Japan. From Isolation to Adaptation.











                        Painting courtesy of Trinity H, 2015







This unit of study is my very favourite in the Grade 8 program of studies. Throughout our journey into the Land of the Rising Sun, we will study the Edo period of Japanese isolationism, and the nation's transition into the period of adaptation during the Meiji Restoration. Here we look at Japanese military society, art, food, poetry, religion, history and geography. It is truly a foray into a culture so unique and beautiful as to be a valued area of study thousands of kilometers and hundreds of years apart.


Japan is an immensely populated island in the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of more than 120 million people, despite being on an island substantially smaller than the province of Alberta, most of which is uninhabitable due to mountains. The island is, itself, the tops of undersea mountains breaking through the surface of the ocean. The land is subject to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos and typhoons. The topography of the land, its proximity to the sea, its positioning as a Pacific island and its precipitation have helped shape much of what would develop into modern day and historic Japanese culture.


Japan is a fairly homogenous culture. Although thousands of years ago there were many different cultures on the island, such as the Ainu, who came to Japan fromSiberia, 98.5% of Japanese residents consider themselves ethnically Japanese. Despite this, in the early years of Japanese development, much was taken from mainland Asia, particularly China. Japanese religion tends to be an amalgamation of the indigenous faith of Shinto, alongside the imported belief of Buddhism. uch of Japanese traditional writing, kanji, comes from China.  For many years, Chinese was the language of the Japanese court.

The Tale of the 47 Ronin

Our area of study in regard to Japanese history begins at the end of the Heian period with the Mongol invasions of Kublai Khan in the 12th Century and ends with the Meiji Restoration in the 19th Century. Particular attention is paid to the Tokugawa Shogunate of the Edo period. We will even examine the way that Japanese history led it to the point of participating in the second World War and eventually becoming an economic powerhouse toward the end of the 21st Century.

This story is based on a real life incident that took place in 1701 in Edo, Japan. Forty seven loyal samurai sacrifice everything in order to avenge the death of their beloved daimyo in a tale that that clearly demonstrates ultimate adherence to the bushido code. This is the story as told by Matthew Berrigan.

From the Alberta Program of Studies: 

Through an examination of Japan, students will demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of the ways in which beliefs, values and knowledge shape worldviews and contribute to a society’s isolation or adaptation.