Don’t Miss these Books about Japan for Children!

Books to learn about Japan with kids

One of the easiest ways to learn about and experience another country’s culture is to be transported there through books. Do you want to explore Japan with your children? Don’t miss these fabulous titles the whole family can enjoy!

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Japanese Folk Tales and Fairy Tales

The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, Katherine Paterson

Watercolor and pastel paintings in the style of Japanese woodcuts from the 18th century provide a lovely accompaniment to this retelling of a Japanese folktale.

The Crane Wife, Odds Bodkin

A poignant re-telling of a beloved Japanese folktale.

The Paper Crane, Molly Bang

A uniquely-illustrated retelling of a Japanese folktale.

The Boy of the Three-Year Nap, Dianne Snyder

This Caldecott Honor Book tells a humorous folktale about a Japanese mother and her lazy son.

The Funny Little Woman, Arlene Mosel

This Caldecott Medal book is a humorous retelling of a fairy tale from Japan.

History and Culture of Japan

A Pair of Red Clogs, Masako Matsuno

Beautifully and uniquely illustrated, this is the story of a young Japanese girl and her love for her red wooden clogs.

Kamishibai Man, Allen Say

Kamishibai means “paper theater.” This picture book shares a story of a traditional storyteller and his audience.

Crow Boy, Taro Yashima

This Caldecott Honor book tells the story of a neglected outsider, a young boy who is ignored by his classmates for 6 years. It demonstrates the power of kindness and acceptance.

Tsunami!, Kimiko Kajikawa

Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village, watches from the top of the mountain as a tsunami approaches the beach, threatening the lives of all the villagers below. Will he be able to save them?

Yoko’s Paper Cranes, Rosemary Wells

A sweet story about folding paper cranes and letting them fly with your love to family far away.

Tokyo City Trails, Anna Claybourne

This is a colorful book that gives travel suggestions, stories, and interesting tidbits about modern Tokyo.

Cross-Cultural and Japanese-American Experiences

Grandfather’s Journey, Allen Say

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Another wonderful, personal story from Allen Say! This Caldecott Medal book gives a unique glimpse into the cross-cultural life of a man from Japan who spent some time living in America.

The Way We Do It In Japan, Geneva Cobb Iijima

This is a story about Gregory, a young boy whose mother is from Kansas and whose father is from Japan. They lived in San Francisco, but one day they moved to Japan. Gregory learns that many things are done differently in Japan, but some things remain the same.

How My Parents Learned to Eat, Ina R. Friedman

A delightful story about a young couple in love, one from Japan and one from America, and the (sometimes challenging) time they have eating in each other’s cultures.

This is How We Do It- One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, Matt Lamothe

The author interviewed 7 actual children from 7 different countries, and used their photographs and descriptions of life to write and illustrate this book. In addition to following Kei in Japan, you also can compare/contrast the lives of children from Italy, Uganda, Russia, India, Iran, and Peru.

Tea with Milk, Allen Say

The inspiring tribute to Say’s own parents, this lovely story tells the story of Masako, who grows up in America, but whose family returns to Japan after she graduates high school. Her parents want her to marry and be a traditional Japanese girl. She feels she will never be at home in Japan.

Books about Japan for Children

Simple Chapter Books for Older Children (or Read Alouds)

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, Eleanor Coerr

This short chapter book is a fictionalized biography of a young Japanese girl who really did succumb to Leukemia as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima. Sad, yes, but also full of sweetness and hope. Due to the tragic content, I’d encourage caution with sensitive children.

Hachiko Waits, Leslea Newman

This simple chapter book is based on a true story. Professor Ueno’s faithful dog waits for him to return home from work at the train station each day, until one day the train arrives without the professor. Hachiko waits for him faithfully for 10 years.

Night of the Ninjas, Mary Pope Osborne and its non-fiction companion guide, Ninjas and Samurai

The Magic Treehouse Series can be a great option for emerging or reluctant readers. The non-fiction companion guides are a bit longer and may be more challenging for young readers, but provide a helpful resource to understand more about the historical background. In this case, the focus is on the Ninjas and Samurais of ancient Japan.

I survived The Japanese Tsunami, 2011

The “I Survived” series may draw in reluctant readers with the hair-raising adventures and experiences described. Due to the content, please use caution with sensitive children.

The Big Wave, Pearl S. Buck

Kino lives on the side of a mountain in Japan and his friend, Jiya, lives in a fishing village below.  Tragedy strikes Jiya’s family when a tsunami comes. This brief chapter book is written by the famous author of The Good Earth. Due to the content, please use caution with sensitive children.

Hands-On Activities to Learn about Japan with Children

Recipe and Craft Guide to Japan, Juliet Haines Mofford

Each craft and recipe is accompanied by an explanation of its place in Japanese history or culture.

Asian Kites, Wayne Hosking

A great resource for crafting Japanese-style kites! It includes a section on kites from Malaysia, Thailand, and Korea as well.

Want to explore more relating to Japanese history and culture? Learn about haiku with children of all ages!

Not a book, but a simple way to grasp the geography of Japan!

Art work sources: Under the Wave off Kanagawa, Ariwara no Narihira, and A Peasant Crossing a Bridge

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