Our Family and Other Families: Using Totoro to Teach Family Structure

Our Family and Other Families: Using Totoro to Teach Family Structure

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, and her filmography, Anime: An Annotated Filmography for Use in the Classroom.  For more background on present day Japan, please see Professor Peter Frost's article, Contemporary Japan: 1989-Present.

Hayao Miyazaki's much beloved film, My Neighbor Totoro, is used in this lesson to spark discussion about the universality of families.  Set in 1950s Japan, the film follows two girls, Satsuki and Mei, as they adjust to life in rural Japan and wait for their mother to recover from illness.  The girls' father, eccentric neighbors, and magical creatures also play supporting roles.  The film is notable, especially compared to modern American children's films, for the lack of villains, tragedy, and fear.  It is essentially a good-hearted movie.

Learning Goals.
• Understand that families and different kinds of families exist in all communities and societies though they may differ.

• Understand that families live in other places and at different times.

• Understand that families have beliefs, customs and traditions.

• Compare and contrast their family with other families.

• Create a poem about families.


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.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

  • Standard 1.  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Social Studies
NYS Standard 3
Students will study about how people live, work and utilize natural resources.
Students will identify and compare the physical, human and cultural characteristics of different regions and people.

Language Arts
NYS Standard 1

Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.
Standard 2
Students will read, write, listen, and speak for literary response and expression.

Key Concept.
In Japan as well as in the United States, families come in many different forms.

Essential Question.  

Primary Source.  

Thought Questions.  



Focus Activity Ideas.
Day 1

1.  Introduction (5 minutes on rug)
Assess students’ prior knowledge about Japan by asking them if they are familiar with Japan and if they can identify it on the world map. Put a post-it on Japan on the map. Then ask the students if they know where the United States is. Put a post-it on the United States. Tell students, “We will be watching a movie that was created in Japan and you will notice that there are families in this movie.” Ask, “Who are the people in your family and what do they do?” Record children’s responses on chart pad.

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.
2. (40 minutes)

Tell students, “Now we will watch the first half of a movie called, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. Pay attention to the Japanese families. How they are the same or different compared to your families.” View first half of the movie.
3. (5-10 minutes)
Ask, “Who are the members of Satsuki’s family?” “What did they do in the family?” Also talk about the secondary character, Kanta’s, family. “Who did you see in Kanta’s home?” Ask students to make connections with the families they see in the movie, “Do any of you live with your grandma?” “How many of you have an older sister or brother who helps take care of you?” Record the responses on chart paper. If you have time you could ask students about their reactions and predictions.

Day 2
1. (5-10) minutes

Quickly review the family members and the characters from the previous session as well as where you left off. Also review the comparisons we made of our families and the families from Totoro.

2. (45 minutes)
Watch the rest of the movie.

3. (5-10 minutes)
Conclusion-Discuss the ending and the main idea of the lesson that although Japan may be so far away, families in Japan are very much like our own. Also discuss how Satsuki’s family and Kanta’s family may be different or have different customs for example, bathing as a family or sleeping in the same room (family bed), Record their responses on chart pad for the writing assignment.

Summative Activity Ideas.
Students will write a poem about families referring to what they learned from this lesson and present it to the class.

Hara, T, (Producer), & Miyazaki, H, (Director).
(April 16, 1988). My Neighbor Totoro. (Motion Picture). Japan: Studio Ghibli.

Johnson M.S. (n.d.), My Neighbor Totoro, Retrieved August 20, 2008, from


Theme,Culture; Grade Level,Elementary; Subject Area,English and Language Arts; Type,Lesson Plan; Topic,Popular Culture; Subject Area,Social Studies; Theme,Using Pop Culture to Teach About Japan;
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