Japanese Learning Scenario:
Dress for the Occasion

Author: Chizuko Bolinger & Helen Nakamoto
Level: Novice

In this scenario, students learn about modern and traditional Japanese clothing by viewing videos, pictures, and a kitsuke (“how to put on a kimono”) demonstration. Students develop an awareness of similarities and differences between clothing worn in Japan and in the USA today. They become familiar with five different Japanese “wear” verbs (kaburu, kiru, haku, suru, kakeru) and how to use them in the correct context. (The Japanese language employs different verbs to express “wear” depending upon the clothing item and body part referred to.) Students also learn vocabulary for both common and traditional Japanese clothing. Using print and Internet resources, they investigate all aspects of the kimono, both historical features and its function and use in modern Japanese society. A guest speaker discusses the kimono and demonstrates how to put on a formal kimono.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Comparing Clothing
Students examine pictures from magazines, the Internet, or video-clips to find examples of modern Japanese clothing. They first work in groups studying the examples they have found and listing the characteristics they notice. Then, as a class, they complete a Venn diagram on the board indicating the similarities and differences between Japanese and American clothing, and they are introduced to related clothing vocabulary.

ACTIVITY SET 2: “Wear” Verbs
A variety of games are played to practice clothing vocabulary before students engage in an activity that puts together clothing and “wear” verbs. The teacher introduces the five verbs using pictures or putting items of clothing on herself as she describes what she’s wearing. Students also review the verbs’ te-form and present progressive forms prior to beginning.

Once students understand the concept behind the various verbs, they are divided into groups with each one receiving a set of clothing consisting of four pieces. For example, group one gets a summer, cotton kimono (yukata), a baseball cap, a pair of sneakers, and a necklace. Group two gets a T-shirt, jeans, a belt, and a pair of wooden clogs (geta), etc. In preparation for the activity, a note card with the word for each item distributed has been taped randomly to the blackboard. The vocabulary words are written in Hiragana and Katakana but the ones written in Katakana are cognates and easily identified, even for beginning students. After receiving their clothing items, students find the corresponding cards on the board, remove them, and attach them to the appropriate item in their set.

Next, each group selects one member to be the “model” who will be dressed by the others. The model has a list of the five “wear” verbs and reads them aloud one by one in any order. As each verb is read, group members “dress” the model with a clothing/footwear item or accessory that corresponds to the “wear” verb mentioned. A group member states what the model is going to wear as the item is put on. (John wa shatsu o kimasu. John wa zubon o hakimasu.) After five minutes, time is called, and it is the model’s turn to tell the group what he or she is wearing in one sentence. (Boku wa tee-shatsu o kite Jiinzu o haite tokei o shiteimasu.) Repeat this activity, rotating the sets of clothing and the team member who is the model until students are able to say the sentences with reasonable speed and accuracy.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Fashion Show
Once students have had adequate practice in composing compound sentences using multiple verbs and multiple clothing vocabulary items, they are ready for an activity that allows them to put together the various language components in a creative way; they prepare for a fashion show. They work in groups of three: one fashion model, one master of ceremonies and a stagehand who helps with clothing, props, music, and lights. At this time, students do not know what their role will be, so they must prepare for all three. They choose any type of clothing—traditional or modern, Japanese or American—as long as it is appropriate for school, up to seven items including accessories. They choose background music and props, and together they compose the script for the master of ceremonies to read. The script must include the five different “wear” verbs, te-form and te-imasu forms of verbs, a given number of color words and other descriptive adjectives, names of fabrics, etc. On the day of the fashion show, students draw to see what role they will have, and one group at a time, presentations are made and videotaped. The tape can be shown to other classes or on Parent’s Night.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Kimono Research
The next component of the scenario is designed to help students learn more about the traditional Japanese kimono. First, divide the class into groups for research purposes. Each group looks for information on a historical aspect of the kimono such as the characteristics of kimono worn by nobles, warriors, and commoners during the Edo period or when and why western-style clothing became popular, etc. They also investigate the kimono in modern Japanese society with each group responsible for finding the answer to a specific question (e.g., Who wears the kimono and when? What various types of kimonos are there? How does one put on a kimono? What does a kimono cost? What accessories go with the kimono? etc.) When groups have completed their research, tape a long piece of butcher paper across the blackboard so that the class can work together to create a mind map using drawings, clipping, and words or phrases in Japanese to illustrate what they learned.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Kimono Game
To further reinforce their new knowledge, each group creates a trivia game or a true/false “test” consisting of 15-20 questions (in English) about the kimono. Groups take turns introducing their trivia game or giving their “test” to the class. Points are awarded for each activity, and a winning team is declared at the end based on cumulative points.

ACTIVITY SET 6: Kimono Demonstration
As a culminating activity, a guest speaker who is knowledgeable about the kimono is invited to the class to talk about and demonstrate kitsuke, how to put on a kimono, using a full set of men’s or women’s kimono. During and after the presentation/demonstration students ask questions they have prepared in advance. Afterwards, students create paper doll thank you cards for the guest speaker decorated in their favorite type of kimono. The text of the card consists of short statements students have learned and copied.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Concept of Culture, Influence of Language & Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • Pictures of both Japanese and American clothing
  • “Clothing of Modern Japan” (Videotape, “Life of Japan” series)
  • Summer kimono (yukaka), sash (Obi) and wooden clogs (geta)
  • Various clothing items: cap, T-shirt, jeans, belt, sneaker, slacks, dress shirt, tie, dress shoes, wristwatch, socks, dress, straw hat, sandals and sunglasses, etc.
  • Note cards
  • Butcher paper for mind maps
  • Materials to make Trivia game and name tags for clothing
  • List of “wear” verbs
  • Video camera

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpretive mode is used as students search for examples of Japanese clothing in various media and as they listen to the guest speaker. The interpersonal mode is used in various activities as they practice vocabulary and structures and the presentational mode is used during the fashion show and in sharing what they learned in group research on the kimono.

Cultures: Students learn about modern and traditional Japanese clothing and customs associated with the kimono as well as related perspectives as they investigate associated historical issues.

Connections: Students obtain/expand their knowledge of Japanese history as they research the kimono.

Comparisons: Students compare the Japanese language with English as they learn the various èwearî verbs. They compare modern and traditional Japanese clothing with American clothing, and they become aware of the influence of one language/culture on the other (e.g., the influence of western-style clothing in Japan and the presence of Japanese Anime characters and Japanese writings on popular American apparel).

Communities: Students connect to the Japanese community through the guest speaker who comes to the classroom.

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Expansion Ideas

  • Students design their dream prom attire (including shoes, accessories) and present it to the class orally or submit it as an illustrated writing project.
  • Students keep a log in Japanese for a week of their best friend’s daily clothing.
  • Students research uniforms in Japanese high schools and discuss the pros and cons. Invite an exchange student from Japan to come to class to share his/her experiences with school uniforms.

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Magazines from Tokyo

  • Fujingahoo (Ashetto Fujingohoosha)
  • Kateigahoo (Sekaigahousha)
  • Seventeen (Shuueish)
  • Nonno (Shuueisha)


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.

  • http://www.shop-japan.co.jp
  • http://www.kinet.or.jp/morita/keika/kitsuke-e.html (Link no longer working 11/2008)
  • http://www.csuohio.edu/history/japan/

Next Page: Exploring Creative Uses of Japanese Onomatopoeia