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Taro and the Tofu

Taro and the Tofu

Author: Masako Matsuno
Kazue Mizumura

Literature Based Unit Study Written By Wende


Geography – Taro and his family live in the country of Japan, a chain of islands off the eastern coast of Asia’s mainland. If your student isn’t familiar with what an island is, explain that it is a piece of land entirely surrounded by water. Have student locate Japan on world map and place story disk there.

Japan Outline Map

Japanese Flag

Japanese Culture –
Introduce your student to the various aspects of Japanese culture. Look at pictures of the clogs and kimonos the people are wearing, and the kotatsu (low table) that the Japanese eat at. Discuss the Japanese diet of fish, rice, vegetables, and of course, tofu. For fun, why not have a Japanese tea party, sitting on the floor serving some green tea, and maybe even some tofu soup!

Info on tofu and oodles of recipes



Stars – The first page of the story says “Taro could see the evening star already twinkling in the eastern sky.” Stars are fiery balls of gas that make their own light. While they seem small because they are so far away, stars are larger than the earth, and some are even larger than the sun. Why did Taro notice the star twinkling in the evening sky? Stars do not go away in the daytime, yet we can’t see them. Try this experiment with your children to see why:

Go into a dark room and shine a small flashlight. The little light seems very bright in the dark room. Then turn on the lights and see what happens to the little light of the flashlight. It does not seem very bright now, does it? The stars are the same way. The stars are bright at night, when you see them shine in the dark sky. But you can’t see them against the bright sky.

Levers – Look at the picture of the tofu seller carrying his crates of tofu. He is using a simple machine called a lever, a stick with his crates at either end. A lever is helping the man to use his muscles as if he were stronger. Have your child experiment by attaching different objects to the ends of a pole and carrying them over his shoulder like the tofu seller. How important is it for the items to weigh the same? What happens if the pole is moved either forward or backward? Have child try to hold the same objects in front of him without the use of the pole. Which way is easier? See if your child can find any other levers around your house. A seesaw, a screwdriver used for prying, and a bottle opener are all levers.


Japanese Characters – The Japanese write their numbers differently than we do. Print out the Japanese counting book and have children practice writing the Japanese characters. Then have the children go on a “number hunt” through Taro and the Tofu , looking for any of the Japanese number characters on the signs.

Money/Addition – Set up a candy store. Make a display of an assortment of penny candies, raisins, peanuts, etc. and give children a handful of change. Take turns with children being the seller and buyer, practicing addition, subtraction, and money value skills. Student may like to make a sign for the store, writing out a price list giving additional practice in writing monetary amounts.



Italics – The student may notice that some words through out the story are written in a different, slanting print. This style of printing is called italics. Italics are used to bring attention to a certain word, show feeling, or in the case of Taro and the Tōfu, to show words of a foreign language. Can your student pick out these Japanese words?

          Tōfu – bean curd

          Ojiisan – old man

          Obasan – Miss

Maybe your student would like to learn some more Japanese words:

          Sayonara – good-bye

          Arigato - thank you

          Bonsai – art of growing miniature trees

          Origami – art of paper folding  

Onomatopoeia – The use of words whose sound suggests a sound referred to is called onomatopoeia. Examples would be “Crash!” or “Bang!” The author of Taro and the Tofu has used this literary device to make the story more interesting. Can your student pick out any of the onomatopoetic words? The “Pooo…Pooo…Poooooo…” of the peddler’s trumpet, or the “Pitcha…Pitcha…Pitcha…Top…Top…Top…” of the water sloshing in the tofu pan are both examples of onomatopoeia. Can your student think of any other examples?

Repetition – An author will sometimes use the repetition of words or a sentence to tie a story together. Can your student pick out the repetitive phrases in this story? The author tells you that it is cold and windy no less than ten times! The author really wanted to emphasize to the reader that it was cold and windy; possibly to show us just how hard of a decision it was for Taro to return the money to the tofu peddler. It surely would have been one less factor in Taro’s decision if the weather were pleasant. But Taro made the right decision, and even in spite of the cold, windy weather, the author tells us on the last page of the story that Taro felt warm.


There is a lot of motion in the pictures, especially the effects of the wind. Look at the illustrations of the trees with bent branches, the leaves flying, and Taro’s scarf blowing in the wind. Have students dip a feather in paint and drag it along paper as they paint to make a windy picture.


A Pair of Red Clogs by same author (this is a Five in a Row Volume I selection)


General info and unit study ideas: