TsunamiIn Japan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village lives on the hill in his rice farm. In the village below, villagers are getting ready for a festival. Suddenly he senses a problem, and when he sees the waters recede realizes a tsunami is coming. He cannot get down to the village to warn them in time so he needs to draw the villagers to him. As a desperate act, he sets his crop on fire. The villagers rush up the hill to help put out the fire, and they are all saved.

Kimiko Kajikawa, Philomel Books, ©2009, ISBN 978-0-399-25006-4


This is a good time to study the science of the tsunami. These giant waves form where tectonic plates collide, where there is a gigantic (frequently underwater) eruption of a volcano, or after a meteor impact. 86% of all tsunamis come from underwater volcanoes or seismic shifts. These displace huge quantities of water suddenly. The water rushes in to fill the vacuum (thus explaining why the “tide” seems to go out suddenly and unusually far) and then rushes back out again in the form of a huge wave.

There are many websites with great information including the video below.

The True Story

This book is based on a story in the 1897 publication by Lafadio Hearn called Gleanings in Buddha-Fields. The original wise wealthy man of the village was Hamguchi Goryo and there is a Japanese museum dedicated to him. (He was 35, not an old man, when it happened but the story is still wonderful. Making him older makes it possible for “experience” to tell him what to do.) Ask students to research the real person at locations such as The Fire of Rice Sheaves.

For 8 creative writing ideas, click Tsunami to download.


The Great Wave

The Great WaveThis is the story of fishermen who are caught in a huge wave that deposits a baby into their arms. He grows up uncertain as to where he comes from or who his real parents are. A fish promises to help him answer his questions. When the boy finally becomes scared, the fish turns into a dragon and says that Naoki now knows that his “real” parents are the ones that raised him.
Veronique Massenot, Presetel, ©2011, 978-3-7913-7058-3

Using Similes

There are 7 different similes in the story that can be listed for students to describe what two elements are being compared:

  • The wave…like a giant creature opening its foamy mouth, greedily swallowing everything before it.
  • Heart beat more wildly than all the drums of the world together.
  • All his friends shot upwards, faster than bamboo.
  • His thoughts drifted…coming and going like the water’s ebb and flow.
  • It’s scales shimmered like silver.
  • The back of the fish lengthened and began to move like a wave.
  • The sea was as smooth as glass.

Ask students to re-write a portion of a recent piece they have written to include three original similes.

Inspired by a Painting

This book was inspired by the painting, The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Hokusai, which was part of a series of woodblock prints called 36 Views of Mount Fuji. In this painting, Mount Fuji is hidden by the wave. Why not choose some other prints from the same series, and ask students in groups to write a story using that picture as an inspiration?


For 9 more creative writing ideas, click The Great Wave to download.

Kamishibai Man

kamishibaiIn the country, in modern Japan, a little old couple lives quietly. The man says he misses his “rounds” (we don’t know what they are) and his wife makes him some candies so he can go into town on his bicycle and repeat what he used to do. He bicycles through busy streets to where the park used to be and sets up a little theatre. He recalls to himself what it was like to entertain crowds of children with his Japanese tales until television came. Coming out of his reminiscence he sees a crowd has gathered to hear these traditional tales and he gives out the candy his wife made.

Allen Say, Houghton Mifflin, ©2005, ISBN 13:  978-0-618-47954-2

Make Your Own Kamishibai Man

Students could work in teams to design a story in 12–16 frames that acts as a kamishibai tale—either one students have created themselves, or one of the traditional Japanese tales.

If you don’t have time for illustration (as we never do), used picture books telling the story can be taken apart and mounted on card. If you raise the theatre, the English version the students have written can be printed on the back of the mounted pages, and then the story would be told in the style of an illustrated Reader’s Theatre.

There is lots of information at here and kamishibai stories may also be purchased online (ready to go).

Traditional Japanese Tales

The book mentions 4 traditional Japanese folktales that the kamishibai might have told:

  • Peach Boy
  • Inch Boy
  • Bamboo Princess
  • The Old Man Who Made Cherry Tree Bloom

Students could tell these stories (and other Japanese tales) as kamishibai or simply as part of oral skills development and general cultural knowledge.

For 4 writing ideas, click Kamishibai Man to download.