Lesson Plan for Feudal Japan (1 day)
Critical Thinking Skills
Grade 9 Social Studies
S.P.A.M. (Samurai, Peasants, Artisans, Merchants)
Preparation: Pieces of paper or cardboard, colored pencils
Lesson - S.P.A.M.
OPEN CLASS: Say: Welcome to the rice paddies! Rice was an important crop in feudal Japan. The peasants who grew rice had an important job to do. There was a system in place to make sure the peasants did their job well, so that enough rice could be grown for the needs of the nobles. Today, we are going to experience that system first hand by playing a game called SPAM, which is short for Samurai, Peasants, Artisans, and Merchants - SPAM.
Get Your Class Ready to Play SPAM
Break your students into groups of 7.
One per group: Appoint one student from each group to be the Samurai.
From the class: Select 2 students at random to be Merchants.
From the class: Select 2 students at random to be Artisans.
Inform the rest of each group of students that they are Peasants and that they are growing rice. Peasants are to print the word RICE on a piece of paper in block letters and draw a rice stalk on each paper. The Samurai will be around to collect it. When asked, they must surrender all rice that the Samurai can see or knows about. Inform the Peasants that they must also try to hide rice from the Samurai so that they will have enough to eat and to trade. Don't give the peasants any further direction. They can grow (draw) the rice any way that works for them.
ROUND ONE: For the first (trial) round, have the peasants draw as much rice as they can in 5 minutes. At the end of this short period, subtract 1 rice for each peasant from this number. This will be their base. Each time the Samurai comes along, the group must have at least this much rice to give to the Samurai. If they do not have the required amount, the Samurai then selects one student peasant and takes them out of the group. This signified that they have been executed and can no longer work. The group must still grow the original amount of rice for the next round, but the executed peasant no longer participates.
EXECUTED PEASANTS: One a student peasant is "executed" (removed from the group), they are assigned a new role, that of "child". All executed peasants must sit out one round before returning to their original group in their new role as "child", provided their group is still in existence. Babies cannot work. Children can, and did.
ARTISANS: Artisans are to create (draw) goods that the Samurai would want. (Swords, Armor, Musical Instruments, etc.)
During each round, the merchants take the goods the Artisans have created and trade with the Samurai for rice.
The Samurai sets the price and only gives as much rice as they want to.
The merchants then return to the Artisans and share the rice they have traded for.
Between rounds, if the peasants have managed to successfully hide some rice, they may trade for goods with the merchants.
Timing: Each subsequent round should last the same amount of time as the first round.
Crop Quality: If the rice drawn after the first round is drawn poorly, the Samurai will not accept it. The Samurai is the only judge of what is acceptable quality.
Stealing Rice: Peasants caught stealing rice by the Samurai are "executed" and their rice confiscated. This does not change the quota for the group. Quotas of rice remain the same per group throughout the activity irrespective of the number of people in each group during any one round.
Food for the Peasants: At the end of each round, the teacher checks to see if the group has created and successfully hid enough rice so that each member of the group has at least one rice. If they do not, remove from the group each member that does not have rice. (They have starved, and are now dead.) The quote of rice for the group remains unchanged.
Angel of Death: During the third round, and each subsequent round, the teacher selects a group at random and representing "the angel of death" (fire, flood, epidemic, insects, etc.) takes away 1/2 of the rice they have created.
PURPOSE OF THE LESSON: The purpose of this lesson is to show that peasants could not win, and that the system was unstable.
CLOSE CLASS: At the conclusion of the game, ask your students if they feel this system could function successfully over time. Ask: Could the peasants ever win? Was their life a pleasant one? How do you think they felt about the Samurai?