Japanese Art Activities for Kids - Bookshelf Memories

Japanese Art Activities for Kids

Very few places in the world connect more with nature than Japan. Much of Japanese heritage involves arts and crafts, uses natural materials, and embraces respect for resources by minimizing waste. In today's high-tech era, Japanese art activities for kids give parents tech-free activities to reduce screen time, boredom, and be useful as fun educational pastimes too. 

7 of the Best Tech-Free Art Activities for Kids

1. Make carp banners (Koinobori)

Koinobori - 3 carp banners flying from a pole

May 5th in Japanese culture is the original Children's Day (Tango no Sekku) festival celebrated by Boys. The Children's Day for Girls is March 3rd. Tradition is to decorate homes with samurai armor (yoroi) and miniature helmets (kibuto) representing the families' wishes to raise strong and healthy boys. Koinobori translates to carp (Koi) banner (nobori). Historically, samurai warriors would fly these banners on the battlefield. Today, they're displayed in homes across Japan in celebration of Boy's Day. To make DIY carp streamers, all you do is draw the koi fish on paper or fabric, paint it or color it in, attach it to a pole, and let it fly in the breeze. 

2. Make Hinamatsuri dolls for Girls Day

A pair of handcrafted Hinamatsuri dolls

March 3rd is Children's Day for Girls in Japan. The 3rd day of the 3rd month. Boys day is the 5th day of hte 5th month. Just like in Japanese culture, koi is a symbol of strength for boys, Hinamatsuri dolls are symbols of wishing for health, happiness, and a good marriage for girls. A traditional display is created on a tiered stand representing an imperial wedding. On the top tier are the male and female (Emperor and the Empress of Japan) with the remaining tiers having dolls for the ladies of the court, musicians, miniature food items to represent the offerings, and a variety of miniature furniture.

DIY hinamatsuri dolls can be made with paper cups or toilet roll tubes. An alternative to the traditional tiered miniature displays, there's also tsurushibina , which translates to hanging dolls. These are made with scraps of kimono silk, although you could substitute it for any type of fabric you have available.

3. Make Functional Paper Lanterns

lots of floating lanterns on water with Japanese writing on the sides

Every year, throughout Japan, paper lanterns are lit and released on water in a spectacular display of light. One of the largest annual festivals, second only to New Year, is the Toro Nagashi festival. In Japanese, a Toro is a lantern, and Nigoshi means cruise. The Toro Nagashi festival is releasing paper lanterns to cruise on water. It is a spiritual ceremony in honor of one's ancestors. The principle is called sorei shinko. Such a display of beauty can be enjoyed anywhere with access to water, whether that's a small pool or pond, or a nearby river or lake. Toros can be made with bamboo, wood, stone, or metal, and the side panels can be covered with either parchment paper or fabric. These can have designs drawn on them, and/or messages written on them.

4. Cherry Blossom Crafts

a painting of a cherry blossom tree with the blooms painted using a qtip

AbinayaKrish1994 | CC BY-ND 3.0

Nowhere in the world respects floral beauty more than in Japan. Cherry blossom trees are a symbol of renewal and a reminder to cherish life's precious moments because the lush pink blooms of the Cherry Blossom tree only last a mere few weeks. Trees blush with pink when Spring arrives, symbolizing hope for the future. Spring in Japan is celebrated. The custom is called Hanami, which means flower viewing. You don't have to be there to experience trees in full bloom. There's a variety cherry blossom themed craft activities that can be enjoyed indoors, any time of the year, ranging from making the trees with the popcorn painted pink and glued to thin twigs or just painted tree trunks and branches on paper. Bubble wrap can be used for the blossoms, or finger paints, or paper confetti.

5. Design Washi eggs

set of decorative eggs in a wicker basket

The oval shape of eggs lends them well to craft activities for kids. Once hard boiled and cooled, they can be painted, decorated, and in true Japanese style, that can be done with decorative Washi tape or paper. All that's needed is the paper or tape, glue, and a pair of kid's craft scissors. If making these as a group activity, the decorated eggs can be used to play the egg tapping game. If you want to make ornamental washi eggs, craft stores sell artificial eggs made with wood, or plastic that can be decorated with washi paper and used as display pieces. A collection of ornamental washi eggs in a small wicker basket could make an Easter-themed bookshelf display idea.

6. Make Beanbags to play otedama games

hands holding a set of 3 otedama bean bags

Otedama is a beanbag game, similar to Jacks or Knucklebones minus the bouncy ball. The beanbags can be hand-sewn and filled with anything from lentils, beans, or rice. For younger kids, the activity would be playing otedama games. For kids old enough to sew, they can make DIY beanbags, and use those to play the games, which are typically juggling or throwing a bag in the air and picking up another before it lands. Otedama sets can be five, seven, or nine beanbags. The material can be any fabric, however, if you wanted to maintain Japanese traditions, it'd be silk fabric. Traditionally, grandmothers would make these with silk kimono scraps.

7. Make a Story Plate

child drawing on a paper plate

Story plates are the simplest form of Kamishibai, which in Japanese, is storytelling. The essence of story plates is drawing each of the main characters and plots in the story. It's a useful activity for story recall, helping children learn, understand, and then portray a story through drawing. All you need are paper plates, pencils, and if you want to color it in, pens, paint, crayons, or colored pencils. In theory, you could use any story for this activity. To keep with a Japanese theme, use Japanese folk tales such as the 'Momotaro' (Peach Boy), 'I Am Tama, Lucky Cat', or the 'Moon Princess', sometimes called the Moon Maiden folk tale. Story plates can be used to encourage reading together, then discussing the stories, and doing activities related to each story.