Japanese book review: わたしたちの家庭科 (A home economics textbook)

By | May 16, 2022

I reported a few years ago about a program where those with Japanese citizenship can get free textbooks each year from the Japanese consulate. We have been getting these for our son, and I have looked through many of them myself. Frankly, each of these textbooks has been extremely helpful in teaching me various things about Japan’s culture and language, making resources like this an excellent way to fill in knowledge gaps for those not actually living in Japan.

Recently I got my hands on the new set of books for this year (targeting 5th and 6th graders), and the book わたしたちの家庭科  (watashitachi no kateika) was of particular interest to me. The word “家庭” means not only “family”, but can also refer to the household in a more general sense, including aspects of daily life. The closest parallel in the West is the ”home economics” class, though I have heard that term is no longer in common use.

This textbook, published in early 2019, goes into a wide range of topics across twenty chapters. Some of the main topics are cooking, sewing, nutrition, time and money management, and staying healthy in different seasons. The book ends with the important topic of “持続可能な社会”, creating a sustainable society. 

The authors managed to pack a huge amount of material into only ~130 pages, and there are many supplementary photographs, illustrations, and diagrams to help improve comprehension. Rather than just throwing down pages of text, each page is very busy, filled with a wide array of colors to keep you from losing interest, something which I have seen in other Japanese educational books. There are also many areas where readers are asked to try and apply these things to their own lives (生活に生かそう). With so much content, I was not too surprised to see that over 60 people contributed to the creation of this textbook.

Another thing I like about this book is the way it highlights traditional and regional aspects of Japanese culture. For example pg. 57 has a list of regional dishes using miso (with photographs), and pg.75 has a list of snacks from 20+ regions around Japan. There are also a few pictures to compare modern and classic houses.

The content gets quite technical in some areas. For example, there is a graph showing the absorption of water into rice over time, a chart showing the recommended amount of light (in Lux) for certain activities, descriptions of the various marks used for recycled products in Japan, detailed diagrams for sewing, a chart with photographs of over 50 foods broken down by category, and a flow chart showing the various steps when considering what purchase to make. 

I feel that this textbook (and others targeting 5th and 6th graders) will be somewhat difficult for the average Japanese learner. But at least in terms of kanji, it seems that all characters which are above 5/6th grade level are either written in hiragana, or with furigana reading hints. There is also a handy vocabulary list in the back that gives English equivalents of common words related to the covered material.

But I think for those looking to enrich their Japanese language and culture this book is a perfect tool, even if it does little more than make you think, “Wow, 5th graders in Japan learn this type of stuff!” Also, some of the sections about safety in emergency situations are interesting (remember Japan is an earthquake-prone country).

Just to be clear, don’t expect to get much information about casual daily conversion and slang from this book. I didn’t come across any dialogues like you would find in a book catered for learning a foreign language. However, I can promise you will learn many words for things in daily life that would be helpful for anyone planning on living in Japan for any period of time, especially if you would be living with a Japanese family (homestay, etc.). I also think it’s good to know whether you can comfortably read Japanese at the 5th/6th grade elementary school level, or how far you are from being able to do that.

Even if you don’t know anyone who can get the book for free, you can order it on Amazon Japan here. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a digital version, although you can see the publisher’s page about this book, which contains much supplementary material in the form of PDFs. While it will be a bit harder to follow out of context, even if you don’t have the textbook you can get hours of reading practice from these PDFs. There’s even a short video advertisement on the same page that goes over some of the content at a high level (and the dialogue is spoken extra slow, making it a good listening practice).

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