The Art of Japan

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

School’s out, it’s time to hit the road and do some travelling from the comfort of your own home! This week we are going to explore Japan and create some works of art inspired by Japanese culture. When you're done with these art activities you will feel like you actually went to Japan and returned home with a few handmade mementos. In our travels this week we will visit Monet’s pond in the city of Seki, gaze upon the Zen garden of Kyoto, bask in the cherry blossoms atop Mount Yoshino, admire the edible sushi art crafted in the Ryogoku District of Edo, and discover the art of the folded fan in the city of Nara.

In the city of Seki, Japan you can visit a pond referred to as Monet’s pond. It is a small body of water, only 60 feet long, and it is home to some very beautiful koi fish, and waterlilies resembling Monet’s Water Lily paintings. Monet’s water lily paintings actually capture his Japanese garden in Giverny, France where he lived, but the pond in Japan looks and feels like the original. Or perhaps the original looks and feels like the ponds of Japan! Either way, there’s no denying the color and beauty found in Monet’s pond, and you can capture that beauty yourself with watercolor paint! Students at Gogh Arts used watercolor paper and first lightly sketched their koi fish in a bird’s eye view perspective. Next, they decided on which of the many color combinations they wanted to use for their koi fish which was easier said than done because koi fish come in so many beautiful colors. To complete this activity, you can also include lily pads and water lily flowers.

Zen gardens, or dry gardens as they are also called, originated in Medieval Japan. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Japan, monks began designing rock gardens at their temples. The sand in a Zen garden is meant to represent the water and was raked into various wave patterns to evoke a feeling of serenity and peacefulness. The rocks represent various other Earthly elements including mountains, islands, trees, and animals arranged to create a sense of balance in the garden composition. Zen gardens were meant to be viewed from above and were used as a means for meditation. Today Zen gardens are fairly common, and you can even buy small tabletop versions for your desk but it’s much more fun to make them yourself. To make a Zen garden you don’t need many materials. You will need a container for the sand. At Gogh Arts, we used cardboard boxes. You will also need sand which you can get in a wide variety of colors. Traditionally, Zen gardens use white sand to embody negative space, but colorful sand is fun! We used a few different kinds of objects for the rocks in our garden including painted stones and marbles. Painting your own stones is another way to personalize your Zen garden. We crafted our own rakes from wire, but you could use something as simple as a fork.

Cherry blossoms are Japan's unofficial national flower. They are one of the undeniable symbols associated with Japanese culture and the beauty of the landscape and they have been celebrated for centuries in Japan. The cherry blossom symbolizes the fragile nature of life and the temporary nature of time. Each spring when the cherry blossom trees bloom people are reminded of how precious life is. You can create your own reminder of life’s beauty with this fun art activity. You will need a few pieces of construction paper, scissors, glue, colored pencils, black or brown acrylic paint, and tissue paper for the cherry blossoms. At Gogh Arts we used dark and light pink tissue paper for our cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are more frequently found in variations of red, but they can also be seen as white, pink, green and yellow. To begin, first draw a vase onto a piece of construction paper and then add images and designs to your vase to make them more interesting. Next, cut out your vase and glue it onto a colorful piece of construction paper. Once the vase is in place you will use paint to add the cherry tree branches to fill the space at the top of the paper. Lastly, tear pieces of tissue paper and roll them into spherical shapes before gluing them on to your branches.

Sushi wasn’t always as we know and love it today. It was originally conceived as a means for preserving fish using fermented rice in a process similar to pickling. Sushi was introduced to Japan in the ninth century, and it gained in popularity because many people of Japan consumed fish as part of their regular diet. In time the people of Japan began preparing the preserved fish with the rice and enjoying them together as a meal. Today, sushi is enjoyed and eaten all around the world, but it was first prepared and sold in the Ryogoku District of Edo. Now you can prepare your own sushi roll with this fun art activity. All you will need are scissors, glue and a few different colors of construction paper, including black and white papers for the rice and nori wrap. Nori is actually dark green but black construction paper is more common. At Gogh Arts we used red paper for the sushi plate and brown paper to make the chop sticks, but of course you can use whatever colors you like, and you can even draw on patterns or designs if you want. We also used pink, green and orange paper to add other ingredients to our sushi roll, like shrimp, cucumber, and carrots slices. Think of your favorite sushi. What ingredients would you include?

We tend to think of a fan as something we use to cool ourselves off, but the traditional Japanese folded fan had several other unique purposes. The folded fan was used by Japanese aristocrats and one of its purposes was to display social status, but they were also used to convey messages or instructions and even as a weapon. The folded fan originated in Japan around 650 A.D. and was made of wood. Its construction provided the user some protection against their enemies, but it was meant to be opened only when absolutely necessary. Making a paper folded fan is a fun art activity and a wonderful means of personal expression. You can add decoration or a message to a piece of paper using any medium you like, colored pencils, markers, or paint, but you should decorate your paper before you fold it rather than trying to do so afterwards. The fold in a paper fan is made with an accordion fold from side to side. To complete the fan, be sure it is closed first and then fold the bottom edge up to make the handle. This version of the folded fan won’t offer you much protection. Unless you're trying to give someone a paper cut, it’s best to turn the other cheek!