Kids and Culture: An Introduction to Japanese Culture

I hadn’t been to Shinzen Friendship Garden in Woodward Park in years and thought that this would be a great time of year to take the kids. To make the experience a little more meaningful and culturally relevant I decided to also include a picnic with Japanese food and a children’s book about life in Tokyo. I envisioned sitting amongst the beautiful blossoms, eating our sushi and edamame, and reading to the kids before leisurely strolling through the beautiful garden. I know… how naive! 😂 We did end up having a really nice time but it was very different from what I expected. Here’s how it went…We picked up lunch from our neighborhood restaurant, Asuka. I wanted to get something that was more traditional rather than fusion, and this did the trick. I loaded up the kids and the food and we were off to Woodward Park. This outing was giving me some anxiety because there was a lot I wasn’t sure of… mostly, do I need cash to park? We had already gotten out of the car to pick up the book at the library and again at the restaurant for our picnic food, so a stop at the bank was more than I was up for. I dug up a bunch of quarters and crossed my fingers. It turned out the entrance to Woodward Park did accept credit ($5) 🙌🏼 Our first hurdle was cleared. When we reached Shinzen, I learned that no food or drinks are allowed into the garden so we took our Japanese lunch just south of the garden and had a picnic on the grass with the squirrels though we later realized that just north of the garden are lots of picnic tables… but we were happy with our nature picnic.Along with giving the kids a taste of authentic Japanese food I also wanted to introduce them to another way of eating so I made sure to pick up some training-chopsticks for them and some real ones for myself. They loved trying a different style of utensil and stuck with it for about ten minutes (which in kid time is like an eternity) so I took it as a win! Once we finished lunch and cleaned up we took our picnic stuff to the car and then headed into the Japanese Garden. Thankfully I had saved my quarters because this entrance fee was cash only! (15 and over ($5), 4 to 14 ($1), and free for kids under 4.)

This garden is so worth it!! It is gorgeous, and especially right now! There are benches and places to meditate all along the beautiful path, though that wasn’t in the cards for our visit. But, the kids loved looking at the beautiful flowers, streams, waterfalls, koi, geese, peacocks, and more. Though we didn’t DO anything cultural here, the experience of walking around and taking in the garden WAS the Japanese experience and the kids (especially Kel) got it.The peacock was camera shy while we were there and would not turn around and show his beautiful feathers, but you can see him off in the distance (above). At the end of our visit we realized we hadn’t read our book and had actually left it in the car, so we decided we would read it later at home.  A few days earlier I went onto Pinterest and searched for children’s books about Japan.  There are lots of great blog posts about kids books on just about every topic you can think of, and this was the website I found for recommendations on books about Japan.  I then used this list to search what was available at the Fresno County Library.  The only one I could find that was available at our branch was “I Live in Tokyo“. (I wanted a book at our branch because I knew we’d be going on our outing in a few days and we didn’t have time to wait for a book to be shipped from another branch.) Luckily, this book was exactly what I had in mind!  The story shared a month to month account of a little girl’s experiences living in Tokyo, Japan.  It highlighted some of the unique aspects of Japanese culture and it showed some of the similarities to American culture.  It also included some of the food we had enjoyed for lunch and a Japanese garden, which Kel got really excited about!DSC_0016.jpgAlthough the day wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined, it really was great! The kids loved it and I think they may have learned a little something too!  At their age, I am not expecting them to understand it all, but rather to gain an appreciation of what makes different cultures unique and wonderful, as well as the fact that as people, we all have more in common than not.

Additional activity ideas: As a social studies teacher I often want to teach my kids all about history and culture… but I know they are way too young for a lot of it.  However, down the road I definitely want to take my kids to see the Pinedale Assembly Center Memorial, established to remind and educate visitors of the internment of Japanese-Americans that occurred in our area during World War II.  Here is another list of books  that would be great to include with this visit.

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