soldier riding a horseVisualizing Japan in Modern World History was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with support from the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia at the Program for Teaching East Asia. The one-week program for NCTA alumni focused on Japan’s history from the late Tokugawa period to the early 20th century, when Japan transformed into a modern nation and emerged as a world power.  To explore this content, workshop participants worked with the online resource Visualizing Cultures, a project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, under the direction of Professors John Dower and Shigeru Miyagawa.

Three lessons from the project are provided on the Program for Teaching East Asia website. For additional lessons, contact


Sample Lesson Plan 1: Globetrotting—Exploring Early Modern Japan

by Manissa Featherstone, Thornton Middle School, and Michelle Pearson, Hulstrom Options School

Overview: In this lesson using resources from the MIT Visualizing Cultures website, students become globetrotters, planning and documenting their journey to Japan from several perspectives. Students examine maps to make predictions about the physical and human characteristics of the landscape of Japan, then view photographs of Japan taken by a Western photographer during the Meiji period to compare their conceptions of the Japanese landscape with the actual landscape. In addition to practicing these geographical literacy skills, students take on roles of specific travelers to Japan and build personalized photographic travel albums for these individuals using traditional print formats or technology tools such as PhotoStory or PowerPoint. Through this lesson, students will not only build essential geography skills but will also have an opportunity to explore the concepts of place and human-environment interaction during a key period of Japan’s history.

Sample Lesson Plan 2: Construction of National Identity Through Images of Warfare—Viewing Woodblock Prints from the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars

by Michelle Mascote, California High School

Overview: Drawing on MIT’s Visualizing Cultures website, this lesson, designed to introduce a unit entitled “Visual Literacy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation: The Mythological Hero” engages students in structured analysis of woodblock prints, with the aim of identifying the characteristics of an archetypal-hero. Through discussion, they consider how the woodblock images of war helped to create the Japanese national identity.

Sample Lesson Plan 3: Let’s Go See the Black Ships!

by Aiko Sato, Monterey Trail High School, and Kazuko Stone, Denmark High School

Overview: Even though we live in a world of Internet and global community, many people feel uncomfortable when they encounter different cultures.  How, then, did American and Japanese people feel and react when they encountered each other for the first time about 150 years ago?  In this lesson, students simulate the situations and feelings of both the Japanese and Americans during the visit of Commodore Perry in 1853-an extremely significant event in the history of Japan-U.S. relations.  Students will explore MIT’s Visualizing Cultures site, the port of Yokohama’s 150-anniversary site, and primary sources of the late 1800s to the early 1900s.