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Native Pathways to Education
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. I



Raymond Stein


What follows is a teaching unit in which I will use Akira Kurosawa's most recent movie, "Ran", to explore Japan's samurai heritage with my high-school students. This unit is part of a more encompassing study of Japan and will provide the students with background information for exploring samurai influence on modem Japanese culture, business, and society.

I believe that in order to understand Japan's successes after World War II, one needs to know about the country's feudal past. "Ran" is set in Tokugawa, Japan at the height of the development of the samurai code of honor, "Bushido." As such, the movie provides an excellent foundation from which to build student understanding of Japan's military past.

I believe that the teaching unit will be well received by the students because of their natural interest in movies. The fact that "Ran" presents a considerable amount of action will most likely contribute to increasing the students' interest. I will show the movie over a period of about 2 weeks, at a rate of about 20-25 minutes per day. The teaching unit will thus be presented as a mini-series, and I hope that this organization will increase the students' interest in the unit enough to encourage them to discuss the materials during after-school hours.

There are several other reasons why I believe in the positive outcomes of this teaching experiment. I think that the unfamiliar concepts presented in the film offer a variety of topics for student discussions and other activities. I will prepare additional video clips, mini-lectures, and hands-on projects to address student questions and to provide further background information. In addition, I will pursue the possibility of coordinating this teaching unit with the English curriculum by comparing the movie with the works of other dramatists. I also believe that, if properly prepared, the students will enjoy and benefit from being exposed to a foreign film with English subtitles.

To summarize the objectives of this teaching unit, I want to point out that all teaching/learning activities will seek to provide the students with a firm understanding of feudalism in historical Japan. The film, discussions, group activities, student projects, and homework assignments will address various aspects of bushido in order to enable the students to interpret the wonder of Japan's modernization in a subsequent unit. What follows is a series of lesson plans for implementing this teaching unit.


Lesson 1


I will begin this unit by discussing with my students various questions, perhaps stereotypes, about the samurai and their code of honor. Questions to be addressed will include the following: Why do many Japanese companies treat their employees paternalistically, and why, as a result, do many workers stay with the same employer for a lifetime? how was Japan able to rebound so quickly from its utter defeat in World War II to become the second biggest economic power in the world? Why were hundreds of young Japanese men willing to commit suicide as kamikaze pilots in World War II?

After this class discussion I will suggest that some of these questions may be partially answered by our understanding of the samurai code of honor. Then I will announce to the class that for the following two weeks, we will be viewing and discussing a movie to try to understand Japan's feudal past and its continuing influence on the present.

Following this introduction, I will present a 25-minute video tape, "Nobles and Samurai" from the series "Video Letters from Japan." While watching the film, the students will jot down five questions about the presented material. In a brief lecture, I will then expand on important aspects of the film. The students' questions will be collected and graded satisfactory or unsatisfactory.


Study for a quiz on the lecture material.

Lesson 2


Check on the students' knowledge of the material from the previous lesson.


Show "Ran" for 20-25 minutes. Discuss the story and identify the characters so far.


Prepare for retelling the story.

Lesson 3


Retell the first part of the story.


Show the next 20-25 minutes of "Ran." Because the story line is complex, I will spend the rest of the period recapping the story and delineating the characters.


Prepare for retelling the story. It is important that the students familiarize themselves with the Japanese names so that the movie will make sense to them as it goes on. Moreover, by testing comprehension, I will encourage the students to discuss the movie with each other at night. This will contribute to developing the "miniseries" interest which I mentioned earlier.

Lesson 4


Comprehension check: Write a summary of the story.

After collecting the students' papers, I will present my own model of a plot summary, both to let the students know what I am expecting and to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the story. I would like to add at this point that generally, I will spend a few minutes at the beginning of each class period explaining student assignments. I also want to point out that I keep emphasizing the students' comprehension of the plot not so much because the story line is rather complex, but more because my class includes students of wide-ranging ability levels. In a unit of this length, I want to do my best to make sure that every student understands the materials from the onset.


Show "Ran," recap the story. Discuss tensions, conflicts and motives as they are developing within specific characters.


I will ask the students to remember either fictive accounts of real-live situations in which they encountered feelings of jealousy, competition, hate or loyalty.

Caribou by There C. Barr 

Lesson 5


Write a paragraph relating one of the emotions, motives, or situations you viewed in the film to something you have experienced, either in fiction (e.g. another movie, a book, etc.) or in real life.


Show 20 minutes of "Ran." Ensure that the students are following the story by asking several students to retell today's episode. Concentrate discussion on Hidetora, the main character, emphasizing his personal characteristics, intentions, weaknesses, and relationships with his sons.


Prepare for a character analysis of Hidetora in paragraph form.

Lesson 6


Write a paragraph or two examining the character of Hidetora. Write about several aspects of his personality. Subdivide these characteristics if possible.


Continue showing the movie. Review the entire story up to this point. Discuss field questions on the plot or on any other area in which the students ask for clarification. Doubtless, every day, the students will bring up questions about topics that arc not directly related to the film. I will be prepared to address such questions by providing video clips, handouts, slides, etc. on such areas as the martial arts, history of Japan, Tokugawa culture.


Prepare for evaluation by reviewing and rediscussing the story.

Lesson 7


Write your own ending to the movie. What do you think will happen?


Analyze the characters of the three sons. For this activity, I will use a small group organization called "jigsaw strategy." The students will first team up in "home groups" of three to decide who is to report on which son. Then the students will meet in "expert groups" which include students who are analyzing the same character. After the expert groups have completed their work, the students will return to their home groups to present their reports. Before these group activities, I will explain to the students that their next evaluation will be based on the topics to be addressed in the group activities. I hope that this announcement, together with the effects of peer pressure, will motivate the students to work well.


Study today's notes about the three sons.

Lesson 8


Answer the following questions: Which of the three brothers has the lowest morals and ethics? Why? Your books may be open.


Show the last episode of "Ran" up to the last 15 minutes of the movie. Discuss the plot and field questions.


There will be another evaluation tomorrow. Therefore, reviewing notes on the story may be helpful.

Lesson 9


In "Ran" we see the samurai class in feudal Japan. This samurai class lived by strict rules which were part of an equally strict code. From witnessing the behavior, expressions, and feelings of the characters in the film and by assuming that these actions are representative of real samurai, make a list of samurai characteristics and rules.


Show the end of the movie. Allow time for free discussion afterwards. Discuss ending. Prepare students for discussion with a resource person the next day.


Prepare one or two questions to ask the resource person from Japan who will be coming tomorrow (if available). Start to study for the unit test which will be given the day after tomorrow.

Lesson 10


Check questions students have prepared.


Introduce resource person, if one is available. The students will ask him their questions which will hopefully elicit his perceptions of the samurai code of honor. If time remains at the end of the period, review some of the unit material in preparation for the unit test.


Study for the unit test on "Ran," samurai, and bushido.


Lesson 11

Unit Test:

The test will include questions covering all levels of analysis.


I am looking forward to trying out this material and I am sure that the variety of activities and exercises included in this unit will keep the students interested throughout the eleven day sequence. I feel that my students will learn a great deal about Japan through this teaching unit.

Additional activities will contribute to broadening this learning experience by allowing the students to express their understanding of bushido with reference to their own culture(s).

A question I would like to address with this concluding paragraph is, why should we teach Japanese culture to Native students who are already confronted with the difficult task of having to learn the culture of the dominant society while trying to maintain their own cultural heritage? I do not wish to belittle this question, but I believe that it is very important for Native Alaskan students to understand Japanese culture, since many of these students will be negotiating with Asians over their natural resources. Cultural ecleticism is absolutely mandatory for the future economic well-being of the Native people of Alaska and for the survival, maintenance, and development of their culture in an economically secure environment. Therefore, I support wholeheartedly studies of the Pacific Rim, but on the other hand, I do not ever want my students to lose touch with their own cultural heritage.



J. Kelly Tonsmiere


Ray Barnhardt

Section I

Some Thoughts on Village Schooling
"Appropriate Schools in Rural Alaska"
Todd Bergman, New Stuyahok

"Learning Through Experience"
Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag

"The Medium Is The Message For Village Schools"
Steve Byrd, Wainwright

"Multiple Intelligences: A Community Learning Campaign"
Raymond Stein, Sitka

"Obstacles To A Community-Based Curriculum"
Jim Vait, Eek

"Building the Dream House"
Mary Moses-Marks, McGrath

"Community Participation in Rural Education"
George Olana, Shishmaref

"Secondary Education in Rural Alaska"
Pennee Reinhart, Kiana

"Reflections on Teaching in the Kuskokwim Delta"
Christine Anderson, Kasigluk

"Some Thoughts on Curriculum"
Marilyn Harmon, Kotzebue

Section II

Some Suggestions for the Curriculum
"Rabbit Snaring and Language Arts"
Judy Hoeldt, Kaltag

"A Senior Research Project for Rural High Schools"
Dave Ringle, St. Mary's

"Curriculum Projects for the Pacific Region,"
Roberta Hogue Davis, College

"Resources for Exploring Japan's Cultural Heritage"
Raymond Stein, Sitka

"Alaskans Experience Japanese Culture Through Music"
Rosemary Branham, Kenai

Section III

Some Alternative Perspectives
"The Axe Handle Academy: A Proposal for a Bioregional, Thematic Humanities Education"
Ron and Suzanne Scollon

"Culture, Community and the Curriculum"
Ray Barnhardt

"The Development of an Integrated Bilingual and Cross-Cultural Curriculum in an Arctic School District"
Helen Roberts

"Weaving Curriculum Webs: The Structure of Nonlinear Curriculum"
Rebecca Corwin, George E. Hem and Diane Levin

Artists' Credits



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Last modified August 14, 2006