Educators Smithsonian Education
Winter Party: By Utagawa Toyoharu
Lesson Plan 2

  • Interpret Japanese and American paintings
  • Evaluate paintings as sources of cultural and historical information


Art, social studies


1. Tell your students that they'll be acting like detectives in this activity. Ask them what detectives look for to solve a mystery. Answers may vary, but students will probably conclude that detectives seek clues that suggest a particular sequence of events in the past. Emphasize that they'll now be looking for clues in paintings that can provide insights into the daily lives of people in earlier times who lived in Japan and the United States.

2. Give each student a copy of Activity Page 2A and two copies of 2C. Ask them to examine carefully the painting on Activity Page 2A and answer the accompanying observation questions from Activity Page 2C. (Do not tell your students the title or subject of the painting at this time.) When your students have finished answering the questions, begin a class discussion based on their responses. Students will probably conclude that the painting depicts a town in the United States during the early twentieth century. Be sure to tell your students that the scene was painted by American artist Willard Leroy Metcalf in 1917 and is entitled October Morning — Deerfield (see inset for teacher's notes).

3. Give each student a copy of Activity Page 2B and repeat the procedure described in Lesson Plan Step 2. (Again, do not tell your students the title or subject of the painting yet.) In the class discussion, students may conclude that the painting depicts a rural area in Japan sometime in the past. Be sure to tell your students that the painting, entitled Country Scenes, was painted by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai during the early decades of the 1800s (see inset for teacher's notes). Stress that the painting was done on panels that combine to make a six-fold screen, a form of traditional Japanese art your students will study in the next activity.

4. Review what students learned about both scenes by observing the paintings. How would they characterize the daily lives of the peoples depicted? How are the two scenes alike or different? Ask your students to consider whether paintings are good sources for clues to another culture. They will probably conclude that paintings are valuable sources of information. If they do not, note any limitations of paintings as information sources. Be sure to stress that paintings capture only a single moment in time, in a particular place, and may express only the viewpoint of the artist. Have students create a list of questions they have about the lives of the people depicted for which the paintings do not provide answers. What do the paintings tell us about life in Japan and America today? You may also wish to emphasize that we can misinterpret what we see. Conclude the activity by asking students what other sources of information they might examine for clues to a culture. Answers will vary, but students will probably conclude that paintings by other artists, artwork from different time periods, the accounts of travelers, and contact with people from another culture might provide alternative views of that culture.

Required Materials

Activity Pages 2A, B, and C

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