Lesson 5: Life in Ancient Japan

Day 2

Activity 2: Power in Ancient Japan

Materials: Life in Ancient Japan by Hazel Richardson, colored pencils, crayons, or markers*
Power and control of the government shifted in ancient Japan. In this activity you'll explore some of those shifts, learning more about the people who wielded power at different points in ancient Japanese history. There are two options for this activity. Ask a parent which option you should complete.
This activity focuses on power in ancient Japan. Option 1 asks your child to provide information about Japanese uji, emperors, noble families, and shoguns. Option 2 asks your child to create a graphic organizer showing some of the shifts in power among these groups. Because it requires a deep understanding of power in ancient Japan to create an original graphic organizer to show important changes, Option 2 is the more challenging option. Please choose the option that you think will be the best fit for your child.

Option 1

In this activity, you'll write about four different groups that held power in ancient Japan — the uji, the emperors, the noble families, and the shoguns. Drawing on pages 10-17 in Life in Ancient Japan, answer the questions on the "Power in Ancient Japan" activity page. Where possible, include examples to illustrate the ways that different groups came to power and held power.
In this activity, your child will write about four different groups that held power in ancient Japan — the uji, the emperors, the noble families, and the shoguns. Your child's answers may vary, but the answer key provides some possible responses:
The Uji
Who were they? The uji were ruling clans of powerful warriors who controlled regions of Japan.
When did they hold power? By 57 A.D., the uji controlled Japan. This lasted until around 600 A.D.
What did they do? An uji would control a region of Japan. Families that lived on the land worked to produce goods for the uji to earn the right to continue to live on the land.

The Emperor (for example, the early Yamato emperors)
Who were they? The emperors were originally members of the most powerful clan in Japan by 500 A.D., the Yamato.
When did they hold power? Around 600 A.D., the Yamato clan decided that Japan should be ruled by a single emperor. The emperor retained a great deal of power until 858 A.D.
What did they do? The emperor owned all land and, with the help of clan leaders who were appointed to help run the government, created the rules of the society. The position of emperor was passed down within a family through generations. The emperor continued to perform some government functions and ceremonial duties, even when noble families and the shogun had control of the majority of political and military power in ancient Japan.

Noble Families (for example, the Fujiwara family)
Who were they? Noble families were wealthy and powerful families.
When did they hold power? Noble families had greater control by 858 A.D.
What did they do? While emperors performed ceremonial duties, noble families determined the course of the government after about 858 A.D. until 1156 A.D. The Fujiwara are a good example of a ruling Japanese family.

The Shogun (for example, Minamoto no Yoritomo)
Who were they? Shoguns were warriors who were granted great power by the emperor.
When did they hold power? The first shogun, Minamoto no Yoritiomo, came to power in 1192 A.D.
What did they do? The shogun was more powerful than the government or the emperor and created his own military government. The emperor and his advisers retained some control of certain government functions such as taxation, but the shogun ruled Japan.

Option 2

Pages 10-17 of Life in Ancient Japan describe the shifting balance of power in Japan among various ruling groups and individuals. Use your own paper and the art materials of your choice to create a flow chart or other graphic organizer that will show the changes in the rule of Japan over time, from the time of the uji (as early as 57 A.D.) to the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1580s. For each major shift, be sure to write down approximate dates and describe who was in power and a few key details about their influence.
No answer key has been provided because your child has a lot of freedom in this activity to create a graphic organizer that will resonate with his own way of thinking about the transitions in Japanese power. You should be able to verify the factual information that your child chooses to include by consulting pages 10-17 in Life in Ancient Japan.

Activity 3: Trade Between Japan, China, and Korea

Materials: colored pencils, crayons, or markers
In this activity, you will explore the economic interactions between Japan and its neighbors, China and Korea. Use the "Trade Between Japan, China, and Korea" activity page to do the following:
  • First, label Japan, China, and Korea.
  • Draw a red arrow from Japan to China. Along this arrow, write the names of goods that were traded from Japan to China.
  • Draw a blue arrow from China to Japan. Along this arrow, write the names of goods that were traded from China to Japan.
  • Draw a red arrow from Japan to Korea. Along this arrow, write the names of goods that were traded from Japan to Korea.
  • Draw a blue arrow from Korea to Japan. Along this arrow, write the names of goods that were traded from Korea to Japan.
Please be sure to save this activity page — you will need to come back to it in Lesson 6!
In this activity, your child will label a map to show the flow of goods between Japan and the countries of China and Korea. An answer key has been provided. Your child should save this page — he will use it again for part of Lesson 6.
Answer Key: Trade Between Japan, China, and Korea