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Take a Trip to Nagano -- Home of the Olympic Games!

Welcome to Nagano, Japan! Come -- explore! Use the Internet to "bring home" Nagano to your students! Included -- classroom activities for all grades: Speak Japanese. How much is a yen? Read a map. Nagano symbols and stats. More!

Note: Be sure to check out last week's LESSON PLANNING stories, including Go for the Gold! Olympic Games Spark Classroom Activities! Looking for haiku-writing ideas, check out Haiku, Chaiku, God Bless You: Teaching Japanese Poetry Writing.

"For more than 50 years, the people of Nagano have dreamed of the day when the Olympic Games would be held in our prefecture. It is a great joy for the 2,200,000 residents of Nagano Prefecture to welcome athletes and spectators from around the world."

-- Goro Yoshimura, Governor of Nagano Prefecture

"We hope our hospitality will help them feel at home, and we hope the Games will play a vital role in furthering peace and friendship in the twenty-first century."

-- Tasuku Tsukada, Mayor of Nagano City

The welcome mat is out! Indeed, people from around the world -- athletes and spectators alike -- are gathering this week in Nagano to celebrate a once-every-four-year event, the Olympic Winter Games!

Where is Nagano prefecture? Take a look at a Japan map to see where the Games of the XVIII Olympiad will be played. Nagano is situated on Japan's main island, Honshu. It is at almost the geographical center of Japan. Nagano, the third largest prefecture in Japan, spans 74 miles east to west and 132 miles north to south. (In total area, it's close to the same size as Connecticut). Nagano's population stands at 2,200,000. About 360,00 people live in Nagano City, the capital of Nagano Prefecture. (That's about the same number of people as live in Miami or Cincinnati.) Nagano City is located on about the same latitude as the cities as Seoul, Washington D.C., St. Louis, and Denver. It takes about 2-3/4 hours to travel from Nagano City to Tokyo.

Nagano is often called "the roof of Japan" because it is surrounded by the Japan Alps. For that reason, Nagano is home to many, many ski areas -- the perfect spot for the Winter Olympic Games! Nagano has a cold inland climate with four clearly defined seasons. The average annual temperature is 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Average annual precipitation is about 37 inches, but areas in the mountains near Nagano's border can get as much as 60 inches of snow a year.

What do Nagano's people do for work? Many people in Nagano work in manufacturing. Nagano is the leading producer in Japan of electric calculators, communications equipment, microscopes, and camera lenses. It is also a major supplier of agricultural goods -- including lettuce, cabbage, apples, pears, and grapes -- to the metropolitan Tokyo area.


Want to travel to Nagano without leaving your chair? No trip to Nagano would be complete without a stop at the Zenkoji Temple. Thought to have been founded in the 7th century by Yoshimutsu Honda, the temple's main hall is the largest thatched-roof building in Japan. See a map of Zenkoji where you can click on each part of the temple to see a stunning photograph and to learn more about it.

If you have the necessary plug-ins, you might also want to visit the Virtual Zenkoji Tour.

Be sure to visit the Nagano Sightseeing Web pages. Here you'll see and learn about all the most interesting places to visit while in Nagano, including a stop at the Zenkoji Temple. Among the other places you can visit are Iizuna Kogen, site of many of the Olympic skiing competitions; Mt.Chause, which is home to a zoo, a dinosaur park, and a natural history museum; and Matsushiro, a former castle town where some Samurai residences, temples, and gardens are still in existence.

Want to see Nagano from different perspectives? Travel to Ojyoi Temple, Mt. Chausu, Omine Castle, and other points of interest and check out the view of Nagano from those points.


If you're looking for additional Web sites to add to your Nagano tour, stop off at one or more of the following:

  • You can get to know Nagano City by checking out its cultural and sports facilities and cultural assets. Or see up-close some of the sites of Nagano, including Nagano Station, Wakasoto Park, City Hall, the Post Office, and the hospital.
  • See the Nagano Travel Information Web page. Here you have access to information about many points of interest in Nagano Prefecture and to information about some other major Japanese cities of interest, including Sapporo (site of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games), Kobe (site of the devastating earthquake of 1995), Nagasaki, and Osaka.
  • If you have the patience (it takes a while to load) and the necessary plug-ins (PanoramIX, VRML, and RealAudio), Take a Virtual Tour of Nagano!


Language. Learn to speak Japanese on the Try Japanese! Web page. You can learn some of the basics of Japanese conversation. You can hear the actual pronunciation by clicking the button to the right of each sentence. Sentences fall under broad categories such as Greetings, Introducing Yourself, and Asking the Way. Use this site to teach your students how to count from one to ten. Another site Travelers' Japanese With Voice includes some tips about how to pronounce vowels and consonants in Japanese as well as several lists of expressions ("with voice").

Geography -- direction. (For grades 2-up.) This activity will reinforce students' understanding of cardinal directions -- north, east, south, and west. (For older students, adapt the activity and the Answer Key to include northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest.) Provide each student with a copy of Teaching Master 1: Welcome to Nagano! Students should answer the questions on the Teaching Master using the Clickable Map of Nagano Prefecture on the Internet.
Hints for using this Teaching Master worksheet:

  • Let students sign up for a time on the classroom computer so they can complete the worksheet,
  • print out copies of the map to post at a learning station in the classroom or to hand out to students for use with the activity, or
  • invite the class to do this activity during their computer lab time.
[ANSWER KEY: 1. northern, 2. Omachi, 3. East, 4. south, 5. north, 6. Chino, 7. western, 8., east or south (or southeast), 9. north or east (or northeast), 10. Otaki.]

Read aloud. Locate in your school or town library a folk tale from Japan and read it aloud to students.

Symbols. The prefectures of Japan each have symbols just as the states of the United States have. Nagano's prefectural flower is the bellflower. Its prefectural bird is the snow grouse. And its prefectural tree is the white birch (which also happens to be the "state tree" of the state of New Hampshire!) Invite students to create a chart with four columns (like the one below). Then students can use encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, or the Internet to research the state flower for each of the U.S. states. (For younger students you might limit the assignment to your own state and states that border it.) If you have a computer lab in your school, this would be a good assignment for students to complete in the lab. For one-stop shopping for all this information, check out the Trees, Birds and Flowers of The United States Web page. (Note: Nagano City, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture has its own Nagano City Symbols.)

Naganobellflowersnow grousewhite birch

Money math. Students might have lots of fun with the Currency Converter, which will convert dollars and cents to yen automatically. Just click on "Currency Counter," type the U.S. dollar-and-cents amount in the U.S. box on the chart, hit the "Calculate" button, and immediately you'll see the exact yen equivalency. The Currency Converter also converts to German marks, Great Britain pounds, and 14 other worldwide currencies! For older students -- Check out the Kinds of Japanese Money Web site for current equivalencies (these are "ballpark figures") between U.S. dollars and cents and Japanese yen coins and bills. For example, as of January 9, 1998:

10,000 yen bill = about US $ 75.20
1,000 yen bill = about US $ 7.52
100 yen coin = about US $ 0.75
10 yen coin = about US $ 0.08
5 yen coin = about US $ 0.04
1 yen coin = about US $ 0.008
Create word problems based on the current "Kinds Of Japanese Money" chart. For example:
  • If you had two 10,000 yen bills in your pocket, about how much money (in U.S. currency) would you have? ($150.40)
  • What combination of Japanese coins would you need to form the equivalent of a U.S. quarter? (An appropriate answer would be three 10 yen coins and a 1 yen coin.)
I won't provide additional examples (because my answers might be wrong as the chart -- and the value of the yen -- is in a constant state of flux), but you get the idea.

Read a road map. (For grades 3-up.) Use this activity to reinforce road map reading. Provide a copy or have students call up on the Internet the Nagano Road Guide. This simple map shows three major expressways, a bunch of secondary roads (identified as R158 for Route 158, etc.), and four large cities -- Nagano City, Matsumoto, Ueda, and Iida. Invite students to use the map to answer the questions on Teaching Master 2: Read a Nagano Road Map. (For an additional map reading activity, you might create your own questions to accompany the Nagano Prefecture Rail Network Map.)
[ANSWER KEY: 1. Route 153, 2. the Nagano Expressway, 3. east to west, 4. Route 19, 5. to the north, 6. Route 20, 7. the Nagano Expressway, 8. the northern part, 9. west, 10. Iida.]

Writing. Learn about one of the most important and distinctive landmark buildings in Nagano, the Zenkoji Temple. Then invite students to think about the buildings that are among the most unique, important, and distinctive buildings in your state. Brainstorm a class list of the most important buildings. Then invite each student to choose one of buildings on the list to learn more about and to write a paragraph or two explaining why that building is special to your state.

Math -- statistics. (For grades 4-up.) Students can use the picture fact charts that provide some interesting statistics (for example, number of births and crimes each day, number of people per doctor and fireman) about A Day in the Life of Nagano City to complete this activity. They'll use those statistics to answer the questions on student worksheet Teaching Master 3.
[ANSWER KEY: 1. 6 marriages and 168 marriages; 2. 42 new residents and 1,176 new residents; 3. 10.5 babies and 73.5 babies; 4. 35,868 bus riders and 107,604 bus riders; 5. 348 tons of garbage and 2,436 tons of garbage. BONUS! 2,200,00 people divided by 440 = 5,000 doctors.]

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World