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Bring Japanese culture closer to home with these fun mix of activities featuring modern and traditional games that you can do with your kids. We also included resources for the Japanese language for anyone who wishes to learn at home.
As parents and educators, we believe that learning about cultures helps children appreciate diversity and cultivate a keen interest in the world at large. Here, we bring you a mix of Japanese cultural activities, from modern learning, Japanese crafts to traditional games that you can explore with your kids at home.
Through each activity, you can introduce Japanese culture by weaving storytelling or music or dance as inspiration. We hope you get to teach your kids something new, but most importantly discover the joy and new hobbies along the way!
10 Japanese Cultural Activities and Games For Kids
1. Fold Your Wishes Origami 折り紙
In Japanese, “ori” means “to fold” and “kami” means “paper”. It is an art of paper folding that has been practiced in Japan since the Edo period. Almost every Japanese schoolkid learns how to fold origami. It’s one of the best crafts to cultivate mathematical & conceptual thinking and engineering skills.
To create meaningful origami with your kids at home, you can start off by making origami cranes together. The crane is the ‘bird of happiness’ and is believed to live for a thousand years. It has also become a symbol of peace, hope, kindness, and healing. You can string paper cranes together and hang them in front of your door, or give it as a gift.
Share this One Thousand Paper Cranes story with your kids.
2. Listen, Bend & Stretch with Japanese Morning Exercise ラジオ体操
Start your morning routine at home with Japanese Radio Taisō! These exercises are catered to all ages and are broadcasted nationwide in Japan every day for nearly 70 years!
JOC team member Seimi does these light exercises with her siblings regularly and she reckons this makes a fun family bonding time. You can set up a video conferencing with grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins to do this together too!
3. Card Games
Modern and popular card games such as Sushi Go makes a great activity to keep kids entertained while learning about Japanese culture. You can also go with a deluxe version that accommodates up to 8 players. It’s the perfect game to play when you throw a sushi dinner at home.
Lingo Playing Game is another fun one for kids who are learning the Japanese language.
4. See The World with Haiku 俳句
Haiku is a uniquely Japanese form of poetry that uses vivid words to express a feeling or a moment in just short, simple lines. They are easy and fun and help encourage creative writing.
Channel your inner poet by throwing a family haiku contest at home. It can be silly or serious, or based on a theme-of-the-day!
If you need some ideas, this Step-By-Step Guidebook is a great one to get.
5. Discover Japan with Virtual Walk
Stay active as a family while learning about Japan by taking a virtual climb up to Mt. Fuji using Google or around the cities in Japan using this app. Take advantage of Visit Japan Youtube channel to explore beautiful landscapes and the distinct seasons of Japan.
6. Oni Gokko (Hide & Seek) 鬼ごっこ
Oni Gokko is a Japanese version of a tag game with just one person being “it”. The person is called ‘oni’ or demon in the Japanese tradition. The Oni (鬼) is a mythical figure with a human body and horns that appears in many Japanese children’s stories.
To play this game, the Oni counts to ten with the eyes closed while the rest of the people hide. When the oni is done counting, he/she yells “Are you ready?” (Mou ii kai). Everyone would yell back “We’re ready” (Mou ii yo) or “Not yet” (Mada da yo). Then the Oni searches for each of the children or hiders. When the Oni finds one, he/ she would tap on them and that new person becomes the next Oni.
When playing the Japanese hide and seek at home, you can modify the game or make it fun by putting on a DIY demon mask. Check out these few other ways to play the game.
7. Bounce & Catch with Kendama けん玉
Kendama is a traditional Japanese toy that has taken the world by storm in recent years. The wooden toy consists of a ken (sword), a pair of cups, and tama (ball) that are connected together by a length of a string.
It’s the Japanese version of the cup-and-ball game. For Kendama, the players bounce using their knees and pull the ball upward so that it may either be caught in one of the cups or land on the spike. Over the past decade, Kendama received a surge of popularity all over the world that you can find annual competitions held in different countries. It’s a fun game you can play anywhere.
8. Juggling Otedama お手玉
Otedama is a traditional Japanese juggling game for kids, usually girls, that involves small beanbags. It is very similar to jacks where you toss, juggle and balance.
The rule goes by these easy steps:
- Scatter five beanbags on the floor
- Pick up one and toss it into the air
- With the same hand, pick up another beanbag and catch the falling one.
- Repeat until all the beanbags are picked up.
- Start again, but this time, pick up two bags at each toss, then three bags, then four bags.
- Finally, toss five beanbags into the air and catch as many as you can on the back of the same hand. Flip the bags that you caught into the air again and catch as many as you can in the palm of the same hand.
You can make bean bags at home by sewing together colorful fabric scraps and azuki beans.
9. Japanese Caligraphy (Shodo) 書道
In Japanese elementary schools, children learn the basics of calligraphy from a class called ‘Shuji’ (penmanship). It is considered a high art as this form of writing helps to cultivate concentration, endurance, and expression of beauty.
10. Cooking Delicious Japanese Food At Home
Cooking with kids is the best way to introduce a culture to them. Make it fun by letting them choose their favorite dishes. We have compiled a list of easy recipes that you can cook with your kids.
Additional Japanese Language Resources
Do you wish to learn more about Japanese culture?
Will you give any of the above ideas a try? What would you like to learn more about? Leave us a comment below!
We hope you and your children enjoy the special time together and that these activities bring a slice of Japanese culture to your home!
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Originally from Penang, Malaysia, Reese lives in Minnesota with her husband and their baby boy. She previously ran an Asian spice shop, and also worked on UNESCO Heritage projects in Penang in the areas of performing arts, history, and arts education. Reese loves spending time with her family, listening to podcasts, and reading up on art & design. And of course, dreaming of another trip to Japan to hike mountain trails and eat her favorite street food Okonomiyaki. More from Reese →