They say Chicago has two seasons, winter and construction. Japan has five seasons - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and rainy. That's just one of the fun tidbits my kids and I learned as we explored Kohl Children's Museum's newest exhibit: Japan and Nature: Spirit of the Seasons.
The exhibit is divided into four seasons each marked by a tree representing that season - bare, cherry blossoms, fall colors and green. In addition to each season, each area explores a different region of Japan as well as an aspect of childhood - play, school, family and holidays. Due to the extreme cold I visited with all four of my children ages 10 months to eight years. There was so much for them to see and do - in what at first looks like a sparse exhibit - that we easily spent 45 minutes there.
My kids were instantly drawn to two areas, winter in Sapporo and Fall in Kyoto. My kids all enjoyed sitting around the table and learning to use chopsticks and eat pretend sushi. My daughter was particularly thrilled to learn that in Sapporo they use heated blankets as a tablecloths to keep their legs warm during the meal. They were also surprised that there were no large dinner plates like we use at home but bowls of all different size and shapes. It was a great way to talk about how people eat in different cultures.
After enjoying their Japanese dinner we spent some time dressing up and playing the festival drum in Kyoto. We had seen a special drum group over the summer at the Botanic Gardens so my kids were excited to play and remembered right away the proper stance the drummers took. The baby mostly like climbing the stairs to the temple. We also took time to admire the skill of 1000 origami cranes all folded together at the Inari and we left our own wishes on the ema plaques.
After the peace and calm of winter and fall I lost my kids as they excitedly ran from one thing to another on the other side of the exhibit which features spring, summer, and rainy. There is a school room that featured calligraphy stations as well as a chance to make Tera Bozu dolls. These dolls made from pieces of fabric look like ghosts and are used to ward off rain. We also learned about the Children's Day celebration and played with carp windsocks of different sizes and colors to represent the different family members. We also got to fish in Lake Biwa and look for insects while playing in a tent. The kids were so excited to learn that people camp everywhere.
The highlight for my two little girls (6 and 3) was playing dress up with traditional styled kimonos and taking pictures in front of the different scenic images of Lake Biwa. For the older kids, like my son, there is lots of information scattered throughout the exhibit. He enjoyed reading all the haikus and learning that a traditional haiku will tell you the season by the words it uses. He also enjoyed learning about school in Japan. Overall, it's a great way to introduce or teach kids about another culture through hands-on experience and play.
Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Seasons was created by the Brooklyn Children's Museum as part of the Asian Exhibit Initiative, funded by the Freeman Foundation and administered by the Association of Children's Museums.
Melissa is mom to 4 kids and 2 angels. She chronicles the sticky bits of motherhood at Peanut Butter in my Hair.
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