct one of its most resonant national ceremonies round a cup of tea will surely strike a chord of sympathy with at least some readers of this review. To many foreigners, nothing is so quintessentially Japanese as the tea ceremony–more properly, “the way of tea”–with its austerity, its extravagantly minimalist stylization, and its concentration of extreme subtleties of meaning into the simplest of actions. The Book of Tea is something of a curiosity: written in English by a Japanese scholar (and issued here in bilingual form), it was first published in 1906, in the wake of the naval victory over Russia with which Japan asserted its rapidly acquired status as a world-class military power.

It was a peak moment of Westernization within Japan. Clearly, behind the publication was an agenda, or at least a mission to explain. Around its account of the ceremony, The Book of Tea folds an explication of the philosophy, first Taoist, later Zen Buddhist, that informs its oblique celebration of simplicity and directness–what Okakura calls, in a telling phrase, “moral geometry.” And the ceremony itself? Its greatest practitioners have always been philosophers, but also artists, connoisseurs, collectors, gardeners, calligraphers, gourmets, flower arrangers. The greatest of them, Sen Rikyu, left a teasingly, maddeningly simple set of rules:

Make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so that it heats the water; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in summer suggest coolness; in winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.
A disciple remarked that this seemed elementary. Rikyu replied, “Then if you can host a tea gathering without deviating from any of the rules I have just stated, I will become your disciple.” A Zen reply. Fascinating. –Robin Davidson, Amazon.co.uk

japan-at-warJapan at War: An Oral History

by Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook

Following the release of Clint Eastwood’s epic film Letters from Iwo Jima, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, there has been a renewed fascination and interest in the Japanese perspective on World War II. This pathbreaking work of oral history is the first book ever to capture—in either Japanese or English—the experience of ordinary Japanese people during the war.

In a sweeping panorama, Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook take us from the Japanese attacks on China in the 1930s to the Japanese home front during the inhuman raids on Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, offering the first glimpses of how the twentieth century’s most deadly conflict affected the lives of the Japanese population. The book “seeks out the true feelings of the wartime generation [and] illuminates the contradictions between the official views of the war and living testimony” (Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan).

Japan at War is a book to which Americans and Japanese will continue to turn for decades to come. With more than 30,000 copies sold to date, this edition features an updated cover designed to appeal to a new generation of readers.

japan-omgOMG JAPAN – 221 Mind Blowing & Jaw-Dropping Facts About Japan You Didn’t Know Until Now

by Taro Taro Media

Did you know that it was the NORWEGIANS who invented Salmon Sushi? – Did you know that there is THAT ONE FOOD which the Japanese Emperor is forbidden to eat? – Did you know that NINJA THREW THIS to conceal underwater movement? – Did you know why you should NEVER pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks? – Did you know that Samurai committed suicide by DOING THIS? – Did you know why 70% of the world’s zippers have ‘YKK’ engraved on it? – Did you know why Kernel Sanders is as popular as Santa Claus on Christmas in Japan? – Did you know that ‘Genius Energy’, ‘Snow Squash’, ‘Fantastic Five’ and ‘Hip Hop’ are flavors available for THIS drink? –

Did you know that there is a Japanese delicacy consists of raw horse meat with onion and ginger? – Did you know that Japanese scientists invented ‘THIS SPRAY’ to alarm the deaf in case of emergency? – Did you know that ‘Hello Kitty’ was originally named THIS? – Did you know that you should NEVER DO THIS when using chopsticks? – Did you know why dancing after midnight is ILLEGAL in Japan? – Did you know that Japanese women considered THIS a thing of beauty? – Did you know that Japanese police fires THIS instead of bullets at fleeing vehicles? – Did you know why there is a Japanese festival venerating the male penis?

Well, if you couldn’t say yes to any of those, you still have a lot to discover about Japan! So check out our hand-picked 221 favorite mind blowing & jaw-dropping facts about Japan, along with eye-popping pictures that will prove these aren’t just bogus facts (and yes, a picture is worth 1,000 words)! So many topics covering Japanese history, culture, sports, etiquette, do’s and don’ts, humor, believe it or not, humor, food and more! This book is ideal for those who: – Want to learn the unique aspects of Japan – Just need to kill some time while learning new things – Are having a trivia & quiz party with friends – Enjoy beautiful pictures – Want to explore Japan without having to pack your bag Grab a copy of this book and enjoy your vicarious journey to fun & crazy world of Japan!

japan-fukuiFor Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan

by Sam Baldwin

Far from the high-tech, high-rise of the super-cities, there lies another Japan.

A Japan where snakes slither down school corridors, where bears prowl dark forests and where Westerners are still regarded as curious creatures. Welcome to the world of the inaka – the Japanese countryside.

Unhappily employed in the UK, Sam Baldwin decides to make a big change. Saying sayonara to laboratory life, he takes a job as an English teacher on the JET Programme in a small, rural Japanese town that no one – the Japanese included – has ever heard of.

Arriving in Fukui, where there’s ‘little reason to linger’ according to the guidebook, at first he wonders why he left England. But as he slowly settles in to his unfamiliar new home, Sam befriends a colourful cast of locals and begins to discover the secrets of this little known region.

Helped by headmasters, housewives and Himalayan mountain climbers, he immerses himself in a Japan still clutching its pastoral past and uncovers a landscape of lonely lakes, rice fields and lush mountain forests. Joining a master drummer’s taiko class, skiing over paddies and learning how to sharpen samurai swords, along the way Sam encounters farmers, fishermen and foreigners behaving badly.

Exploring Japan’s culture and cuisine, as well as its wild places and wildlife, For Fukui’s Sake is an adventurous, humorous and sometimes poignant insight into the frustrations and fascinations that face an outsider living in small town, backcountry Japan.

japan-geishaGeisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World

by Leslie Downer

Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, we have been intrigued by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of fictional creations from Madame Butterfly to Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha”. The reality of the geisha’s existence has rarely been described.

Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but literally “arts people”. Their accomplishments might include singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument but, above all, they are masters of the art of conversation, soothing worries of highly paid businessmen who can afford their attentions. The real secret history of the geisha is explored here.

japan-gionGeisha of Gion: The True Story of Japan’s Foremost Geisha

by Mineko Iwasaki

‘I can identify the exact moment when things began to change. It was a cold winter afternoon. I had just turned three.’ Emerging shyly from her hiding place, Mineko encounters Madam Oima, the formidable proprietress of a prolific geisha house in Gion. Madam Oima is mesmerized by the child’s black hair and black eyes: she has found her successor. And so Mineko is gently, but firmly, prised away from her parents to embark on an extraordinary career, of which she will become the best.

But even if you are exquisitely beautiful and the darling of the okiya, the life of a geisha is one of gruelling professional demands. And Mineko must first contend with her bitterly jealous sister who is determined to sabotage her success …Captivating and poignant, GEISHA OF GION tells of Mineko’s ascendancy to fame and her ultimate decision to leave the profession she found so constricting.

japan-samuraiSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner & Gareth Hinds

Minamoto Yoshitsune should not have been a samurai. But his story is legend in this real-life saga.

This epic warrior tale reads like a novel, but this is the true story of the greatest samurai in Japanese history.

When Yoshitsune was just a baby, his father went to war with a rival samurai family—and lost. His father was killed, his mother captured, and his surviving half-brother banished. Yoshitsune was sent away to live in a monastery. Skinny, small, and unskilled in the warrior arts, he nevertheless escaped and learned the ways of the samurai. When the time came for the Minamoto clan to rise up against their enemies, Yoshitsune answered the call. His daring feats and impossible bravery earned him immortality.

japan-intermentSilver Like Dust: One Family’s Story of America’s Japanese Internment

by Kimi Cunningham Grant

The poignant story of a Japanese-American woman’s journey through one of the most shameful chapters in American history.

Kimi’s Obaachan, her grandmother, had always been a silent presence throughout her youth. Sipping tea by the fire, preparing sushi for the family, or indulgently listening to Ojichan’s (grandfather’s) stories for the thousandth time, Obaachan was a missing link to Kimi’s Japanese heritage, something she had had a mixed relationship with all her life. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, all Kimi ever wanted to do was fit in, spurning traditional Japanese culture and her grandfather’s attempts to teach her the language.

But there was one part of Obaachan’s life that fascinated and haunted Kimi?her gentle yet proud Obaachan was once a prisoner, along with 112,000 Japanese Americans, for more than five years of her life. Obaachan never spoke of those years, and Kimi’s own mother only spoke of it in whispers. It was a source of haji, or shame. But what really happened to Obaachan, then a young woman, and the thousands of other men, women, and children like her?

From the turmoil, racism, and paranoia that sprang up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to the terrifying train ride to Heart Mountain, Silver Like Dust captures a vital chapter the Japanese-American experience through the journey of one remarkable woman and the enduring bonds of family.

japanese-princessManchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army

by Phyllis Birnbaum

Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907–1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu’s father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed.

Yoshiko had a fiery personality and loved the limelight. She shocked Japanese society by dressing in men’s clothes and rose to prominence as Commander Jin, touted in Japan’s media as a new Joan of Arc. Boasting a short, handsome haircut and a genuine military uniform, Commander Jin was credited with many daring exploits, among them riding horseback as leader of her own army during the Japanese occupation of China.

While trying to promote the Manchus, Yoshiko supported the puppet Manchu state established by the Japanese in 1932?one reason she was executed for treason after Japan’s 1945 defeat. The truth of Yoshiko’s life is still a source of contention between China and Japan: some believe she was exploited by powerful men, others claim she relished her role as political provocateur. China holds her responsible for unspeakable crimes, while Japan has forgiven her transgressions. This biography presents the richest and most accurate portrait to date of the controversial princess spy, recognizing her truly novel role in conflicts that transformed East Asia.

japan-hiroshimaHiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945

by Michihiko Hachiya

The late Dr. Michihiko Hachiya was director of the Hiroshima Communications Hospital when the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Though his responsibilities in the appalling chaos of a devastated city were awesome, he found time to record the story daily, with compassion and tenderness.

His compelling diary was originally published by the UNC Press in 1955, with the help of Dr. Warner Wells of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was a surgical consultant to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission and who became a friend of Dr. Hachiya. In a new foreword, John Dower reflects on the enduring importance of the diary fifty years after the bombing.

japan-bushidoBushido: Legacies of Japanese Tattoos

by Takahiro Kitamura & Katie M Kitamura

This beautifully illustrated book will teach you all you’ve ever wanted to know about the history and culture of Japanese Tattooing. Takahiro Kitamura (aka Horitaki) has been a student of Horiyoshi III for some time and his devotion to the man and the topic are obvious.

With chapters covering the history and development of tattoos and their related art in Japan going back several centuries, exploring the tatoo master/client and master/apprentice relationships, contrasting American and Japanese tattoo, and explaining the nature of Japanese tattoo ‘families’, the book gives an exceedingly thorough overview.

Most of the more than 200 photos were taken exclusively for this book and can not be seen elsewhere. The detail in Horiyoshi III’s designs and the craftmanship displayed through Jai Tanju’s photographs is superb.

Whether you just want to see examples of a true tattoo master’s work or want to come to a better understanding of the history and culture of Japanese tattooing, this is a book you must have. –by Aahz

japanpearlFor That One Day: The Memoirs of Mitsuo Fuchida, the Commander of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

by Douglas T Shinto & Tadanori Urabe

Daniel Martinez, Chief Historian at the Pearl Harbor National Monument, states that, “Mitsuo Fuchida is a remarkable man.” Commander Fuchida plunged Japan into war with the United States when he led the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. His autobiography was “discovered” in 2007 in his son’s basement library in New Jersey, nearly 66 years after the event that changed the world. This Imperial Japanese Navy officer was also at the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Leyte Gulf and in Hiroshima the day before and the day after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Through a chance encounter in Tokyo, he converted to Christianity, and his first testimony in the US was with Billy Graham. During his travels through the US, he met ex-President Truman, President Eisenhower, and many of his former military foes–Nimitz, Halsey, Doolittle, Spruance.

He tells a fascinating story of his life in war, peace and religious transformation. Among Pacific War enthusiasts, it is well known that there are a number of “disagreements” and “disputes” surrounding what actually happened at Pearl Harbor and Midway and, in Japan, in the days leading up to the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri. In his autobiography, Japan’s top aviator gives his perspective as an enemy and how, after total defeat and occupation of his country, he embraced America as a friend

japan-burningWe Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs And The Forging Of The Electronic Age

by Bob Johnstone

Are the Japanese faceless clones who march in lockstep to the drums beaten by big business and the bureaucrats of MITI, Japan’s miracle-working ministry of international trade and industry? Can Japanese workers, and by extrapolation their entire society, be characterized by deference to authority, devotion to group solidarity, and management by consensus?

In We Were Burning, investigative journalist Bob Johnstone demolishes this misleading stereotype by introducing us to a new and very different kind of Japanese worker-a dynamic, iconoclastic, risk-taking entrepreneur.Johnstone has tracked down Japan’s invisible entrepreneurs and persuaded them to tell their stories. He presents here a wealth of new material, including interviews with key players past and present, which lifts the veil that has hitherto obscured the entrepreneurial nature of Japanese companies like Canon, Casio, Seiko, Sharp, and Yamaha.Japanese entrepreneurs, working in the consumer electronics industry during the 1960s and 70s, took unheralded American inventions such as microchip cameras, liquid crystal displays, semiconductor lasers, and sound chips to create products that have become indispensable, including digital calculators and watches, synthesizers, camcorders, and compact disc players.

Johnstone follows a dozen micro-electronic technologies from the U.S. labs where they originated to their eventual appearance in the form of Japanese products, shedding new light on the transnational nature of twentieth-century innovation, and on why technologies take root and flourish in some places and not in others.At this time of Asian financial crisis and the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy, many are tempted to dismiss Japan’s future as an economic power. We Were Burning serves as a timely warning that to write off Japan—and its invisible entrepreneurs—would be a big mistake.

Kids Book Recommendations


japan-shipwreckedShipwrecked!: The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy

by Rhoda Blumberg

Any person who leaves
the country to go to another
and later returns
will be put to death.

This was the law in Japan in the early 1800s. When fourteen-year-old Manjiro, working on a fishing boat to help support his family, was shipwrecked three hundred miles away from his homeland, he was heartbroken to think that he would never again be able to go home. So when an American whaling boat rescued him, Manjiro decided to do what no other Japanese person had ever done: He went to America, where he received an education and took part in events that eventually made him a hero in the Land of the Rising Sun.

japan-kidsAll About Japan: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More

by Willamarie Moore & Kazumi Wilds

A cultural adventure for kids, All About Japan offers a journey to a new place—and ways to bring it to life! Dive into stories, play some games from Japan, learn some Japanese songs.

Two friends, a boy from the country and a girl from the city, take us on a tour of their beloved land through their eyes. They introduce us to their homes, families, favorite places, school life, holidays and more!

  • Celebrate the cherry blossom festival
  • Learn traditional Japanese songs and poems
  • Make easy recipes like mochi (New Year’s sweet rice cakes) and okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza or pancakes)
  • Create origami frogs, samurai helmets and more!

Beyond the fun and fascinating facts, you’ll also learn about the spirit that makes Japan one-of-a-kind. This is a book for families to treasure together.

japan-wayThe Way We Do It in Japan

by Geneva Cobb Iijima & Paige Billin-Frye

Gregory and his family are moving to Japan for his dad’s job. After the long flight, they arrive at their new apartment. Gregory is surprised to find lots of things that are different: but that’s the way they do it in Japan.

japan-activityLet’s Learn About JAPAN: Activity and Coloring Book

by Yuko Green

Add up the money in a wallet full of yen, fold an origami hat, and follow a maze through the sights of Kyoto! These and other playful activities for children ages 6 to 10 offer a warm welcome to the Land of the Rising Sun. A host of crosswords, jumbles, cryptograms, spot-the-differences, and other puzzles acquaint kids with Japanese geography, language, food, arts, sports, and festivals.

japan-fairyJapanese Fairy Tales

by Yei Theodora Ozaki

This is a collection of Japanese fairy tales translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki based on a version written by Sadanami Sanjin. According to Ozaki, “These stories are not literal translations, and though the Japanese story and all quaint Japanese expressions have been faithfully preserved. Ozaki freely added to and changed the original stories for color and background.

japan-chisaiAm I small? Watashi, chisai?: Children’s Picture Book English-Japanese

by Philipp Winterberg & Nadja Wichmann

“Am I small?” – Tamia is not sure and keeps asking various animals that she meets on her journey. Eventually she finds the surprising answer…

“I LOVED it. Lots of repetition to help ‘lil ones get used to structure and words! Many different words being used to help them improve their vocabulary (or pick the best word!). Most importantly, it sends a good message about how being unique and different is good. I STRONGLY suggest you check this book out!”—ESLCarissa.blogspot.com

japanese-festivalsJapanese Traditions: Rice Cakes, Cherry Blossoms and Matsuri: A Year of Seasonal Japanese Festivities

by Setsu Broderick & Willamarie Moore

A wonderful look at Japanese culture and family life, Japanese Traditions is an intricately illustrated romp through the childhood reminiscences of author/illustrator Setsu Broderick. Told via a series of short text blocks and lighthearted illustrations based on cats, Japanese Traditions displays seasonal festivals and activities such as O-Bon (Festival of the Souls), O-hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and preparing for the New Year.

While enjoying the charming illustrations of a family of Japanese cats, the author shares her warm childhood memories of many Japanese customs, such as gathering around the kotatsu (heated table) to stay warm, throwing soybeans to keep away ogres and hanging handmade teru-teru-bozu (fine-weather) dolls out the window to stop the rain. There are also many traditional Japanese foods, toys, games and celebrations taught through the illustrations. All in all, Japanese Traditions provides a magical feast for children of all ages.

Film Recommendations


Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida- Architect of Pearl Harbor bombing


Merv’s guest on this episode was Japanese naval captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the architect of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He tells his story of being a young naval officer doing his “duty” leading the attack, being decorated by Emperor Hirohito, his dislike of Tojo to the eventual change of heart which led him to become a Christian preacher.

History Channel: Empire of Japan – Mysterious History


Commanding shoguns and fierce samurai warriors, exotic geisha and exquisite artisans – all were part of a Japanese renaissance between the 16th and 19th centuries when Japan went from chaos and violence to a land of ritual refinement and peace.

National Geographic – Wildlife of Japan



Japan’s War in Colour


Using rare and, in some cases, never before seen color footage, this documentary examines World War II from the perspective of the Japanese. The film also utilizes original letters and diary entries written by Japanese soldiers and civilians during the war. Japan’s War in Color looks to present both the innocent and the guilty parties involved in what was culturally touted as a Holy War, and examine the effect it had on all of their lives.

Inside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant


Step inside one of the world most radioactive and dangerous places. The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is a disabled nuclear power plant located on a 3.5-square-kilometre (860-acre) site in the towns of Okuma and Futaba in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. First commissioned in 1971, the plant consists of six boiling water reactors (BWR). These light water reactors drove electrical generators with a combined power of 4.7 GWe, making Fukushima Daiichi one of the 15 largest nuclear power stations in the world. Fukushima I was the first nuclear plant to be designed, constructed and run in conjunction with General Electric, Boise, and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

The plant suffered major damage from the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The incident permanently damaged several reactors making them impossible to restart. Due to the political climate, the remaining reactors will not be restarted. The disaster disabled the reactor cooling systems, leading to releases of radioactivity and triggering a 30 km evacuation zone surrounding the plant. On April 20, 2011, the Japanese authorities declared the 20 km evacuation zone a no-go area which may only be entered under government supervision.

Aikido documentary – Awesome japan Martial Arts


Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.” Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Aikido techniques consist of entering and turning movements that redirect the momentum of an opponent’s attack, and a throw or joint lock that terminates the technique.

Extreme Railway Journeys : The Great Japanese Train Ride


A journey thousand of miles across Japan, starting out in Nagasaki, where the story of eastern railways began 150 years ago with the help of an enterprising Brit. In Fukuoka, he visits one of the Bullet Train’s giant repair centres and in Hiroshima, he unravels what happened to its streetcar network after the world’s first atomic bomb devastated the city. Along the way, the presenter also meets a superstar cat and a singing conductress, while also checking into a popular trainspotter hotel and riding a steam-powered mountain railway.

Atomic Bomb Dropped On Nagasaki


In the final year of the war, the Allies prepared for what was anticipated to be a very costly invasion of the Japanese mainland. This was preceded by a U.S. firebombing campaign that obliterated many Japanese cities. The war in Europe had concluded when Nazi Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 8, 1945. The Japanese, facing the same fate, refused to accept the Allies’ demands for unconditional surrender and the Pacific War continued. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945—the alternative being “prompt and utter destruction”. The Japanese response to this ultimatum was to ignore it.

Documentary: Japanese Tea Ceremony


The Japanese tea ceremony is a special way of making green tea (matcha ??). It is called the Way of Tea. It is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered tea. People who study the tea ceremony have to learn about different kinds of tea. They also have to learn about kimono (Japanese clothes), flowers, and many other things. It takes much practice to learn the tea ceremony. Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Shintoism Documentary


Inside look into Shintoism, a Japanese Religion.

The Secret Lives of Geisha



The Japanese Royal Palace: The World’s Last Remaining Emperor and Longest Monarchy


Broadcast 1985 – Documentary on the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Royal Grounds of the Last Remaining Emperor on Earth. At one point, atleast on paper, the Imperial Palace’s real estate was worth more than the entire state of California. Theoretically, Japan could have bought the entire United States of America by selling only metropolitan Tokyo

Japan Documentary : Sensational Young Taiko drummers – Powerful, brilliant. Nagasaki, Japan



Fugu-fish: risky Japanese delicacy


Every year dozens in Japan get poisoned after tasting fugu-fish – one of the most venomous ocean creatures. In Japan this delicacy remains popular for hundreds of years. How to cook dish of fugu and stay alive

Memoirs of a Geisha



The Last Samurai Official Trailer


Edward Zwick returned to the director’s chair for the first time since 1998’s The Siege with this sweeping period drama set in 19th-century Japan. After centuries of relying on hired samurai for national defense, the Japanese monarchy has decided to do away with the warriors in favor of a more contemporary military. Tom Cruise stars as Nathan Algren, a veteran of the U.S. Civil War who is hired by the Emperor Meiji to train an army capable of wiping out the samurai. But when Algren is captured by the samurai and taught about their history and way of life, he finds himself conflicted over who he should be fighting alongside. Billy Connelly, Tony Goldwyn, and Ken Watanabe co-star.

Lost in Translation (2003)


Sofia Coppola’s dreamy masterpiece (2004 Oscar winner for best Screenplay), takes us into the confusing beauty of Japan and its culture and how 2 strangers form a bond through their visit to Tokyo.

Tokyo Story


Listed at #1 in Halliwell’s Top 1000 countdown of the world’s best cinema, and voted among the five best films ever made in Sight and Sound magazine’s ten yearly poll of critics worldwide, Tokyo Story is prehaps the most powerful reflection on the human condition ever committed to celluloid.

When an elderly couple travel to a rapidly-rebuilding Tokyo to visit their children, they are met with unexpected indifference, ingratitude and selfishness. As the vastly different priorities of pre- and post-war Japan collide, Yasujiro Ozu’s materpiece deepens into a sublime meditation on family, ambition and mortality.

The Ramen Girl


An American slacker (Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile; Girl, Interrupted) abandoned by her boyfriend in Tokyo finds her calling in an unlikely place: a local ramen house run by a tyrannical chef who doesn’t speak of a word of English. Undaunted by the chef’s raging crankiness, Abby convinces him to teach her the art of ramen preparation…and despite hilarious clashes of culture and personality, she learns how to put passion and spirit into her life as well as her cooking.

The Cove


Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, The Cove follows a high-tech dive team on a mission to discover the truth about the dolphin capture trade as practiced in Taiji, Japan. Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, the team uncovers how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide.

Article Recommendations

Sushi Etiquette: Eating Sushi in Japan

Japan Fishery Industry Under Threat – The National

Japan has a Worrying Number of Virgins, Government Finds – Washington Post

Japan Overwork Deaths Among Young Show Lessons Unlearned – Washington Post

Do Japanese Really Work Themselves to Death? In Some Cases, Yes. – Washington Post

Japan to Face Criticism at International Summit for Flouting Whaling Ruling – Guardian

Japan’s $320 Million Gamble at Fukushima: An Underground Ice Wall – NY Times

Japan’s Economy is Barely Growing – CNN

Female Objectification and Gender Gap in Japan -Japan Times

First Dolphins Killed in Japan’s Notorious Annual Hunt – National Geographic

Japan’s Action Plan to Fight Climate Change – Japan Times

How Religious Are Japanese People? – Japan Today

Ancient Roman Coins Found Buried Under Ruins of Japanese Castle Leave Archaeologists Baffled – Independent

Japan: Guilty Until Proven Innocent – Al Jazeera

Fukushima’s Surfers Riding on Radioactive Waves – Al Jazeera

World’s Oldest Fish-Hooks Found on Okinawa, Japan – Guardian

Project Options:



Japan’s history is one of ancient ritual grown into modern industry and closed Imperialism morphed into global participation. Once a country shrouded in mystery that banned it’s citizens from exploring beyond their borders, now an economic superpower with influence worldwide. From the ancient Samurai, to the early trade with the outside world, to Japanese conquering much of the Asian Pacific during World War 2 to the subsequent reconstruction and domination of industrial and tech sectors, Japan is a country that is growing and advancing all the time, while at the same time holding fast to the cultural roots that define the people. Pick one or two areas of specific interest and learn more.

Some possibilities for further study:

  • Original inhabitants of the islands 30,000 BC
  • The arrival of Buddhism
  • The rise of the Samurai
  • Mongol invasions
  • The arrival of Portuguese missionaries & effects
  • Convention of Kanagawa
  • Manchurian Invasion
  • Joining the Axis
  • Constitution of 1947

Japan in WW2

When did Japan enter the war and why? Choose an aspect of WW2 history as it pertains to Japan and learn more, options include:

  • Invasion of China (pre WW2)
  • Japan’s entrance into WW2
  • Invasion of Malay Peninsula
  • Invasion of Borneo & the Death March
  • Japanese Internment Camps
  • Invasion of Indonesia
  • Battle of the Java Sea
  • Bombing of Darwin
  • Invasion of Singapore
  • Battle of Midway
  • Battle of Guadalcanal
  • Invasion of Philippines
  • Battle of Iwo Jima
  • Bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • Battle of Okinawa
  • Atomic Bombs
  • Kamikaze warfare and strategy
  • War Crimes

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The dropping of two Atom Bombs by the US forces on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately preceded the surrender of the Japanese forces and essentially ended the war in the Pacific. The devastation was catastrophic and changed the face of the nation.

Do some research on the Atom Bomb, it’s development and testing and the eventual decision to drop the bombs on Japan. Who made the call? Who was in the planes? What was the experience like for the pilots and airmen? Where is the Enola Gay now? What was happening in the cities moment before the bombs fell? What was the experience like for the people on the ground? Read the first hand accounts. How has the attack been memorialized in Japan? See if you can find the story of the one man who survived both attacks.

The Emperor of Japan

Japan has the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The Emperor and his family, traditionally, are believed to be direct descendants of the sun goddess and he is the official head of the Shinto religion. Create a timeline of Imperial history for Japan.

What were the roles of the Shoguns in the governing of Japan under the Emperor? What was the “Imperial cult” that developed during WW2? What were the outcomes and influences of that cult on the way the Japanese waged war? What was the “humanity declaration” and why was that significant? Examine Japan’s interpretation of constitutional monarchy and the Emperor’s role within the current governmental organization.

Whaling in Japan

Whaling in Japan continues to be a hot button issue in the international community. In spite of many provisions passed to protect whales and reduce whaling worldwide, Japan continues to slaughter whales.

Why? What is their reasoning? What are the whales used for? Are there any other countries that are still killing whales?

Geisha Culture

The geisha are a fascinating bridge between ancient Japanese culture and the modern face of Japan. Shrouded in mystery until very recently, geisha have always played an important role in Japanese culture. Study their history. Read a biography or two. Watch one of the movies produced about them.

How are modern geishas different from old world geishas? In what ways are they very much the same? What is life like for a geisha? Why do you think they are still iconic in Japan and internationally as a symbol of Japan? How have geisha helped shape female culture in Japan over the centuries?

Samurai Culture

The samurai are legendary in Japan. Movies have been made, stories written and the history itself reads like an adventure story. Learn more about the Samurai, their culture, religion, way of life, and role in Japanese society.

Who were they? Why did they exist? What was their training like? What are the icons of Samurai life and culture and why are they significant? Learn about the golden age of the samurai and explore what life and culture were like at that time, socially, politically, economically?

Education in Japan

Japan’s education system is famous for two things:

  1. Excellent quality
  2. High stress levels for students

What is Japan’s educational system like now? What are the stages and ages? Are there differences between primary grades, and older grades in terms of style, expectations, or stress levels? Examine what has been written in recent months and years about education stress and suicide rates in Japan. Look into the recent declaration by the Japanese government insisting that universities scale back their humanities and social studies departments in favour of “more practical” types of education.

What do you think of that? Do you see any correlations between educational style and the social disorders emerging among Japanese youth, or the work culture Japan is famous for?

Profiles of …..

Conduct a series of at least five interviews within a country. The point of the exercise would be to get a well rounded view of what it is like to live in the France from a variety of ages, incomes, employments and experiences. This could be conducted as video, or as text. Do an in depth analysis of the experience/information.

People you might profile:

  • Farmers
  • Teachers
  • Restaurant owners/workers
  • Monks or Nuns
  • Government officials
  • Doctors or nurses
  • Cafe owners
  • Street vendors
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Drivers
  • Artists or musicians
  • Geisha
  • Laborers
  • Cab drivers
  • Long term expats

Problems & Solutions


Economic Decline

Japan has been in serious economic decline for a number of years. Economists continue to predict a crumbling of Japan’s economy. After Japan’s meteoric rise to the number two economic super power in the world (until displaced by China a few years ago) what happened (or is happening) that is causing Japan’s economy to fade?

What is being done to try to shore it up? Which sectors are suffering most? What is life like, economically, for an “average” Japanese family. Is there a difference in different parts of the country? Are there any industries that are still growing? What are the wider implications, for the rest of the world’s economies, of Japanese decline?

Falling Birth Rate

Japan’s birth rate is falling. There are national initiatives to try to incentivize young people to have children. Why is this important? What happens when a country’s birthrate falls?

Do some research on this problem. What are the contributing factors to the falling birth rate? What is the government doing to try to turn this around? What will the impacts be for the next generations if it does not rise, or continues to fall?

Gang Culture

Japan has a long history of gang culture, and a colourful cultural history of tattoos related to gang culture. There is discussion in the modern era around redeeming the traditional tattoos from their gang associations.

Study the history of Japanese gangs. Who are they? Where does their power come from? What do they control? How do they affect the modern urban Japanese culture? Explore the link between gangs and traditional tattoos. How is this art part of crafting the community of a gang and membership in it? Compare gang culture in Japan to gang culture in the USA, or with the mafia in Italy.


The Fukishima nuclear disaster of 2011 was a cataclysmic event, not just for Japan, but for the world.

What happened at Fukishima? What was the immediate impact on the community and the ecology of the area surrounding it? What is happening at Fukishima now? In terms of continuing ecological impact, clean up efforts, and long term plans for the site? How has Fukishima affected the oceans and the wildlife in the oceans, not just near the site, but across the Pacific and beyond? Have we learned anything important from Fukishima to help avoid these sorts of accidents in the future?

Earthquakes & Tsunamis

Japan sits on the Pacific rim of fire and has, since the beginning, balanced the realities of geological instability within their culture. Take a look back into history at the major eruptions, quakes and tsunamis that have affected the islands of Japan.

Study the modern architectural advances that allow skyscrapers to sway but not fall even in significant quakes. Take a look at the current seismology predictions for Japan, what are scientists studying, or anticipating in coming years? How does Japan deal with the ever present threat of tsunamis with so many coastal cities? What have they learned that could be (or is) being applied elsewhere in the world where similar conditions are present?

Cultural Assignment Options



Japan is famous for it’s unique foods, from sushi, to deadly poisonous puffer fish that are specially prepared by experts, to savoury ramen and every kind of rice plate you can imagine. Rice has formed an important part of the food culture of Japan for ages. Sake is an alcoholic drink made from rice. The tea ceremony is considered sacred in Japan and the matcha tea that is served is different from any other tea you’ll ever have. Sashimi is a uniquely Japanese delicacy and one that bears tasting more than once, as it’s not “one thing.” Seaweed is eaten in many forms.

Eat your way around Japan. Make a point of trying things. Just because you can’t pronounce it, or don’t recognize it, doesn’t mean it won’t taste amazing. Definitely go on a ramen rampage, eating as many different bowls in different hole in the wall places as you possibly can. (Watch The Ramen Girl, listed above, for fun and insight).

Visit a fish market and see the famous tuna auctions in action, as well as the chefs and buyers making the early morning rounds to make selections for their restaurants for the day. Visit a rice paddy in the countryside and get up close and personal with rice production. Try sake, the clear kind, and the cloudy kind, which do you like better? Why are they different?

Make a record (or a video!) of all of the new foods you’re trying as you travel through Japan. Perhaps keep a notebook with some recipes too.

Meaningful Connections

What is a meaningful interaction? You get to decide that. In general, it should be an interaction in which cultural exchange took place and you learned something. Often this will be with a local person; sometimes it will be with another traveler.

Sometimes these interactions look like very little on the outside but are totally life changing on the inside. Other times, they are rock your world amazing from every angle. It could be a meal shared, an afternoon’s excursion, a discussion that opens your eyes in some way, a self revelation that happened without any words exchanged at all.

Spend a day with a local individual or family. Document your experience in photos, interviews and the written word. The best way to interact with locals is to just start chatting with them at markets, on tours or on the street. You can also ask other travelers if they have met anyone who has offered some insight into life in the country. If you are a family who have children attending a local school then have a party, invite a parent to coffee, basically just open up your home to new relationships.

Take a Class

There are many options! Don’t be limited by this list:

  • Cooking
  • Language
  • Art or Crafts (brush painting maybe?)
  • Tea Ceremony
  • Japanese caligraphy
  • Literature
  • Yoga
  • Traditional Dance
  • Music, taiko drumming lessons, perhaps?

Museum Visits

Japan has some fascinating museums, especially in the big cities. If you’re looking for lists of museums to visit by city, these guides might help:

For these guides, as well as museums sorted by category, try out the Japan Guide.

Save your ticket stubs!


Volunteering is a great way to get to know a local community and give back a bit to the places that you choose to travel. There are lots of ways to do this, both organized and arranged privately, as well as impromptu opportunities that will pop up.

If you’re looking for a list of volunteer opportunities in Japan, Charity Vault has a site dedicated to helping you find one. Please be advised that TAP is not recommending these, only presenting them as a list of possibilities. Vet your volunteer options carefully. We recommend doing some serious research into the dangers of voluntourism before you dive in with good intentions.

Live Local

Get out of the hostel, rent a place in a local village, or do a homestay. Through websites like Airbnb it’s easy to find places to live locally..

Photo essay or a blog description of why living local was different than living in a hostel. How did this experience change the economics of your stay? What did you learn about the way locals live? What challenged you? What would you do differently next time?

Work Stay

Through an organization like WWOOF, HelpX, or Workaway you can arrange for an opportunity to work in exchange for your room and board in a number of capacities, from farm labour to hospitality. Lots of students make use of these experiences to lower the cost of their travels, while at the same time learning valuable skills or “trying out” various career areas that interest them.

Request feedback in the form of a short evaluation that can be used later for a CV or reference

Public Transportation Project

Take as many types of public transportation as possible. Japan is known for its fast and efficient train network. But it’s also a great place to take ferries (a nation of islands!) and its countryside begs to be bicycled.

Challenge yourself to take every type of public transportation available while you are in Japan. Create a photo essay or videologue of your adventures. What did you learn?

Attend a Religious Observance

Japan is home to an ancient and unique religion, Shinto, which, literally translated, means “The way of the gods.” Shinto celebrates many gods, most tied to nature and is the traditional religion of Japan. Buddhism is also prevalent. Christianity, Islam, and other religions exist in Japan but are less practiced. Take some time to attend various religious observances and see what you can learn. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. How does the religious climate in Japan compare with what you grew up with?


How to Create Your Own Course Work



Learn to ask for what you want. If you meet someone interesting, ask them to teach you. Ask them for an interview. Ask to shadow them for a day or a week. You’ll be surprised at how eager people are to share what they know and teach when someone shows actual interest. Learn to ask questions. Learn to take social risks by putting yourself out there as a learner.


You have an idea or an interest. Something surprises you on your journey and all of a sudden you have a burning desire to know more. Plan your attack:

  • Narrow your field of study to a particular question or topic.
  • Compile resources: Look for teachers. Who knows what you need to know? Or who can you interview to learn more? Are there books or videos on the topic you’re interested in?
  • Quantify it. How will you demonstrate what you have learned? A research paper, a video project, a photo essay, through art or music, a blog post, a published piece, an interview series, a mini documentary or do you have some other idea?


Produce a quality piece of academic work that reflects your experiential learning. The whole key to quantifying outside the box learning is to translate it into something that reflects the value of what you learned and how it contributed to your overall educational process.

Perhaps this will be as simple as a traditional research paper, depending on the depth and length of your study this could be as short as three pages or as long as a dissertation. Maybe you’ll produce a video for YouTube, or something grander, like a mini-documentary. Perhaps you’ll do something concrete instead, an art, or community action project and you’ll tell the story through a photo essay, or a series of blog posts. The possibilities are limited only by the resources you have at hand. Get creative. Think outside the box and truly experience your education.


Do You Have Anything to Add to This Resource Page?

We’re actively seeking to grow these resources in an open-source spirit. Please email jenn(at)bootsnall(dot)com with your edits or submissions of new information or materials.

Thank you!

Photo Credit: ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com, TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.com