Saturday, May 30, 2015

Japanese Cherry Blossom Art

Inspired by these collages and these lovely paintings, we decided to do a combination of the two and make some multimedia pictures of Japanese cherry blossoms (or sakura.) We liked learning about the significance of sakura to the Japanese, and its symbolic associations with the samurai and the fragility of human life. This video tells more about cherry blossoms, and we also liked this book about the cherry trees Japan gave to the United States.

Utah actually has a similar story: Boy Scouts in Japan donated some cherry trees to the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake, but they had to be burned because of quarantine issues. You can read that story here.

We made these paintings by first washing a thin coat of blue paint onto watercolor paper (cut into long rectangles to look sort of like a Japanese scroll). Some of the children put a paper cup over their paper and painted around it to leave a white "moon" in the background.

Then we put lines of very watered-down brown tempura paint onto our papers and blew along the paint with a straw. This was supposed to move the paint organically down the paper and make it fork into natural-looking branches. It worked pretty well, though it was hard not to blow down and make a big blob on the paper. We got better at it as we went along. We also kept getting light-headed, so if you try this remember to take breaks every now and then.

Last, we put little squares of pink tissue paper around the eraser side of pencils, dipped them in glue, and pressed them onto the paper. I remember how much I liked doing this in kindergarten, and I STILL like it. It's just fun.
Some of the children wanted to write things on their pictures, so they looked up kanji characters and tried to copy them.
Junie's cherry tree. She did this all by herself. I like it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Using Chopsticks

Even though I try to practice with chopsticks whenever I can, I'm not very proficient with them. The children have hardly ever used them at all. But we played some games (all based around the idea of picking up mini-marshmallows with chopsticks) to help us get some idea, anyway, of how they are used.

We liked this graphic about chopstick etiquette.

There's an episode of "Begin Japanology" about chopsticks. We didn't ever get to watch this one, but we still plan to. (I would like to watch every episode of this show. I love it.)

And we love this finger math game called "chopsticks." Apparently this is a game children play in Japan. We had played it before and knew it as simply "sticks." But it's a really fun game—try it!
Daisy, picking something up with great concentration
"I did it!"
Abe and Seb are pretty much chopsticks pros. :)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Homemade Sushi Party

Before this unit, I had only tried sushi a few times. I liked it okay, but I didn't really…get it. It seemed faintly strange to me, and I worried about the raw fish, but mostly I just didn't see what the fuss was about and I felt like maybe I was missing something.

MAKING our own sushi somehow transformed it into a food that I understood! Putting all the components together myself made me realize how many variations in taste and texture sushi can utilize, and I realized that "sushi" wasn't just one thing, but a whole class of food that could be adjusted to suit almost any taste. It just suddenly made sense. 

I think the other thing that helped me understand it was just seeing in videos how carefully and lovingly Japanese chefs prepared their sushi. I saw what an art form it was and began to appreciate the visual and creative elements. Two videos we really liked were this one on the history of sushi, and this Begin Japanology episode on sushi. And then seeing, in those same videos, people enjoying and relishing their sushi so greatly, helped me get over the hump of feeling like it was a strange food, and just feel more like, "Wow, so many people like this and think it's delicious…I want to try it too!"

Oh—and it also helped when I learned that each piece of sushi was supposed to be eaten in one bite. I can't always manage that, of course, but I think the first few times I had sushi I just felt so awkward eating it, because it fell apart or I couldn't quite get it with the chopsticks. But when I looked at each piece as an entity meant to go together, where all the flavors were supposed to join and make one multi-layered taste, I was more willing to just stuff it into my mouth and enjoy that deep blend of flavor. And not worry about if it was messy or if I looked silly. :)

The children didn't have any preconceived notions about sushi, but they loved all the other Japanese food we'd tried, and they had seen all the same videos where it was made to look so delicious, so they were all excited to try it. Their absolute favorite thing, though, was this video we watched about conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan. They LOVED the idea of getting your food from a conveyor belt, right at your table! It's too bad we don't have restaurants like this around here because they would have been overcome with joy to go to one.
Failing a conveyor belt restaurant, though, making our own sushi was the next best thing, because everyone could prepare theirs just as they liked it. We had our friends the Rhodes come over and help us. They had mats for us to use for rolling, and Carrie Ann brought the most beautiful platter of fillings (is that what they're called?). Mango, cucumber, carrot, lemon, lime, avocado, cilantro, cream cheese. She arranged them into darling little fish and turtle shapes, which is so Japanese in spirit. It was perfect. I got our fish, tuna and salmon, from a Market Street Grill (restaurant) and had no concerns about its quality, and once I tasted how delicious it was in the sushi, I wasn't concerned about it being raw, either. It was so great to have the Rhodes with us because they knew what they were doing, and helped show us so we could feel confident too.
The rice was easy to make. We used what was called "sushi rice" at our grocery store. Before cooking it, I made sure to rinse it several times until the water was clear, and I followed the directions on the package, which were a little different than the usual 2:1 water to rice ratio. (It was 2 cups water to 1 1/2 cups rice.) Then Carrie Ann told me to add, for every two cups of uncooked rice, add 1 T. sugar and 2 T. rice vinegar. I made two double batches of rice, one in the rice cooker and one on the stovetop, and I thought both were equally good.

So, for future reference (because we will definitely be doing this again), let me write out the recipe as I made it:

Sushi Rice

4 cups water
3 cups rice
1 1/2 T. sugar
3 T. rice vinegar

Rinse rice several times in a colander over a bowl. Then drain excess water so you're left with just rice. Place rice in rice cooker or in saucepan. Add 4 c. water to the rice. Stir in sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil; cook, covered for 20 minutes (on stove) or as directed for rice cooker.
Malachi looks so sad, but I think he is just concentrating intently
Rolling the sushi was the best part. It was so fun to choose what combinations of things to put into your roll. I loved the salmon and the tuna, and I loved the bright flavor of the thin thin slices of lemon. Next time I want to perfect our sauces even more, but even the simple soy-sauce based sauces we made were quite good.
Todd was the best with the children. They ALL needed help at once, and he was always there to give it. Whereas I kept saying, "Just a minute, I'm making my OWN right now!"
We made some rice balls too, but I think everyone liked the sushi best. Seb arranged his plate with meticulous care, as we had learned how attentive the Japanese are to their food presentation.
Making our own sushi was also great because it allowed us to share the rolls really easily, and try a whole bunch of different combinations. There wasn't anything I didn't like. Everything was SO tasty!

Handmade Japanese Paper Lanterns

When I think of Japanese lanterns, the round or oblong ones like this come to mind first, but when I saw this tutorial showing how to make these really simple paper lanterns, I knew it would be a good project for the little girls. And it was. Really, sitting and cutting the lanterns was quite fun for all of us, but since Daisy and Junie were able to do it all by themselves, I think they were the most excited about it. The good thing about it being so simple is that even when the cuts were sort of uneven or crooked, the finished lanterns still looked good. That's a recipe for a successful kindergarten project. :)

We strung our paper lanterns (one string of mini-lanterns made from origami paper, one string of big lanterns made from 12x12 scrapbook paper) across our living room ceiling before our sushi party, and it gave the house such a fun, festive feeling. Then we left them up for the rest of our unit and enjoyed having our school area feel so Japanese and celebratory. They looked so pretty we hated to take them down at all!

In case you've forgotten from when you (inevitably) made these in elementary school, here is how to make this kind of paper lantern:

1. Fold a piece of paper in half. You can use square or rectangular paper; each will just give you a different lantern shape in the end. If you're using paper that's only decorated on one side, fold it with the colorful side facing out.

2. Make cuts all along the folded side of the paper. Don't cut all the way to the top; leave about a half-inch margin so you end up with a bunch of thin strips connected together:

It doesn't really matter if your strips are varying widths (in fact you can experiment with different widths to see what you like). Just make sure not to cut all the way through.

3. Open the paper up, turn it ninety degrees, and roll it into a tube shape. Connect the ends with a staple or a piece of tape.
And that's it! Malachi and Daisy ended up doing a presentation on Paper Lanterns for their 4-H Demonstration Contest, so they learned about all kinds of variations. You can punch holes for stringing lanterns together; you can add handles and decorative stripes; you can roll up a constrasting paper cylinder and stuff it inside to make the lantern look like it's glowing; and so forth—but the paper lantern at its most basic still looks lovely. I love the effect of a whole string of them in rainbow colors!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Japanese Origami; Origami Field Trip

Our favorite origami resource was a documentary about origami, called Between the Folds. If that link doesn't work (we found it on YouTube), type it into a search engine and find it elsewhere, because it was amazing. We loved it! There are so many uses for origami, from astronomy to medicine. The wet-fold techniques are fascinating. We definitely recommend watching this one!!

This is another fascinating video about origami in Japan.

By happy coincidence, the BYU Museum of Art had an Origami exhibit going on during our Japan Unit too, so we took a field trip to see it. We weren't allowed to take pictures of the exhibit, but there were amazing pieces like this one:
and others that you would never believe could be just folded or bent paper. Really cool to see. The children loved it and so did Sam and I.
And at the end of the exhibit, there was a station set up with iPads and step-by-step instructions for how to fold your own origami. The interface was pretty simple, so Malachi (age 7) could do it mostly by himself, but Daisy and Junie (age 4 and 5) needed my help. It was really fun; I could have stayed there for hours making things.
Some of our origami creations
We also got to see this Brian Kershisnik painting I've always really liked, so that was nice. And there was another exhibit upstairs called Deco Japan (about the Japanese Art Deco movement) that we really loved as well.
At Cub Scouts, Sebby learned to make these modular origami balls out of twelve folded sheets of paper. They look really cool. The children have made several, out of various colors and papers. There are detailed instructions for how to make them here.
A few other relevant links:

An origami robot that folds itself and walks away!

A picture of millions of paper cranes at the Peace Park in Hiroshima.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bento Picnic, and Onigiri (rice balls)

Japanese Bento (or bento boxes, as we sometimes say redundantly, since I think "bento" means "lunch box") are some of the cutest things ever. I know there has been a bit of an upsurge in the idea of cute, compartmentalized bento here in the U.S., and people come up with the cutest things! We looked at so many darling ideas:

At our Sushi Party we tried making the Baymax one and he turned out really cute. We just made him out of the sushi rice, though I read that onigiri don't always have the vinegar flavoring added. 

But…for our day learning about bento, I wasn't really interested in making too many time-intensive work-of-art lunches; mostly I wanted to make a few components and let the kids assemble their own in a bento-ish way.

It was Memorial Day, so Sam was home and we cooked a bunch of things for a bento picnic! We made onigiri (rice balls) and rolled them in sesame seeds and other seasonings, and potstickers and sauce (from Costco), and cheese squares and nuts and salad and strawberries and hard-boiled eggs and a few other things. A nice hodge-podge of a lunch. :)

I had these and these silicon cupcake holders to use to compartmentalize our boxes.

We also had these and these little food picks, which the children loved SO much.

Here are their lovely bento creations:
It was a great picnic. Everyone loved having their own self-contained, personalized lunches. They want to do bento picnics every time from now on! (I don't know…it is harder in some ways to assemble each lunch separately instead of just bringing a big vat of something and sharing it. But then, it is nice to have everyone's pre-portioned out, too.)
It was a beautiful, hot, cloudy day. Later than night we had a bit of rain, but the weather was perfect while we were picnicking. We loved it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Samurai, Ninja, and Martial Arts

Ky dressed as a ninja—does he look scary? :)
I knew we would like learning about the Japanese samurai, and we did. But I didn't know that ninja would be so interesting! (Side note: we learned that Japanese doesn't have a separate plural form, so that's why you can say "many samurai" and "one samurai," for example. I think it is also acceptable to use the -s ending when you're speaking English, though.) All I ever knew about ninja was the pop culture stuff from movies, etc., so it surprised me that there were so many cool real-life stories! We loved learning about all the tricks they used: disguises, secret doorways, hallways made to squeak when an intruder walked on them, hollowed-out floors where you could store secret documents, etc. There are tons of books at the library about both ninja and samurai. We especially liked this book showing detailed pictures of a samurai castle, and this book about ninja. This book had some interesting stories too.
We also liked learning about the history of karate, ninjutsu, and other martial arts. The children have never had karate lessons or anything, so I asked Jessie at Riverton Karate if she could show us a little bit about what karate was and where it came from. She was awesome—she gave the kids a free lesson and they had a great time.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...