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Festivals of JapanBookmark

Learning area: The Arts
Year level: Foundation, Year 1, Year 2
Country: Japan

This learning sequence explores some of the Japanese festivals, including the Star Festival and Japan's Children's Day, and provides the opportunity for students to make festival lanterns and kites.

Key inquiry questions

  • Where is Japan, what does it look like and what are some of the customs?
  • What festivals do the Japanese celebrate and what happens during the Star Festival and Japan's Children's Day?
  • What are some of the decorations used during these festivals and how do we make them? 

Paper stars are strung up in a tree for a Japanese festivalJapanese Star Festival star decorations


Asagaya Star Festival 2006 by skyseeker‪‪‪‪‬‬ (CC BY 2.0)

Related resources

Activity 1: About Japan and its people

In this activity, students will:

  • identify where Japan is on a map and learn about the country, its people and some of their customs
  • need realia such as Japanese objects, images and photos.

Key inquiry question: Where is Japan, what does it look like and what are some of the customs?

  1. Use a wall map of the Asia region to explain to students where Japan is.
  2. Identify where Australia is on the map and discuss with students how far away Japan is from our country.
  3. Discuss how we could travel to Japan.
  4. Show a short video, for example YouTube clip, that features sights and scenes from Japan.
  5. Create a concept map with Japan at its centre and ask students to brainstorm what they now know about the country.
  6. Ask students to select items, images or photos from the realia table and tell the other students what they are about.
  7. Invite students to make comments about the presented items.
  8. Create a Japanese corner for the duration of the learning sequence so that students can add to the collection of objects and spend more time touching and exploring them.

The Weaver Princess and the cowherd

  1. Introduce your students to a traditional Japanese story The Weaver Princess and the cowherd. Provide students with background information about the story:
    • On 7 July Japan celebrates the Tanabata or Star Festival. Japanese children make special bamboo tree decorations.
    • Branches of bamboo grass are covered with paper decorations, and children write their wishes for the year on long strips of paper which they hang from the branches.
    • Adults write haiku poems on strips of paper which they attach to the bamboo trees.
    • The festival itself dates from medieval times. Through Japanese folklore, the story about the Weaver Princess, who fell in love with a cowherd, is now associated with the festival.
    • According to the story, when they fell in love they forgot to work. The Heavenly Emperor banished them to either end of the Milky Way.
    • On 7 July of each year they can cross the Milky Way to renew their love for each other.
  2. Read the story which is a retelling of the original story. After the reading, ask the students the following questions:
    • What did you like or not like about the story?
    • Who was your favourite character and why?

Explain to the students that the story is celebrated as the Star Festival on 7 July and that children make special bamboo tree decorations from strips of paper with wishes written on them. These are tied to a tree.

About Japan

Japan lies on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, east of the Korean Peninsula. The country consists of several thousand islands, but the four largest and most populous are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The Sea of Japan lies on the north-western coast and to the east is the North Pacific Ocean. The total length of the Japanese coastline is approximately 30,000 kilometres longer than Australia's. Japan is 377,900 square kilometres in area, about one-twentieth the size of Australia.

About two-thirds of the total land area is forested. The majority of Japanese farmland is dedicated to rice production, but more recently the amount of land used in farming has decreased. Some 75 percent of the total land area is mountainous, with tall mountain ranges creating a spine through the centre of the archipelago. The tallest mountain in Japan is Mount Fuji, standing at 3,776 metres. Japan is prone to floods, typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The climate varies greatly from region to region owing to the fact that the Japanese archipelago measures well over 2,500 kilometres from its northernmost to southernmost tip. Most regions experience a rainy season from mid-June to mid-July and typhoons from August to October. Much of northern Honshu and northern Hokkaido is covered with snow in the winter months.

The approximate populations of the five largest cities in Japan are:

  • Tokyo – 8 million
  • Yokohama – 3.3 million
  • Osaka – 2.6 million
  • Nagoya – 2.1 million
  • Sapporo –1.7 million

One-quarter of the total population lives within a 50 kilometre radius of Tokyo. Japan is a constitutional monarchy and the current emperor is Akihito. 

Learning about Japan

Teaching approaches to expand students' knowledge and understanding of Japan include the following:

  • Explain to students prior to starting the unit that they are going to ask their parents if they have any photographs, magazine pictures or items that come from Japan.
  • Create a realia table where items from Japan can be viewed by students.
  • Bring in guest speakers.
  • If your school has visiting students from a school in Japan, invite them to visit your classroom and talk about life in Japan.
  • Read the story The Princess and the cowherdand use the questions to engage students with traditional Japanese folklore.

About Japanese festivals

Shintoism, Buddhism and, to a lesser extent, Christianity are practised in Japan. All have an impact on festivals and celebrations occurring during the year.

The ‪‪‬‬‪Japan National Tourist Organisation has an excellent website providing a table of all the key festivals that occur in Japan, of which there are many. They are listed by month and each has a link to images and a description of the festivities.

Children's Day, Kodomo no Hi, is part of the Golden Week, starting on 29 April and culminating on 5 May when good wishes are expressed so that the children of a family will grow up healthy and find happiness.

  • The family makes carp streamers, koinobori. These fish kites are said to represent strength and adulthood.
  • Two large carp are attached to the pole to represent the parents, followed by progressively smaller carp representing each child in the family. The father carp is usually black, magoi, and the mother carp red, hogoi.
  • People who live in apartments make smaller versions of the carps.
  • Children will often display dolls during this festival and give them offerings of special foods which are then given to visitors.


Images: Japan (orthographic projection), ‪‪‪‬‬‬WikimediaAsagaya Star Festival 2006 by skyseeker‪‪‪‪‬‬ (CC BY 2.0)

Story: retold by Pam Stewart

Activity 2: Japanese festivals and celebrations

In this activity, students will:

  • learn about Japanese national holidays and cultural events
  • explore two festivals: the Star Festival, Tanabata; and Children's Day, Kodomo no Hi.

Key inquiry question: What festivals do the Japanese celebrate and what happens during the Star Festival and Japan's Children's Day?

Japanese national holidays and cultural events

  1. Ask students to view the Japanese festival images and describe what they see.
  2. Show the two calendars of Japanese national holidays and cultural events (below) and explain to your students what happens in each month.
  3. Mark these on the class annual calendar.
  4. After viewing the images, ask your students which images they remembered belong to the Star Festival and which ones belong to Japan's Children's Day.
  5. Complete the activity by discussing whether the Japanese have any celebrations and festivals that are similar to Australian festivals.
  6. Explain to your students that they are going to learn more about two Japanese festivals:
  7. Practise saying the Japanese names for these festivals with your students. 

Children's Day

  1. Discuss the background to ‪‪‬‬‪Children's Day
  2. Describe how families make their carp streamers to express good wishes with the hope that their children grow up healthy and find happiness.
  3. Explain that the class is going to make 'Milky Way' decorations and carps similar to those made for the two festivals.
  4. Ask students to discuss how they would like to decorate the artworks and use them to celebrate, as a class, healthiness and happiness.
  5. Create an online cloud, using software such as ‪‪‪ ‬Wordle and including the words that have been suggested by the students.
  6. Display the word cloud near a map of Japan.
  7. Explain that the class is going to look at some of the celebrations and festivals that occur in Japan.
  8. Discuss some of the celebrations and festivals that your students celebrate throughout the year.
  9. Create a calendar for the year and mark these on the calendar.

Calendar of Japanese national holidays

Months Dates Titles Seasons
January 1-3 New Year's Day: Oshogatsu Winter: fuyu
January 15 Coming of Age Day (20 years): Seijin no Hi Winter: fuyu
February 11 National Foundation Day: Kenkoku Kinen no Hi
Winter: fuyu
March 21 Vernal Equinox Day: Shunbun no Hi Spring: haru
April 29 Green Day (Start of Golden Week): Midori no Hi Cherry blossoms: sakura
May 3 Constitution Memorial Day: Kenpo Kinenbi Cherry blossoms: sakura
September 15 Respect for the Aged Day: Keiroo no hi Autumn: aki Typhoon season: taifu
September 23 Autumnal Equinox Day: Shuubun no Hi Autumn: aki Typhoon season: taifu
October 10 Health/Sports Day: Taiiku no Hi Coloured leaves: momiji
November 3 Culture Day: Bunka no Hi Cold winter wind: kogarashi
November 23 Labour Thanksgiving Day: Kinroo kansha no Hi Cold winter wind: kogarashi
December 23 Emperor's Birthday: Tennoo Tanjoobi Winter: fuyu
December 31 Last day of the year: Omisoka Winter: fuyu

Calendar of cultural events

Months Dates Titles Seasons
February 3-4 Throwing Beans Day: Setsubun/Mamemaki
Snow Festival: Yuki-matsuri
Winter: fuyu
March 3 Dolls Festival: Hina-matsuri Spring: haru
April 29 April–5 May Flower viewing: Hanami
Golden Week: Gooruden Uiiku
Cherry blossoms: sakura
May Second Sunday Mother's Day: Haha no Hi Cherry blossoms: sakura
May 5 Children's Day: Kodomo no Hi Cherry blossoms: sakura
June 1 Changing Clothes Day: Koromogae Rainy season: tsuyu
June Third Sunday Father's Day: Chichi no Hi Rainy season: tsuyu
July 7 Star Festival: Tanabata
Gift-giving season (to mid-July): O-chuugen
Summer: natsu
August 13-16 Fireworks Festival: Hanabi taikai, Obon
Return of Ancestors, Spirits Day: O-haka-mairi
Summer: natsu
September End September– start October Moon viewing: Tsukimi
Local festivals Matsuri
Autumn: aki
Typhoon season: taifu
October 10 Changing Clothes Day: Koromodae Coloured leaves: momiji
November 15 Day for Children, aged 7, 5 and 3: Shichi-go-san Cold winter wind: kogarashi
December 25 Year-end gift giving season (all December): O-seibo
Christmas Day: Kurisumasu

Activity 3: Create festival decorations

In this activity, students will:

  • make Milky Way decorations for the Star Festival and carps for Japan's Children's Day
  • examine how Japanese festival decorations illustrate the Milky Way.

Key inquiry question: What are some of the decorations used during these festivals and how do we make them?

Milky Way decorations

  1. Give out a square piece of paper and ask students to draw a picture about the story of the Weaver Princess and the cowherd.
  2. Provide the instructions and demonstrate the folding steps as follows:

Step 1. Fold a square piece of paper approximately 12 cm x 12 cm diagonally in half so that it looks like a triangle.

Step 2. Fold the triangle in half again so that the paper is folded into four triangles.

Step 3. Fold smaller triangles in half again so the paper is now folded into eight triangles.


Step 4. Make cuts along the edges with folds, stopping 1 centimetre from the opposite edge. 

Step 5. Open the paper back into the original square. Pull down from the centre so that it puffs up. Pull the four corners together and tie with a string on top. 

Step 6. Display the decorations on a large piece of bamboo or a branch of a tree.

Step 7. Ask your students to talk about their drawings and what they might wish for.

Carp streamers

  1. Explain that they will be making the carp streamers next. You may wish to create a class stream of carps and students can choose a particular colour for their carp.
  2. Each student is given a length of stick, a piece of string, felt-tip pens and pieces of A4 paper.
  3. Provide the instructions and show your students the folding steps as follows: 

Step 1. Make 2 folds lengthways in an A4 sheet of paper. The first fold is one-eighth of the width of the paper, while the second fold is across half the width of the paper. 

Step 2. Pull the two long edges towards each other to make a tube. Glue the one-eight fold to the opposite long edge. You now have a tube that will be the body of the carp. 

Step 3. Flatten one end of the tube and cut an inwards 'V' shape so that the end resembles a tail of a carp. 
Paper tube with 'V' shape cut into one flattened end.

Step 4. Attach and centre the 15cm strip along one long edge of the tube to resemble a fin on the top of the carp's body. Attach the other two shorter strips on the under side of the long edge spaced 10 centimetres apart to resemble the bottom fins of a carp.
Paper tube with 2 short strips of paper along one side 10cm apart and a longer 15cm strip along the opposite side.

Step 5. Decorate the carp by painting it with scales and eyes. Attach the string on the end opposite the 'V' cut fins. 
Decorated tube with scales and eyes to look like a carp. A string is attached at opposite end to the 'V' cut.

Step 6. To make the second carp, cut a quarter off the top of the second piece of A4 paper and follow the same procedure.

Step 7. To make the next, smaller, carp, cut more off the top of the next piece of paper and follow the same procedure.

Step 8. Use the paper left over from creating the carp to make streamers to decorate the top of the stick.

Step 9. Attach the carps to the stick, making sure that the largest is at the top and the smallest is last.

Step 10. Once the carps are made you can hang them outside the classroom from a tree in the school yard. This could be expanded to become a whole-school activity.


Adapted from Milky Way and Carp streamer decoration images by illustrator: Xiangyi Mo, published in Access Asia: Primary teaching and learning units, 1996. © Commonwealth of Australia

Images: Tanabata by MASA ‪‬‬ ‬(CC BY-SA 3.0)Carp streamers by Su Neko ‪(CC BY-SA 2.0);

Activity 4: Reflection

Ask your students the following questions:

  • What do they now know about Japanese festivals?
  • What did they find interesting?
  • What else do they want to know?

Complete the learning sequence by discussing what they enjoyed during the art-making process and what they found difficult to accomplish. The discussion could include ways of solving these problems.

This learning sequence provides opportunities for students to learn about Japan, explore some of its festivals and create two visual art projects.

Activity 1: About Japan and its people

Show students where Japan is on the map and give them basic information about its geography prior to exploring Japanese festivals.

Activity 2: Japanese festivals and celebrations

This activity could be started by asking students what they know about festivals and celebrations in Australia prior to discussing Japanese festivals.

Activity 3: Create festival decorations

It is suggested that pre-cut paper for decorations be used if scissors pose a risk to children.

Activity 4: Reflection

It is important that students are provided with the opportunity to discuss what they have learned about Japanese festivals and what they enjoyed during the art-making process or found difficult to accomplish.

Useful websites

Recommended text

  • ‪‪‪‬‬‬One leaf rides the wind: Counting in a Japanese Garden – a counting story about a young girl's discoveries of hidden secrets in a Japanese garden.
  • It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.
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