Japanese Media Resources Under $40
Last issue this column discussed quality resources focusing on China that could be found for under $30. This time I chose to concentrate on Japan, perhaps the most popular Asian country to teach, especially at the K-12 level. Unsurprisingly, I had no shortage of materials to sort through and many I wanted to recommend. The ones finally decided upon are, in my opinion, representative of the best cheaply available media resources focusing on the following three areas: traditional art-forms, the wartime period, and modern Japanese culture.
Living Traditions: Introducing Japan's Visual, Performing, and Literary Art Forms
Japan is famous for its rich artistic heritage, a legacy that has been carefully preserved and developed for centuries. In 1980, National Geographic produced the Living Treasures of Japan, a 60-minute documentary featuring a number of JapanÕs finest artisans. Recognized by the Japanese government as the top of their respective crafts, these artists are responsible for teaching the next generation their skills, which include doll-making, weaving, sword-making, koto, and puppetry, among others. Another similar documentary suitable for high school and college students is The Tradition of Performing Arts in Japan, part of Japan: The Land and Its People series. Performing Arts contains extensive footage of traditional Japanese theater, focusing on Noh, Bunraku puppetry, and Kabuki. Although this documentary could feature more historical background, the performance clips are impressive and well explained.
There is also a multitude of slide and audiocassette units that focus on Japanese art. Japan: Images and Words is composed of a 64-page lesson book, 13 photos, and 6 slides. Designed for sixth-grade language arts classes, the main goal of this unit is to teach students how they can learn about a society through looking at its artwork. The first lessons compare Western and Japanese techniques and show connections between artwork and folktales. The final lessons instruct students how to create their own screens, a task that will probably involve purchasing additional materials, such as ink, brushes, and calligraphy paper. Another unit, which requires nothing except some creativity, is the literary arts curriculum, The Haiku Moment, available in elementary and secondary editions. Complete with 21 slides and an audiocassette, the secondary edition teaches students how to write Japanese poetry, using the traditional 5-7-5 pattern and explains how seasonal changes and Zen Buddhism have inspired haiku masters. The elementary edition, which focuses on writing simple haiku, includes 12 slides and a tape.
Japan at War: Views of WWII and the Post-War Experience
Even after over fifty years, Japan's role in the Second World War is still hotly contested. Finding well-balanced accounts of this conflict is very difficult, especially for under $40. Unfortunately, the videos I viewed that were critical of Japan's conduct (rightly so in many cases), also tended to use rather racist language that I am uncomfortable endorsing. Therefore, all of the videos I decided to recommend tend to adopt a pacifist stance and avoid glorifying either side of the conflict.
The Japanese version of the war (or at least one moderate view) is beautifully conveyed in the animated feature, Graveyard of the Fireflies. In this story, two young children, orphaned and scorned by their kin, try to survive on their own in an increasingly desperate war-torn nation. This feature is too intense for young children, but older students (8th grade-College) will gain a greater appreciation for the toll military conflict takes on all members of society, even innocent four-year old children. Another film that discusses World War II's effect on Japanese children is the U.S.-produced family feature Hiroshima Maiden. Set in 1950s America, this hour-long video details the experience of a suburban family who decide to take in a young woman from Hiroshima so that her extensive scars can be treated by local plastic surgeons. Harassed by his Jap-hating buddies, the family's elder son must come to terms with peer pressure, racism against Japanese people, and the effect war (especially atomic war) has on civilians. The young Japanese woman is faced with constant rejection in both the United States and Japan. This film is a great vehicle for teaching fourth through tenth graders acceptance of different people as well as WWII and post-war history. For teachers looking for a more in-depth analysis of the atomic bombings, Hiroshima: Why the Bomb Was Dropped, an hour and a half special produced by ABC News, debates questions such as: Was the dropping of the bomb really necessary? How many lives did it actually save? Were there alternative courses of action? Although this documentary clearly takes the perspective that the United States was wrong to drop the bomb, high school and college educators can utilize it to initiate a two-sided discussion.
Two documentaries can be used to teach about the Occupation period following WWII, The Pacific Century: Reinventing Japan and Occupied Japan: An Experiment in Democracy. Both of these videos feature many of the same photographs, footage, and interviewers and are appropriate for high school and college students, but of the two, Occupied is somewhat more critical of the American occupation.
New Directions: Japan in the Modern Era
Neither the Noh scene from The Tradition of Performing Arts in Japan, nor the maimed face of the Hiroshima Maiden portray an accurate image of Japan today. Teachers wishing to convey to their students that Japan is a modern, evolving society should check the following videos. For elementary school children, Families of Japan, part of the Families of the World Series, records one day in the life of two young children and their families. Similar in format to the Families of China video I recommended in the last issue, Families of Japan features two fifteen minute segments, one about a boy who lives in a rural area and, the other, a girl from the city. Older students wanting to know about their Japanese peers can watch Suburban Tokyo High School Students or The College Years, the first two videos in the Video Letter II from Japan series. Produced in the late 1980s, these films are also narrated in the first person and relate the experiences of both boys and girls. Asia Video Reports-Japan, a series co-produced by AEMS, features real footage from Japanese news programs and is accompanied by detailed teacher's guides. Four fifteen-minute tapes detail different aspects of Japanese culture including arts and crafts, festivals and holidays, food, and housing.