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Once Upon A Time In Japan: Exploring Japanese Culture Through Books

Once Upon A Time In Japan: Exploring Japanese Culture Through Books

While we don’t have the money to travel all over the world, (nor am I a big traveler myself) I do think it is important for kids to be able to see and experience other cultures, to understand that their way of living is not the only one out there. One great way to do this without having to leave home is through great literature. You can read about how other cultures live, what their traditions, homes, and food are like, how their government works, and so much more. We are exploring Japanese culture through books in our homeschool. And beyond the books we have found some great websites and activities to enrich our view of the Japanese culture.

Once Upon A Time in Japan: Exploring Japanese Culture Through Books from Starts At Eight

I received the books pictured above in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions below are mine and I was not required to write a positive review. Please see my full disclosure policy for more details.

Exploring Japanese Culture Through Books

1. The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

This book tells the true story of a bonsai tree called Miyajima that lived with the same family in the Japanese city of Hiroshima for more than 300 years before being donated to the National Arboretum in Washington DC in 1976.

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

Told from the perspective of the bonsai tree and coupled with full page illustrations, this story tells a tale of caring, introduces an aspect of Japanese culture, and touches on a difficult moment in history. This inspiring story of the Peace Tree is a great read for children of all ages.

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

Bonsai Activities

2. Once Upon a Time in Japan

This book is a collection of eight stories from the NHK Broadcasting Corporations popular radio series Once Upon a Time in Japan. Each story is illustrated by a different Japanese artist.

Once Upon A Time in Japan

The fairytales and classic stories in this collection include:

  • The Wife Who Never Eats—the story of a man who learns the hard way the evils of stinginess.
  • The Mill of the Sea—the story of how a greedy man was responsible for the saltiness of sea water.
  • The Monkey and the Crab—the crabs teach a tricky monkey a lesson in fairness and honesty.
  • The Magical Hood—an act of kindness reaps great rewards.
  • Sleepyhead Taro and the Children—a story about what can be accomplished at the right time, and with the right help and the right spirit.
  • The Fox and the Otter—how a fox pays the price of deceit and selfishness.
  • The Gratitude of the Crane—a story about the rewards of kindness and the danger of curiosity.
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter—a girl who starts life very tiny turns out to be big in many ways.

Once Upon A Time in Japan

While my 9 year old can read, and I could read to her as well, she LOVED having the accompanying CD to this book. Having a storyteller reading it to her made for a great snowy day afternoon curled up with the book.

The illustrations are fun and whimsical. Having a different Japanese artist do each story made each one creative and unique in its own way. We loved how many of them showed their “inner characteristics” on the outside.

Once Upon A Time In Japan

A Few Facts About Japan

  • Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and also the largest city. Other major cities include Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo.
  • Japan is home to many different forms of martial arts. Karate, Judo, Sumo, Ninjutsu, Kendo, Jujutsu, and Aikido to name a few.
  • Sumo is recognized as the national sport of Japan, although the most popular spectator sport is baseball.
  • Japan hosted the 1964 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo and will again in 2020. They also hosted the 1972 and 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo and Nagano, respectively.
  • Some of the most well-known companies in the world are Japanese such as Toyota, Honda, Sony, Nintendo, Canon, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.
  • Japanese cuisine has become popular around the world. Some well-known dishes are sushi, sashimi and tempura.
  • Japan sits along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, so has many volcanoes and experiences many earthquakes. In 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 hit Japan and created a tsunami which resulted in much devastation.
  • Almost three quarters of Japan’s land is either forest or mountains and is difficult to be made into farms, industrial or residential areas.
  • Japan belongs to the continent of Asia. Japan is an island nation surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
  • Japan is made up of 6,852 islands.
  • The highest point in Japan in Mount Fuji, which stands at 3,776m (12,388ft).

Resources To Learn More About Japan

Children's Books About Japan from Starts At Eight


  1. Pragmatic Mom
    Jan 27, 2016 @ 10:28:25

    I’m half Japanese so I especially enjoyed and appreciated your great book round up and reviews! Thanks so much for joining us and sharing at Multicultural Children’s Book Day!!!

    Jan 27, 2016 @ 10:44:12

    These look like such beautiful books. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed them. Thank you for celebrating with us and for sharing. Happy MCCBD Day !!!

  3. wilhcarm
    Jan 28, 2016 @ 11:17:42

    My daughter loves Japan and stories like these! She will probably want this, too. Thanks so much!

  4. craftymomsshare
    Jan 28, 2016 @ 12:08:54

    We love these books at my house. So glad your family is enjoying them as well. Thank you for reviewing it for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!

  5. Crystal McClean
    May 26, 2016 @ 15:03:31

    My children are listening to the Once Upon a Time in Japan disc right now as they drift off to sleep – they love it!

  6. Heidi
    May 26, 2016 @ 17:35:46

    That is awesome Crystal! My son always loved going to sleep to books on disc.

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