Living Efficiently: Daily Energy-Saving Practices from Totoro and Today

Living Efficiently: Daily Energy-Saving Practices from Totoro and Today

Background Information.
For more ideas on how to use anime in the classroom, please see Professor Antonia Levi's article, Anime and Manga: It's Not All Make-Believe, her filmography, Anime: An Annotated Filmography for Use in the Classroom, and Ian Condry's essay, Teaching Anime: Exploring a Transnational and Transmedia Movement.  For more background on present day Japan, please see Professor Peter Frost's article, Contemporary Japan: 1989-Present.

From Antonia Levi's filmography Anime: An Annotated Filmography for Use in the Classroom:
When their mother is sent to a TB sanitarium, and their father moves to the country in order to be nearer his wife, two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, struggle to come to terms with their new surroundings and their fears regarding their mother. When little Mei gets lost, they receive help from a variety of eccentric neighbors and also from some fantastic magical creatures such as the largest Totoro and the Catbus. This is a very nostalgic view of 1950s Japan.

Points for discussion: My Neighbor Totoro
is an excellent introduction to Shinto and to animistic beliefs and practices generally. Although the totoros are purely the product of Miyazaki’s imagination, the large Totoro (the “king of the forest” in the English translation) who befriends the girls is a forest spirit or a kami in the Shinto tradition. Specifically, he is the spirit of the large camphor tree to which the Shinto shrine visited by the girls and their father is dedicated; teachers might like to point out the torii gateway and the rope (shimenawa) that designates the tree as sacred. There are also references to Japan’s other major religion, Buddhism, in the O-Jizo statues that are present whenever the girls are really frightened. Jizo is a bodhisattva (a sage who has achieved nirvana but who remains in this world to help others) who protects children. Teachers might like to explain that that Buddhism and Shinto are not exclusive religions and co-exist synchronically with most Japanese practicing both. Students might also like to take note of the old-fashioned farmhouse which is pretty well explained since it would also be unfamiliar to most modern Japanese and which are therefore explained to some degree in the movie. My Neighbor Totoro can also be used to discuss matters that have nothing to do with Japan specifically, such as sibling relationships, parental illness, the fear of death, and the results of dislocation and changes in the family.


  • My Neighbor Totoro (DVD)
  • Color pencils, markers, scissors, rulers, poster papers
  • Copies of the characters in Totoro

Learning Goals.

  • Describe traditional Japanese attitudes toward nature.
  • Identify at least 5 energy-saving practices in Totoro.
  • Design an advertising poster to promote those energy-saving practices in today’s world.


Common Core Standards
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

  • Standard 2.   Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Standard 4.  Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning  and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Standard 5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • Standard 6.  Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Scientific Connections and Applications
Students produce evidence that demonstrates understanding of impact of science, and interactions between science and society.

NYSED S5 Scientific Thinking
Students demonstrate scientific inquiry and problem solving by using thoughtful questioning and reasoning strategies, common sense, and conceptual understanding. Students work individually and in teams to collect and share information and ideas

NYSED S7 Scientific Communication

Students demonstrate effective scientific communication by clearly describing aspects of the natural world using accurate data, graphs, or other appropriate media to convey depth of conceptual understanding in science.

Key Concept. The rural, 1950s way of life depicted in My Neighbor Totoro offers lessons in green living that are applicable across cultures and across time periods.

Essential Question.  

Primary Source.
My Neighbor Totoro
(Tonari no Totoro), writ., dir. by Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli, 1988.

Thought Questions.  



Focus Activity Ideas.
Days 1 & 2
Show the movie My Neighbor Totoro in class and ask students to response to these prompts while watching:

  1. List five things that the characters in Totoro do that are energy-efficient.
  2. List 3 things that these characters do NOT do that are energy-efficient.
  3. Explain why the level of carbon dioxide in Totoro’s village is relatively low compare to a modern city like NYC or Tokyo.
  4. Use your knowledge of photosynthesis and biology to explain why this claim is scientifically sound: “The sun blessed these vegetables, so they are good for you,” said Grandma.
Discuss these prompts after the movie; solicit students’ responses to the movie.

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.
Day 3:

Create a list of energy-efficient practices from students’ responses and have them explain why. Have students work in groups of 2-4 to create a “green” movie poster for Totoro that is also an educational advertisement to promote 5 energy-efficient practices of daily living as the movie has portrayed. Images on the poster must resemble those in the movie, including the characters and landscape. (This is one part of the assessment component).

Day 4
Continue working on the poster.

Summative Activity Ideas.

Day 5:

Teams present their work to the class orally (this is the second part of the assessment component.)


Green movie poster and oral presentation. Students will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • 25% Content of the poster must include 5 energy-efficient practices along with a short explanation to justify those choices
  • 25% Creativity, catching images, positive messages, culturally sensitive
  • 20% Team work (collaboration from all team members are fair)
  • 30% Oral presentation (clear and respectful tone)



Theme,Culture; Grade Level,Elementary; Type,Lesson Plan; Topic,Popular Culture; Subject Area,Science & Environmental Science; Grade Level,Secondary; Theme,Using Pop Culture to Teach About Japan;
environment, totoro, lesson plan, green teaching, anime, miyazaki, hayao, elementary school, science,anime, society, daily life