Lesson Plans - The Art of Japan

Art of Japan

Submitted by: Catherine Kerch – Holy Family Catholic Academy, Honolulu, Hawaii

Unit: Japan Art Thematic
Grade Level:
5-8 (several of these lessons can be adapted to lower grades)



To introduce students to the Art of Japan, it’s culture and people.



Students will learn about the cultural history of Japan and experience the visual art of block printing, sculpture, origami, ceramics, gyotaku (fish printing), and anime.



Netsuke example


  • Introduce students to the culture of Japan.

  • Provide visual exemplary of Netsuke and Sagemono.

  • Show students PPT on Netsukes.

  • Explain to students that they will carve animal out of clay. They will also need to pierce the clay to create two holes large enough to string a cord through. They will also carve a bead for their netsuke. Finally, they will sew a Sagemono and attach their Netsuke to it using a silk or nylon cord; as shown on the PPT.

  • Demonstrate Relief Sculpting with Clay.

  • Demonstrate Sewing of Sagemono.

  • Have students draw out their Netsuke and Bead designs before carving.

  • Have students research Netsukes and their origins in Japan. Include in the paper a description of their netsuke and its symbolic meaning. 2 Page, Typed, with Resources cited.

  • Allow 5 class periods to complete


The Art of Carving Netsuke.- A guide to making miniature sculptures that were invented in 17th-century Japan to serve a practical purpose. It features nine projects and detailed instruction for carving realistic impressions of scales, feathers, fur, hair and more.


Netsuke. - This superbly illustrated volume examines netsuke in the context of Japanese life and details the origins of designs that have evolved through the centuries.


See many images at the Sagemonoya Art Museum in Japan. Also see this 5th grade lesson.


Kimono sculptures

Image from Rain Drop Boutique. No longer online




  • Introduce students to the culture of Japan.

  • Provide visual exemplary of Kimonos.

  • Show students PPT on Kimonos.

  • Explain to students that they will be creating a kimono from clay.

  • Demonstrate slab and coil, slip and score, and basic hand build techniques.

  • Demonstrate how to mold clay into kimono shape.

  • Have students draw out their Kimono designs before starting.

  • Allow 5 class periods to complete.


The Book of Kimono: The Complete Guide to Style and Wear. - The author founded the Sodo Kimono Academy, the first institute of its kind to encourage the wearing of Japan's national dress in everyday life. His movement has spread throughout Japan, and more than five million people have been taught how to wear the kimono by the fifty thousand consultants the academy has graduated.


Kimono as Art. - This illustrated book showcases fifty-five masterworks by Japanese kimono artist Itchiku Kubota (1917-2003). Kubota ultimately invented a unique method of decoration. His work combines stitch-resist and ink drawing with a complex layering of color to achieve hauntingly beautiful landscapes with richly textured surfaces and an impressionistic rendering of nature never before seen in the textile arts.

Daruma sample DARUMA



  • Introduce students to the culture of Japan.

  • Provide visual exemplary of Daruma.

  • Read students story about the Buddhist Monk, Bodhidharma, whom the Daruma is based on.

  • Explain to students that they will be creating a daruma doll with papier mache.

  • Demonstrate papier mache techniques with balloon.

  • Have students research the Daruma doll and its significance to the Japanese people as a folk idol. 1 page, typed with Resources cited.

  • Allow 3 class periods to complete.

NOTE: So darumas are made with no arms or legs. They have weighted bottoms so that no matter how you roll them, they will always return right side up. Add extra layers of strips to the bottom, rounded end. This will give the bottom the extra weight it needs so that the daruma will end up in an upright position. See more Daruma images.


Sample Daruma Dolls

Kokeshi dollKOKESHI DOLL



  • Introduce students to the culture of Japan.

  • Provide visual exemplary of Kokeshi Doll.

  • Show students PPT of Kokeshi Dolls.

  • Demonstrate constructing Kokishi doll with wooden dowel and ball cap.

  • Have students draw a design of their Kokishi doll before starting.

  • Allow 2 class periods to complete.

See Kokeshi Doll images online.


Sample Kokeshi Dolls




  • Show students PPT of Japanese Wood Block Printing.

  • Have students choose and read Japanese Folklore.

  • Explain to students that they will be creating a Japanese Block Print and printing the block using Japanese watercolor on acid free cardstock.

  • Demonstrate step by step printing techniques with one color at a time.

  • Demonstrate applying the design then carving the block. Remind students of safety using sharp instruments.

  • Have students draw a Japanese Folklore for their block print design before starting.

  • Allow 10 class periods to complete.

Sample prints


Noh mask Materials:


1. Show PPT on Hawaiian Noh Masks.

2. Provide visual exemplary of Noh Masks.

3. Demonstrate hand building clay technique of slab and coil.

4. Demonstrate making a mask armature with newspaper and constructing the base of the Noh Masks.

5. Have students draw a design of the Noh Masks before starting.

6. Allow 4 classes




  • Show students PPT of Obon Lanterns.

  • Show visual exemplary of Obon Lantern.

  • Explain Obon Festival and purpose of lanterns.

  • Demonstrate Sumi-e calligraphy painting with brush and Indian ink.

  • Have students practice making Sumi-e calligraphy shapes and writings.

  • Demonstrate painting on Rice Paper and constructing Obon Lanterns.

  • Have students create a spiritual scene for their Obon Lantern panels and write a brief description of why they choose their theme.

  • Spray paint Styrofoam black and assemble lantern with optional tea light.

  • Allow 1 to 2 class periods.

See more history about Japanese Lantern Festivals on IAD. See a good page on Sumi-E painting.



Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting. - Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting provides step-by-step, photo-by-photo instructions to guide learners in the correct form, motions and techniques of sumi-e featuring gorgeous images and practical advice, it includes guided instructions for 35 different paintings.


The Sumi-E Book. - Sumi-e, translated from Japanese as "ink picture," is an ideal vehicle for teaching art to any beginner. This introduction to Sumi-e is organized simply and clearly around its four basic brush strokes. 120 illustrations.


Japanese Ink Painting: The Art of Sumi-e. - This study of Japanese ink painting is as much about philosophy and poetry as it is about putting brush to paper. Artisan Okamoto clearly describes the unique materials and techniques involved, and she beautifully illustrates each lesson.

anime ANIME



  • Show students visual exemplary of Anime cartoons (Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, and Manga).

  • Provide students with handout of step by step Anime Drawing techniques.

  • 5th and 6th Grade students will focus on creating an Anime portrait of themselves on white paper and use color pencils. 7th Grade will create an original Anime Cartoon Poster and write an introductory story explaining their cartoon character. 7th Grade will also color their posters using color chalk and pastels.

  • Demonstrate Anime character drawing.

  • Demonstrate using color chalk and pastels.

  • Have students draw their character before creating their final portrait or cartoon.

  • Allow 4 class periods to complete.


The Complete Idiot's Guide to Drawing Manga. - This guide teaches manga lovers how to create their own characters and stories. From bodies to the nuts and bolts of "mech", readers will learn all the basics necessary to start rendering the exotic worlds and creative characters that attracted them to manga as readers.


Kids Draw Anime. - By a familiar writer of how-to-draw books, these large-format paperbacks explain the basics of drawing in the style of anime (Japanese animated films) and manga (Japanese comics).

origami ORIGAMI



  • Read students the story "Sadako". Discuss the story with the students and talk about the importance of the symbol of the origami crane. Talk about Peace Day and making 1001 cranes for Memorial Day, May 23.

  • Show students PPT of Origami paper art and sculpture.

  • Demonstrate making a paper crane.

  • 5th Graders will create 1 to 10 Peace Cranes. 6th Grade will create an original Origami Sculpture that is approximately 5" to 10" high. Sculptures must have a theme.

  • Allow 1 class period for 5th Grade and 3 to 4 class periods for 6th grade.

Link: Origami Club - According to Makio Kawashima, Japanese art teacher, the site is "The most popular and famous origami web site on the planet."



Easy Origami. - A collection of 32 projects for novice origami hobbyists, clearly illustrated with easy-to-follow instructions that even beginning papercrafters can follow with successful results. Subjects range from an ultra-simple hat, cup and pinwheel to the more challenging figures of a penguin and a piano.


Genuine Origami: 43 Mathematically-Based Models, From Simple to Complex. - Jun Maekawa approaches origami from the perspective of mathematical and geometric principles. Maekawa takes readers, step-by-step, through the fundamentals of his method, beginning with the basics and guiding them through simple figures (a mouse, an elephant, Santa Claus) all the way up to highly sophisticated models.



  • Fresh Dead Fish and/or Prawns

  • Watercolor Paint. (Red, Black or Dark Blue)

  • Newsprint. (if you can get a hold of a copy of Hawaii Hochi that would better a plus)

  • Plastic Gloves for Seafood Allergies


  • Show students visual exemplary of GyoTaku.

  • Explain to students the background behind Japanese GyoTaku prints and their documentary purpose to artistic appreciation.

  • Demonstrate setting up the Fresh Dead Fish for printing and create one print.

  • Have students paint their fish with watercolors and print on newsprint paper.

  • This project looks fantastic when printed on an actual Japanese Newspaper like Hawaii Hochi.

  • NOTE: Provide plastic gloves for students with fish or seafood allergies.

GyoTaku sample



Gyotaku Fish Impressions: The Art of Japanese Fish Printing. - Gyotaku is the art of "fish rubbings" on rice paper. But that description comes nowhere close to revealing the brilliance and magic of this artform that Olander is now making very accessible to the Western world. He thoroughly describes the art process and then offers a description of each of the 53 large plates Also see this link..


Japanese teacup Materials:


  • Show students visual exemplary of Japanese Tea Cup.

  • Show students PPT of Japanese Tea Ceremony.

  • Discuss Japanese Tea Ceremony and its spiritual purpose.

  • Discuss Japanese Haiku (5-7-5). Provide examples of Haiku poetry.

  • Demonstrate clay hand building technique of pinch pot, use of clay tools and basic clay skills.

  • Have students create a pinch pot cha cup similar to the exemplary.

  • Have students write a Haiku and draw a picture to be painting on their cha cup.

  • Allow 4 to 6 class periods to complete.


This is a 10-14 week course that meets twice a week for 90 minutes per grade level.



Haiku - Asian Arts and Crafts For Creative Kids. - Gr. 4-8. Although this looks like a picture book for young readers, it is actually a comprehensive introduction to haiku that poetry students of many ages can enjoy.;

Haiga: Takebe Socho and the Haiku-Painting Tradition. - Like its subject, this book combines art and literature in a wonderfully unpretentious yet tasteful fusion. The artwork in this book, like haiku itself, is deceptively simple, evocative while minimalist, and humorously serious.

Haiku Garden : Four Seasons In Poems And Prints. - Some 120 haiku by such masters as Basho, Issa, and Buson—all written on themes of the beauty of nature—are combined with the woodblock prints and paintings of the great artists of classical Japan. The poems appear both in skillful English translation, as well as in the original Japanese.


* See Japanese Scrolls lesson for more.



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