Sunday, August 27, 2017

Japan and Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho

Our most recent country study in our yearlong World Geography course was Japan.  This will be a difficult post to make because not only did we complete the study for geography (with our Galloping the Globe book as a guide), but we also used this country focus as an opportunity to complete another book in our Five in a Row literature curriculum.  So this post covers both the study of Japan on the whole, and the study of the book Grass Sandals: The Travels of Basho by Dawnine Spivak from Volume 4 of FIAR (Five in a Row).  Truly, these two studies went hand in hand so bear with me as I attempt to fit two post-worthy subjects into one (the same way we learned them).
Here is the cover for Grass Sandals.  It was a delightful read!  Amazon's synopsis of the book says, "An evocative portrait of the great Japanese haiku poet describes Basho's many experiences as he traveled throughout his beloved native Japan, in a volume that also includes haiku written by Basho and Japanese characters that represent words from the verses."  Mags enjoyed it a lot.  We thought the illustrations were just beautiful.

Day 1 - Japan (Introduction, General Geography); Grass Sandals (Social Studies)

On the first day of our study of Japan and this new book from Volume 4 of FIAR (our first in this volume!), we studied the geography of Japan and what we already knew of this interesting country.  To start, we stamped our travel trunk in our geography binder with a Japanese sticker and colored Japan on our continent map (both explained in earlier World Geography posts).  We also placed our story disk for this book over Japan on our world map.
We then looked at the lapbook we put together previously for Japan when we rowed A Pair of Red Clogs (at  The two pictures, below, are from that previous post.  (The lapbook went in our geography binder.)
We also talked about Mount Fuji.  We looked at these two postcards of the same that we were given from a Japanese friend and found illustrations throughout Grass Sandals depicting this famous volcano.  We talked about how volcanoes like this formed the island country that is Japan.
Mags then defined "island," "archipelago," and "volcano" for our glossary book (also explained in an earlier World Geography post).
We went on to read more about Japan in DK's Children's World Atlas (pages 92-93) ...
... Usborne's Lift-the-flap Picture Atlas (page 11) ...
... and Usborne's Children's Picture Atlas (page 37).
We also read from Hands-on Heritage's Japan Activity Book (I love these activity books) ...
... and from The Everything Kids' Geography Book (pages 83-85).
After that, we colored the Japan map out of Dover's Around the World Coloring Book by Winky Adam and placed it in our geography binder.
Meanwhile, we were filling out our two country reports for Japan.  (This is a picture of the completed sheets after we finished our study.)

Day 2 - Japan (Famous People, Landmarks); Grass Sandals (Language Arts)

On Day 2 of our study, we focused on the famous people and landmarks of Japan, as well as the language arts portion of the Grass Sandals book.  This was a huge part of this FIAR study, as the story is about the life of Basho (the famous Japanese haiku poet, considered the father of haiku) and it gave us a chance to study his popular art form and try our hand at it, too.

To start, we read about haiku in our FIAR Volume 4 manual (page 9-4, "Poetry -- Haiku"), then learned more about Matsuo Kinsaku (Basho) at  After reading about him, we completed the "Basho Biography" printable from the same site and adhered it to a piece of grass paper (like all the pages of Grass Sandals is originally written on) and added him to our country reports.
We then read about haiku in the "Haiku Collection" of Evan-Moor's Read and Understand Poetry workbook, pages 118-121.  It was time to write a haiku of our own.  We noted that Basho wrote a lot about nature, especially those things he saw around him while traveling Japan.  Maggie chose to write her haiku about cherry blossoms ("sakura" in Japanese) and did a fantastic job!
We placed her haiku on grass paper as well and decorated it with a 3D sticker of cherry blossoms that I had picked up in the scrapbooking section of the craft store.
Her haiku!  Isn't it fantastic?
She chose this to present as her project at our co-op later that week (farther down in this post).
The next famous person we decided to study from Japan was Katsushika Hokusai (one of his many names), the famous artist who painted "The Great Wave," among others.  We first read about him in "Old Man Mad About Drawing: Katsushika Hokusai" in Lives of the Artists by Kathleen Krull (pages 33-35) ...
... in The Usborne Book of Famous Paintings (pages 30-31) ...
... and in The Usborne Art Treasury (pages 12-13).
We then completed this famous masterpiece ("The Great Wave") in this Paint by Sticker: Masterpieces sticker book (page 12).
Maggie loved this activity!  It was very calming and we listened to Japanese drum music in the background while we worked.
The end result was gorgeous (I highly recommend these sticker books!) and we placed it, too, in our geography binder.
It was then time to crack open another Master Kitz!  (We love these!)
Following the instructions in the kit, we put together our own version of "The Great Wave"!
We even designed our own woodblock for the top left of the painting (copying Hokusai), with the Japanese symbol for "water."
The final masterpiece turned out beautiful!
We added Hokusai's name, too, to our country reports.
It was then time to find some famous landmarks of Japan (besides Mount Fuji).  Using our Pocket Books: Natural Wonders book ...
... and our Pocket Books: Cities of the World book, we learned about Shitenno-ji, Tokyo, and the Tokyo Tower.
We also read about Himeji Castle in Usborne's See Inside Famous Buildings book (page 8) ...
... and in Buildings, Bridges, and Landmarks: A Complete History (pages 27-30).  We added all of these places to our country reports.

Day 3 - Japan (Native Animals, Plants); Grass Sandals (Science)

On Day 3 of this study, we focused on the native animals and plants of Japan, as well as the science aspect of Grass Sandals.  We decided the best way to record this information for our geography binder was by creating a "Japanese Fauna/Japanese Flora" page.

To start, we read about frogs on page 9-8 of our FIAR Volume 4 manual ("Zoology -- Frogs"), as Basho writes about a frog in the book.  (We also read one of his haikus about one.)  We attached a frog sticker and die-cut to our "Japanese Fauna/Japanese Flora" page.  We learned about cranes and crickets on page 9-12 ("Zoology -- Cranes and Crickets") and added a Japanese crane to our fauna.  We then stopped to make an origami crane.
Once we added one more animal native to Japan (the Japanese macaque monkey), we focused on the flora next.
 In the FIAR manual, we read about bamboo ("Botany -- Bamboo," page 9-11), and the many flowers seen in Japan ("Botany -- Flowers," page 9-11).  This includes Japanese irises and hibiscuses, cherry blossoms ("sakura"), and morning glories.  (We added these and bonsai trees to our flora section.)
In the book, Basho had morning glories growing up the side of his house.
 I thought it would be fun to grow our own, so I found some seeds (at Dollar Tree of all places, for only ten cents) ...
... and we planted them in our window box.
They grew fast and looked like this within two weeks!  Soon, we hope to have morning glories like Basho!
In that same picture from the book, you can see Basho's beloved banana tree growing next to his house.  ("Basho" actually means "banana tree" in Japanese, and he loved this tree so much, he named himself after it.)
We read about bananas in the manual on pages 9-9 ("Botany -- Bananas") and 9-10 ("Chemistry -- Bananas and Oxidation") and decided to watch our own banana oxidize.
 Immediately peeled, our banana looked like this.
 But after about two hours, we noticed the oxidization starting at the tip.
We wrapped up Day 3 by making a reverse collage of Japan together on a piece of cardstock.  (Because the country is so slim, we collaged the background and added the country to the top of our collage, whereas our China collage showed the collage in the shape of the country with a solid background.)  We did this using stickers and images cut out of travel guides I had sent away for prior to starting World Geography.

Day 4 - Japan (Culture); Grass Sandals (Art)

On Day 4 of our study, we focused on Japan's culture and art.  We did this some before when we rowed A Pair of Red Clogs (, but this time around, we would study it in much more detail.  Here are two pictures from that post ...
... and another with an art project showing cherry blossoms at
To start this study's focus on culture, we read about Japan from Children Around the World by Donata Montanari ...
... pages 52-53 out of Children Just Like Me ...
... My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe ...
... and pages 92-93 of Window on the World.  We then prayed for the Japanese people.  (Meanwhile, all the time we were reading, we were stopping to update our country reports.)
In our Homes Around the World Design Studio kit, we read about Gassho-Zukuri farmhouses ... 
... and about traditional Japanese clothing on page 28 of our Hands-on Heritage Japan Activity Book.
We read about Japanese food in Usborne's 1,000 Things to Eat (page 26) ...
... and in Eat Your Way Around the World by Jamie Aramini (page 33).
We then read about the Japanese kotsuzumi drum on pages 16-17 of Music Around the World: Patterns by Char Benjamin ...
... and watched one played on YouTube at (below).
We read about Japanese holidays and festivals in Children Just Like Me's Celebrations! book (pages 16-17 and 30-31) ...
... before reading some traditional Japanese tales with Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima ...
 ... The Story of Cherry the Pig by Utako Yamada ... 
... and "The Little Sparrow" story out of our Usborne Stories From Around the World book, starting on page 118.
We also reread A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno ... 
... and Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say from our previous FIAR studies of Japan.
While we read, we enjoyed a cup of Japanese popcorn tea.  (Traditionally, the Japanese would add rice to their tea to make it go farther.  This is where "popcorn tea" came from.)
We then focused on the art aspect of Grass Sandals.  First, we read "Culture of Japan -- Japanese Writing" on page 9-3 of our FIAR manual.  Using the suggestions in the first activity on that page, we copied the Japanese characters printed on the back of the book and I challenged Maggie to find their meanings throughout the pages.  She enjoyed this task.
We also read the "Grass Paper and Calligraphy" section on page 9-6 of our manual.  Using a piece of grass paper and our own Japanese calligraphy pen combo (also a Japanese paintbrush) made of bamboo (purchased at Hobby Lobby), we set out to write some calligraphy of our own.  (We used the letters on page 9-17 as a guide.)
(We purchased our ink for this project at Staples, though I wish I had bought this at Hobby Lobby, too, because I would have saved a bit of money.)
In the book, Basho uses a paintbrush just like ours to write on his hat.
We fashioned our own Japanese hat to match Basho's (as instructed on page 9-6 of our manual, "Painting a Hat") using a brown piece of poster board, staples, yarn, and scissors.  Then, using our new bamboo brush, Mags painted the Japanese symbol for "rain."
So cute!
She was all set for her presentation at our co-op the next day!

Day 5 - Japan Co-op

On Day 5 of our study of Japan, we met with our co-op to share our personal projects, do some crafts, and eat some delicious Japanese foods.  This was my hosting, so I decorated using my kimono (hung with a tension rod in a closed doorway) ...
... cushions around my low coffee table ...
... Asian fans, and a decorated table.  I used a white tablecloth with a round, red platter in the center to resemble the Japanese flag, and added goodies that were visually stimulating.
These included my wooden kokeshi dolls and origami pieces, like this boshi ("bachi") samurai warrior helmet (also called a kabuto) that we would make together.
I just love these dolls!
After talking about the samurai and the traditional Japanese art of origami (which they actually believe originated in China), we made the kabutos.
You can find the instructions for how to make these at (below).  (This isn't my video.)
Looks great, Mags!
Next, we talked about the Japanese art of origami before making these faux origami trees I found the instructions for at
Using brown pipe cleaners, we twisted gnarly roots, trunks, and branches, and pushed the roots down into floral foam I had cut to fit into these fun, little wooden containers I picked up at Michael's.  Next, we used tacky glue to glue down sand and smooth river rocks (both purchased at Dollar Tree) over the roots of our trees.
Using small squares of green-colored tissue paper (which I had cut in advance), the children rolled them into small balls, dipped them into glue, and adhered them onto their pipe cleaner branches.
They loved this project!
All done!  They turned out great!
It was time for lunch!  To drink, I offered them cold green tea with ginseng and honey, matcha green tea (hot or cold), popcorn tea, and/or water.
For eating, I had made Japanese Chicken Curry in my Instant Pot (a recipe I found on Pinterest), served over rice ...
... Sukiyaki from the Eat Your Way Around the World book ...
... (with bamboo shoots!) ...
... and Yakinegi (also from the Eat Your Way Around the World book).
For dessert, I offered candy sushi, matcha milk candy, and Botan rice candy.  (These were a hit!)
It was a great country study and another great row!  Next up is Israel in our study of Asia, followed by India before we travel into Europe.  Stay with us!

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