iPass: Japan! Culture + Hyperculture

The Many Arts of Japan


Age range: Good for 12-18 year olds

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! This interactive takes about 2 hours to complete.

Key Technology: Some of the components of this multimedia resource are bandwidth-intensive, requiring a high-speed Internet connection. Users should be equipped with speakers or headphones and will need Flash Player 8 installed on their computers.

This interactive passport to the arts and culture of Japan as experienced through the Kennedy Center's Japan! culture + hyperculture festival (February 2008) is a wonderful resource for those wanting to learn more about Japanese culture. This site will help you learn about some of the major art forms in Japan—art, theater, dance, music, manga, anime, robots, and visual art installations.

Think About...

Reading Strategy: As you read, make a list of two or three important facts from each section of the iPass (art, theater, dance, music, robots, manga, anime and installations).

Compare and contrast Japanese culture with what you know about other cultures. In what ways is it the same and in what ways is it different?

Viewing Strategy: As you view the short videos, consider the role of the artist in contemporary society. Should they simply create art that viewers or listeners can enjoy or do they have an obligation to make a social or political statement?


  • List three facts about Japan.
  • What different types of theater are found in Japanese culture?
  • What different types of visual art characterize Japanese culture?
  • What role does religion play in Japanese art and culture?
  • What kinds of stories are told through Japanese dance?
  • What instruments are generally used in Japanese music?
  • How do the Japanese use robots in their culture?
  • What are some of the characteristics of manga?
  • How has anime become popular in America?
  • What is installation art and how is it used in Japanese culture?

Critical Thinking

  • What aspects of Japanese culture and tradition are reflected in its art, dance, theater and music?
  • Compare and contrast the artistic styles and themes from ancient and modern Japanese history. What is the same? What is different?
  • Why do you think some aspects of Japanese culture (e.g.: anime, manga) have become so popular worldwide?

Quiz Yourself!

Click on “Unlock the Code!” at the top of each page and answer questions to reveal secret prizes!

Learn More

Kids! learn more about Japan at this site made just for you!



Learn more about Japanese calligraphy and how to write your name



Learn how to draw your own manga characters



For the Educator

The Kennedy Center festival, JAPAN! culture + hyperculture, brings together more than 100 performances, workshops and student and family events during February 2008. This interactive passport, or iPass, is designed to provide pre- and post-visit information and activities for students, classrooms and families. As the festival evolves, ARTSEDGE will capture youth-focused highlights and extensions for young people to learn from and enjoy in the classroom and at home.

 The iPass is designed to allow easy, self-guided student exploration of some selected forms of Japanese art, each exemplified by artists from the JAPAN! Festival. Most of the art forms, and many of the artists and performances featured in the print piece, are extended online with learning activities, Web links, audio, video and image slideshows. Look for the "Learn More" section in each artist area for resources that may be available (and be sure to check back, as we will post materials as we get them throughout the Festival!)

One key feature of the site is the "Unlock the Code" area at the top of each section. This simple puzzle draws from content in each page, and can be used as a fun way to check for understanding. The "surprise" at the end is a custom Kennedy Center ROBO paper robot toy designed by Shin Tanaka just for ARTSEDGE. We suggest you complete the quiz and download the toy yourself before implementing this in the classroom; it may take considerable time, especially for younger students. (The toy assembly works best when printed on 11 x 14 paper.)

Instructional Strategies

The Festival’s theme, "Culture and Hyperculture," is one that provides a wide range of opportunities for discussion and exploration, particularly in the Social Studies classroom. You may find it helpful to frame discussions around comparisons between the traditional, popular or folk "culture" that may form the basis for a "hyper-culture," or accelerated version of that form. A useful example is Calligraphy: you might introduce the ancient traditions and methods, then share Koji Kanamura's "hyper-Calligraphy" performance, inviting students to compare and contrast the examples.

The most effective way for students to learn from this interactive is to have them navigate the site either individually or in pairs. Be sure to provide them with a comprehension check before they move on to the next section of the resource.

After students have an overview of the resource and a general understanding of the Japanese culture and hyperculture presented, divide them into small groups of four or five. Assign each group one aspect of Japanese culture (art, theater, dance, music, manga, anime, robots, and visual art installations) and have them conduct more in-depth research for a presentation to the rest of the class.

Consider staging your own iPass: Japan! Culture and Hyperculture festival of your own at the school. This could be especially enriching if other classes or grades are studying different cultures which could be highlighted in a school-wide or community-wide cultural fair. Should you choose to take on this kind of project, be sure to reach out to community and cultural groups that might be interested in participating as well.

Additional Resources

The Web is well-stocked with high-quality sites, lessons, and media resources for the K-12 classroom studying Japan; many are created or compiled by teachers involved in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. (The Japanese consulate provides an excellent list of some of those resources.)

About Japan
There are several comprehensive Web sites devoted to the arts and culture of Japan. Two of our favorites for teachers are AsiaSource and Kids Web Japan—each contain classroom-ready statistics, maps and other information to make teaching about Japan easy at any grade level.

There are four main types of Japanese theater seen today; visit this page for an student-toned overview of the different types of Japanese theater, developed for students in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Student events during the Kennedy Center’s JAPAN! Festival featured a Kyogen-style Comedy of Errors. For classes attending the performance, we recommend teachers make use of the superb materials from the Globe Theater’s Education [PDF] team, created when they hosted this same performance and workshop. Given the obvious importance of a Kyogen-style adaptation taking place in Shakespeare’s own Globe, this PDF also contains a fascinating “diary” of the production as it prepared for its debut.)

Dance and Performance Art
There is a wide range of traditional Japanese dance, from court and religious dances to those connected to theater, like Noh and Kabuki.  Modern dance – native styles like avant-garde Butoh as well as Western-influenced and folk-infused choreographies—are international reknown examples of hyper-culture. (For general understanding of Modern Dance for both parents and classroom teachers, we recommend a visit to one professor’s musings on how she introduces this topic for her students.)

As part of the Festival, several dance and performance artists (fusing movement and visual or other media) will present performances of interest to classrooms and young people on the Millennium Stage.

Like many folk and traditional arts, Japanese dance and music are intertwined; for deeper study at the middle and high school level, this page on dance and music from San Francisco Unified School District will be of great assistance.

Music is perhaps the most obvious "hyperculture" in Japan—in addition to expanding popular Western forms of music, like techno and Hip Hop, Japanese musicians have taken traditional instruments and forms and fused them with modern stylings and technologies.

Manga and Anime
Hugely popular both in Japan and in America, Manga (and its animated-film hyper-extension, Anime) finds inspiration and source in the Japanese woodblock traditions of the 1800s. Manga influences on popular animation are numerous, so students may be familiar with the basic conventions already. The "Online Manga University" provides detailed introductions to the basics, and its format is ideal for use on a Smartboard or via projector in the classroom. (As this site also has a separate, lightly moderated forum for its "students," it is not recommended that students use this site for free-exploration.)

Installation Art
Installation Art incorporates almost any media to create an experience in a particular environment. Sculptural forms, performance, music and sound, light, computers, video and other media combine to transform a space. At the Kennedy Center, all the major open spaces—including the Café, the Grand Foyer and the outside plaza—were used for installations. These are covered extensively in our "Festival Unpacked" slideshow as well as in the Learn More section.



Daniella Garran
Original Writer










JAPAN! culture + hyperculture is presented with the generous support of the Presenting Underwriter HRH Foundation and the Presenting Sponsor Morgan Stanley. Additional support is provided by the Festival Honorary Committee, Aruze Corp., Amway Corporation, and Toyota. International Programming at the Kennedy Center is supported through the generosity of the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts. ANA is the Official Airline of JAPAN! culture + hyperculture. Presenting Underwriter: The HRH Foundation Presenting Sponsor: Morgan Stanley

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