*Please note that the Japan-in-a-Suitcase program is currently being re-worked, but we aim to re-launch the program by late Fall 2024. Please keep an eye on our website & newsletter for updates!

Japan-in-a-Suitcase (JiS) is a free program designed to share Japanese culture with schools and students within the greater Washington, D.C. area. This program promotes an understanding of Japan and Japanese culture to school children from kindergarten and up through presentations, hands-on activities, games and demonstrations.

In the past, JiS has also visited the Japanese Ambassador’s residence, the U.S. Department of State, and the Library of Congress for Japanese culture-related educational programs. Each year, we visit over 40 schools, libraries, and organizations, and reach out to over 2000 children in elementary and middle schools.

What is a Japan-in-a-Suitcase Visit? 

The Japan-in-a-Suitcase program primarily visits local public and private elementary and middle schools – however, we consider applications from all academic organizations or institutions, including libraries, festivals, educational fairs, and more. A team of JiS presenters visit the classroom (or “classroom”!) with a suitcase filled with all kinds of things – a traditional Japanese backpack with all its contents, kimono and yukata, newspapers, maps, and more – that illustrate contemporary life in Japan.

Depending on the type of visit, students might:

  • learn basic Japanese greetings and words
  • get a hands-on look at the daily school life of Japanese elementary or middle school students
  • practice origami (the art of paper folding)
  • practice writing Japanese characters
  • try on traditional clothing
  • learn about and play traditional Japanese games
  • and more!

JiS tailors each presentation to the school’s curriculum, the teacher’s desires, the time available, and the students’ ages and/or grade level. No two presentations are exactly alike, but they all achieve the same goal: to introduce children to Japan beyond the traditional classroom setting and interest them in the world beyond their shores.

Tiers of JiS Visits

  • Tier One: Elementary and Junior High School Students
    • Presentation (35 – 45min)
      • Students will learn about modern and traditional Japanese Culture through a broad, overview presentation with visual props followed by a hands-on activity or game.
      • The presentation will also include time for questions from students either during or following the presentation.
    • Themed Activity (15 – 20 min)
      • Origami
      • Themed Arts and Crafts
      • Calligraphy
      • Cultural Dance, ect

  • Tier Two: High School Students
    • Presentation (35 – 45 min)
      • Students will learn about Japanese Culture through complex, focused presentations with visual props followed by themed cultural discussion or game.
      • Compare and contrast complex traditional vs modern-day Japanese cultural issues.
      • The presentation will also include time for questions from students either during or following the presentation.
    • Themed Game/Cultural Discussion (15 – 25 min)
      • These games are developed by our JiS team based on typical American and Japanese games.
      • Used to test the students knowledge of Japanese Culture and terms in a fun and interactive environment.

Japan-in-a-Suitcase presentations are between 45-60 minutes long and can be given to any number of students and classes. We have gone to classes with 7 children and taught assemblies with almost 200 students. We are also able to come to schools multiple times and spread out our curriculum.

Sample Assembly Lesson Plan for Elementary School
Sample 5 Time Visit Lesson Plan for Elementary School

Please note that JiS only visits schools that are metro accessible and that we require transportation be provided by the school if it is too far to walk. If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].

Teacher Testimonials

The students really enjoyed it and learned a lot from the presentation. As we continue the 2nd grade Japanese ICAL unit, the students make connections from Japan in a Suitcase with the lessons from their packet and other classroom resources. The students always enjoy your visit, especially the origami and seeing the school supplies like the pencil case. Thank you for offering this program.

Jennifer Pierson, ICAL, Heather Hills Elementary School (Maryland – 2015, 2016, 2017)

It was awesome to have young people describe their own experiences in Japan to our gentlemen. It brought relevancy and legitimacy to what our boys were learning. We’re grateful for the JiS program; I can’t imagine last summer without it!

Andrew Blickle, Community Engagement Coordinator, Life Pieces to Masterpieces (DC – 2017)

The volunteers did an OUTSTANDING job of presenting relevant and interesting information about Japan. They presented in such a way that the culture, customs, school life, and current events became very real and “alive” for the students. All of the presentations were very engaging and interactive…as a result, our students quickly built a rapport with these wonderful volunteers. Not only did they thoroughly enjoy the presentations, but they also shared what they learned from them with students in other classes…they were the envy of many at our school!

Gwen Norris, ESL, King Abdullah Academy (Vrginia – 2016)

We’re so grateful that the students really felt the Japanese culture. Very awesome! Keep up the good work!

Jojo Catane, C. Elizabeth Rieg School (Maryland – 2014)

Interested in Volunteering?

We are always looking for volunteers who have first-hand experience with Japanese culture. Americans who have lived in Japan or Japanese citizens who are currently living in the DC area are strongly encouraged to volunteer. You are sure to love interacting with all the friendly and eager children at our events. Thank you in advance for your help!

If you would like to volunteer for Japan-in-a-Suitcase, please go to this page and fill out the form to begin the process.