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Learning About Japan Through A Blog

Annie (Elizabeth) Donwerth Chikamatsu is a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (Tokyo Chapter).  She is also a former ESL teacher, an avid photographer and currently writes the blog, Here and There Japan…a blog especially for kids.  Here and There Japan has been recognized by  Susan Sedro an educator who writes Adventures in Educational BloggingAnne Davis from Georgia State University, (Edu Blog Insights), and Dr. Nakamura from Yale Univesity on her blog at Photoethnography.

Here's my interview with her.

A.B. Please tell SLJ blog readers about your photoblog for kids.

A.C.  "Here and There Japan started as a way to show the everyday things that we use, see, and do in contemporary Japan. When I became interested in writing stories for children, I found that setting a story in contemporary Japan presented a challenge because there was so much unknown that needed to be shown. After finding out how easy it is to set up a blog from an article of SCBWI member, Michele Regenold, I decided to give it a try. I have now become content with and more interested in filling in the big picture with details through this blog. I hope the blog gives context for those who want to learn or read about Japan."

A.B. How do your students and parents respond to the information you post?

A.C. "At present, I'm not teaching. I'm writing and taking pictures everyday! I have received favorable comments from educators, homeschoolers, and fellow  SCBWI members here in Japan. I was especially struck by one educator commenting that she found the attention to detail "meditative". So far as I can tell, adults are reading it. That was an unexpected reward. I would like to reach children and their parents, their teachers, and, of course, their librarians, too."

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth (Annie) Donwerth Chikamatsu

A.B. Your photoblog has a mix of lifestyles, as well as history. Please explain how you choose your photos.

A.C. "I've chosen things that have come up in my family life during the day or the week. I provide anecdotes or an explanation. I have a son in fifth grade in a Japanese elementary school and a daughter in 9th grade in Japanese junior high who is studying for high school exams. My Japanese in-laws live downstairs. Things come up. Not long ago, Tokyo Gas came to my son's school to teach children about the elderly. They had the children strap restrictive wear on each other and then had them go through a series of tasks to illustrate what it's like to be elderly. I was allowed to take photos. That was an extraordinary experience.

Most of my postings, though, are pretty mundane in our life, but are out of the ordinary for those living outside Japan. I take care of the garden since Grandfather passed away so this summer I posted a lot of bugs I came across. (I've become very interested in the bug world here.) There are seasonal foods and vegetables we eat that may or may not be eaten outside of Japan. We have a Tokyo address but we have truck farmers all around us, and the city is quite green so there's a lot to show in that respect. My husband who reads and checks the blog everyday chuckles at my choices. Even though he knows children outside Japan may never have seen something like a shoe dryer, he finds it funny to see ours posted on the internet.

In addition to the things we eat and use, I also show some of the places we go. A trip to the grocery store or a train ride provides a lot of possibilities. We took a trip to a World Heritage site in August and I had a lot to post about that; i.e., the room at the inn, paper-making, the thatched-roof houses, the food. The description of the blog is "This and that from here and there. A blog of snapshots of life in Japan. Written especially for kids." I hope to highlight people, too. I am on the lookout for the Tofu man who sells tofu from his bicycle on some of the streets around here. It's typhoon season so the blog may be inside for a while."

A.B.  How have you integrated your blog into your classes?

A.C. "I'm not teaching now, but I have thought about this question. I am thinking of adding a gallery of more pictures and a way to categorize the posts. For now, I have titled all posts concerning school in Japan with "School Days" so that a search within the blog can be done. Though I have also included links in some of my posts for further information or study, my intent is really for it to be a living book to be used as free or extensive reading or SSR as it is now called. There are so many things here that are unusual or different from life in other places that kids outside of Japan may read it out of curiousity. I hope so. I hope also that other farflung educators and writers will provide children with a look into their daily lives."

Personally, when I visited Here and There Japan, I immediately thought, "what a wonderful resource for a Social Studies and/or English curriculum to integrate."

 It's really the next best thing from being there. Please feel free to share your own thoughts for Annie in the comment section.

-Amy Bowllan


  1. John Shelley says:

    Great interview and a fascinating Blog! Annie’s attention to the small details of life in Japan is a uniquely personal approach.


  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    Thanks for your comment John. I’m so impressed with what Annie is able to capture and convey to the world.


  3. Kris Bordessa says:

    I’ve been enjoying Here and There Japan for some time, and in doing an internet search to add a link to my blog found that Annie had been featured here. Nice interview!

  4. Hello, my name is Gudvin, I like yours blog.