Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Make a Temple Book or Japanese Screen

Objective: Students will create their own books and stamps, and can inscribe poetry or good wishes on each others books. They will then take their books with them on a pilgrimage to the Asian Art Museum, the Japanese tea garden, or the beach, and record their impressions.


Many Edo period travelers kept diaries of their adventures on the road, and some of these became best-selling books that in turn inspired other would-be travelers. Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, is the best known of these. It chronicles a fascinating road trip full of beautiful, sorrowful, and terrifying moments written in detailed prose interspersed with poetry.

Travelers in Japan today continue to document their experiences. An example of this can be witnessed at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Many visitors carry small books with blank pages. For a donation, monks will place the temple or shrine’s stamp in red, and then inscribe the name of the institution and date in your book with black Chinese characters.


Artwork (see “Related Resources” below): Mount Fuji and the Beach at Miho; Two cardboard or mat board covers (example, each board = 4/1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches); oblong strip of paper for pages (4 inches by 32 inches); glue sticks; white vinyl eraser for carving stamps; linoleum carving tools: commercial rubber stamps or white vinyl erasers; ink stamp pads; metallic gold and red colors; small bamboo brushes; sumi ink


  1. Show and discuss the artwork Mount Fuji and the Beach at Miho with students:
    • Explain that Mount Fuji has endured to the present day as one of Japan’s most popular pilgrimage sites. Pilgrims believed that by climbing the mountain, they paid their respects to the mountain spirit and gained merit that might help them in this life as well as in the next.
  2. Ask students: What is a pilgrimage?
    • What are common pilgrimages for Californians (Yosemite? Disneyland?), and what activities are associated with these sites? (Camping, swimming, hiking, amusement rides, special foods, skiing, etc.)
    • Is there a difference between pilgrimages to Fuji in Edo Japan and pilgrimages to Fuji or Yosemite today? (Religious purpose has declined, although it may still exist in a sense. For example, visitors to Yosemite certainly feel a sense of awe for the power and beauty of nature, and the regenerative results of a camping trip to Yosemite are not much different from what Edo travelers might have sought when visiting Fuji).
  3. Explain that many Edo period travelers kept diaries of their adventures on the road. Travelers in Japan today continue to document their experiences. An example of this can be witnessed at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
  4. Explain to students that they will be making their own temple books.
  5. Begin Activity:
    • Cut two panels of cardboard or mat board for the covers of the book. They should be slightly larger than the dimensions of the accordian folded paper.
    • User commercial rubber stamps or carve your own motifs from white vinyl erasers.
    • User gold ink and stamps to design on the cover for all over decorative effect.
    • Fold a long strip of paper into equal sections to make the accordian folded section of the book’s pages. Make certain you have an equal number of folds so that the first and last fold can be used as end papers to glue the pages of the book to the covers.
    • Use bamboo brushes and sumi ink to write messages of good will or examples of haiku poetry on each page. Students can also use the pages to create small paintings or drawing in addition to the writing.
    • To complete the project, stamp mon crest designs (see Handout: Japanese Mon) or the artist’s initials with red ink on the the printed pages, either on top of the writing or on the borders of the pages to enhance the overall effect.

Japanese Screen Option:

This booklet format can also be adapted to create a miniature Japanese screen. Simply change the dimensions of the paper to 6 x 18 inches. This will make a 6-fold screen with panels measuring 3 x 6 inches. For screens, it is best to use heavy card stock as your form, then cover this with gold foil to use as a painting surface.