Developed by the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the exhibit "Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Season" first ran at Glenview's Kohl Children's Museum in 2007. Providing a look at Japanese culture through the lens of the four seasons, the exhibit proved so popular that the museum brought it back this week.
"I really like the messaging of the exhibit," said President and CEO Sheridan Turner. "The whole idea is to show that although we're different cultures, there are a lot of things we do that are the same."
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"Japan and Nature: Spirits of the Seasons"Where: Kohl Children's Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, (847) 832-6600, kohlchildrensmuseum.org
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to noon Monday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; through July 14
Admission: $9.50; $8.50 for seniors; free for infants under age 1
The exhibit opens with fall in the Japanese city of Kyoto. Young children love banging on a ceremonial drum while older ones can write a wish at a shrine to the fox spirit Inari. Visitors can also view a video of a fall parade, a display of cultural artifacts and artwork from Japanese children.
Moving on to winter in Sapporo, children can play Fukuwarai, a game similar to Mr. Potato Head that involves making a funny face with magnets. They can also create New Year's cards with stamps depicting the animals of the Japanese zodiac. The exhibit also shows how Japanese families eat, with a table set with cushions instead of chairs and a tea set and chopsticks kids can play with.
The spring section takes kids to school, where they'll learn some Japanese letters and watch a video of a lesson about rice planting. Bringing home the similarities between American and Japanese schools is a display of class pictures. Japanese schools often keep rabbits and chickens to teach students about animal husbandry, and visitors can put on a puppet show. They can also try on kimonos and traditional shoes.
"For some, it's just dramatic play," Turner said. "They might not be learning anything per se. The older kids tend to get the most out of it."
Kids can also get a hands-on look at the May 5 Children's Day holiday by hanging carp wind socks of varying sizes in front of a fan, a favorite activity for many little kids. The banners show a wish for the members of the family to have the same strength and endurance of carp, who must swim upstream.
The summer section shows off some Japanese vacation traditions. Kids can explore a camping tent, pose for pictures against a series of lake images and work on their hand-eye coordination by using a magnetized fishing pole. They can also hunt for plastic bugs and make rubbings of insects to take home.
Turner said one of the reasons for bringing the exhibit back is the area's significant Japanese population. She said one family visiting the museum said they really appreciated having a place to introduce their kids to their native culture. But no matter what your background is, "Japan and Nature" provides a highly interactive way to open up your child's world.
"You're seeing them engaged," Turner said. "You start to get the connections and appreciation for Japanese culture."