An excellent resource for teaching students from elementary school onwards, Teaching East Asia Online Curriculum Projects is a convenient compendium of ready-made curricula on Japan’s past and present. The teaching modules provided were developed through collaborations between teachers from all levels, academics from the University of Colorado, and their counterparts from Japan, resulting in meticulous and high-quality teaching materials that are accessible as they are academically rigorous.
The curricula are divided into four separate themes that cover modernity, cultural encounter, visual representation, and literature with one additional bonus section that contains the results of a workshop conducted with National Consortium for Teaching About Asia alumni that features lessons developed from MIT’s Visualizing Cultures digital education platform. ‘Becoming Modern’ is the most extensive of the themes, featuring eight curricula that trace Japan’s the long process of modernisation that spanned the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taishō (1912-1925) eras. Similarly extensive is the ‘Cultural Encounters’ module, which contains seven lesson plans that explore Japan’s relationship with its neighbours—both regionally and globally—from ancient times to today. In ‘Imaging Japanese History’, five case studies present students with the opportunity to study the Heian (795-1185), Kamakura (1185-1333), Muromachi (1336-1573), Azuchi-Momoyama (1573-1603), Edo (1603-1868), Meiji (1868-1912), Taishō (1912-1926), and Shōwa (1926-1989) periods through the lens of visual culture. The final section, ‘Text and Contexts’ contains six targeted textual studies of children’s literature primarily from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as a lesson in Japanese culture.
While there is some slight variation between curricula, looking at one example available on the website can be instructive for educators looking to get a better sense of what is provided. Take the example of ‘Moga, Factory Girls, Mothers, and Wives: What Did It Mean to Be a Modern Woman in Japan during the Meiji and Taishō Periods?’, one of the detailed lessons from the ‘Becoming Modern’ module. This is a fascinating exploration of gender, modernity, identity, and nationalism through the lens of the modan gāru [modern girl]—more popularly known as moga—the Japanese iteration of the global phenomenon of the ‘Modern Girl’ that emerged in the 1930s. To facilitate this lesson, educators are equipped with background and context, readings and handouts, anticipated student outcomes, questions to guide discussions, and PowerPoint slides. Moreover, they are given instructions on how to prepare for the lesson as well as a step-by-step plan for a lesson that incorporates guided reading discussion, group work, primary source analysis, and even a role-playing exercise in the form of a mocktail party where students place themselves in the shoes of a modern Japanese women. For teachers looking to learn more or brush up before their lessons, backgrounders and suggestions for readings are also handily available in the module.
Considering the meticulous detail inherent in these lesson plans, instructors can deploy these lessons without needing to do any additional work to adapt them—though they certainly always could if they wanted to. They also have the option to use the different curricula in each module as a stand-alone lesson or to use them in various combinations depending on the situation and what they intend to teach their own students. While certainly a great resource for elementary- and high-school level teachers, these modules may be somewhat out of place in a university classroom as most have deliberately been designed with US school standards in mind. This does not detract from their overall quality by any means but rather reflects the differences in approach and expectations at different educational levels.
On the whole, the Program for Teaching East Asia has done a great service by making these fantastic and well thought out curricula widely available on the internet. The lessons provided are insightful explorations of Japanese history that strike a balance between academic rigour, accessibility, and being able to draw student attention, making them a valuable addition to any world history teacher’s toolkit.