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DIY Training Chopsticks (トレーニングはし)

10 Oct

chopsticks2

Recently, we took the kids to a Japanese restaurant, where they ordered a bowl of ramen. I was delighted when the waitress brought them some training chopsticks. As I studied the chopsticks, I realized it is super easy to make yourself! It took me a few tries to get the tension just right, but it WAS really easy. So the next time you go out to eat at an Asian restaurant, just take along a rubberband (or hair tie) and you are ready to make your own training chopsticks in just a few minutes!

I made you a short video so you can see exactly how it’s done:

After I published my video, I saw that a few others have made similar videos. You can watch them all to see which technique works best for you ;)

Please share with your friends who have children, or adults who have yet to master the art of using chopsticks!

*****

P.S. Eating Japanese food with a fork is silly. Learn to use chopsticks! (past post about training chopsticks here)

Click HERE and scroll down to see how to use real chopsticks.

Japanese Greetings/ あいさつ + An Update

4 Oct

Wow, I can’t believe I haven’t posted in a month! Blogging has been taking a back seat to other priorities for now. I know I have received a lot of emails that I haven’t replied to… I am so sorry :(. The older I get, the more I am learning  it’s ok to say “no” to some things in life so I can be a peaceful, happy mommy and be able to devote quality time to myself and my family. Some things our family has been up to: back-to-school (kindergarten and preschool!) for my kids, new after school activities, apple-picking, costume-making, jury duty, birthdays, Zumba, business trips, and of course, learning Japanese ;).

update.jpg

I am planning to blog about Undoukai (Sports Day at Japanese School), how to make your own training chopsticks, reading-aloud to your kids, good Japanese books we’ve read recently, traditional Japanese games, etc, so keep checking back. In the meanwhile, check out my past posts about Japan-inspired Halloween costume ideas and How Halloween is celebrated in Japan. 

I’ll also leave you with these Shimajiro videos I watched with my son this morning. The theme of these videos is greetings/あいさつ… something my kids need to work on.  These videos are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers!

Ready Steady NihonGo!

1 Nov

Ready Steady NihonGo!” is another wonderful Japanese-learning/teaching resource by the Japan Society. The website provides ten 45-minute lesson plans for introducing children to the Japanese language and culture. The lessons are fun and interactive… it makes me want to be a Japanese Teacher! Each lesson includes printable flashcards and sample dialogue.

Here’s a description of this program from the Ready Steady NihonGo! website:

*****
Ready Steady NihonGO! has been carefully structured to tie in with
the National Curriculum Objectives for KS2 Modern Foreign
Languages. These aims are all clearly stated in the initial summary
and also at the start of each lesson plan. Curriculum links to other
subject areas are also listed, thus making Ready Steady NihonGO!
a complete and relevant unit of work in any upper primary classroom.

*
Ready Steady NihonGO! also ties in with the latest ‘Oracy’,
‘Intercultural Understanding’ and ‘Knowledge about Language’
learning objectives as stated within the Key Stage Two Framework
for Modern Foreign Languages (autumn 2005). Points of particular
relevance include the following:

*
• providing children with the opportunity to imitate and play with the
sounds and sound patterns of the target language
• asking and answering questions on a range of topics
• learning about the cultural traditions, celebrations and literature of
countries where the target language is spoken and making
comparisons with their own
• recognising the language (Japanese) uses a different writing
system, has different ways of expressing social relationships and
borrows words from other languages

*
Targets discussed within the new ‘Languages Ladder’ can also be
applied to Ready Steady NihonGO! and any child who completes
the ten week course can be expected to show progress up the rungs.
Foundation stones in language awareness will also have been laid
and these will support any future study of Japanese.

*****

If you are a parent teaching your children Japanese or a Japanese Teacher looking for a wonderful resource, please check out Ready Steady NihonGo! You’ll be glad you did!

AWESOME Japanese-Learning Website: “Erin’s Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese”

16 Oct

Oh my goodness, I just found the BEST website for learning how to speak Japanese, called ”  エリンが挑戦!にほんごできます。/Erin’s Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese.” I might as well just stop blogging now, this site is so good. Do you all know about it, or am I the last one to discover it?

Erin’s Challenge is a free Japanese-learning website for beginners and more advanced students (perfect for those who will be visiting Japan as an exchange student!). It is made by the Japan Foundation (their website is worth a look as well). Their goal is to help people living overseas learn the Japanese language and learn about the culture too. The website has very helpful videos where “Erin”, a student from England, moves to Japan and slowly improves her Japanese. In addition to videos, there are manga, quizzes, and games to help you review what you have learned.

Things I love about this website: It is very easy to navigate, you can view the website in Japanese, English, or a bunch of other languages, the videos are high quality and the acting is great, the content is with the times and relevant, and it truly is helpful for both beginners and those who are mostly fluent! I also love  that the actors are Japanese, so you can hear REAL Japanese pronunciation.

Don’t just take my word for it, please go visit エリンが挑戦!にほんごできます。 /Erin’s Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese. I plan to show the videos to my children, and use the site to improve my own Japanese as well. Please come back and let me know what you thought!

Here’s a video that shows some of the features on this site:

There’s also a separate website by the Japan Foundation, “Japanese in Anime & Manga” that teaches you about Japanese words and phrases that are used in manga. Some of you might be interested in that as well!

もったいないばあさん “Mottainai Grandma”

6 Oct

from mottainai.com

I recently attended a meeting for Japanese Women that’s held bi-annually where I live, and somebody was getting rid of some Japanese picture books. I was thrilled to snag two “Mottainai Grandma/もったいないばあさん (by Mariko Shinji)” books! I first heard about the series last year when my daughter danced the Mottainai Baachan dance at her Undoukai (Field Day). Here’s what the dance looks like (you should learn it with your kids!):

The word “mottainai/もったいない” means “wasteful” in English. The “Mottainai Grandma” appears whenever someone is about to do something wasteful, and instructs them on how to be more resourceful and responsible for the world. (You can read more about the books in English HERE… the translation is really awful though… somebody needs to use a spell-check!).

Mottainai Baachan reminds me of my mother :) We were encouraged to eat EVERYTHING on our plates. We were scolded if there was any meat left on our fish bones or grains of rice left in our bowls. We drew on the fronts and backs of paper until all the white space was filled. My mother could whip up a meal out of thin air or entertain us with activities and crafts out of materials we already had at home. These are skills that I feel not many people in the world (at least in America) have anymore! We are so spoiled with abundant food, toys, and entertainment. We waste a lot of material, food, and time.

Mottainai Grandma by Mariko Shinji

I’ve learned a lot of fun ideas from reading もったいないばあさん. For example, did you know…

- You can use every single part of a dandelion. The flower can become dandelion jello, the stem can become a whistle, the leaves can be used in a salad, and the root can be used to make coffee (I know, most of this makes me think “yuck!” but still neat to  know!)

- If you are sick with a runny nose, you can stick a scallion on your nose to feel better. If you have a fever, you can wrap a slice of tofu in some cloth to cool down your forehead.

- Instead of throwing away unwanted sweaters, so can unravel it… and if you wash the yarn with hot water and lay it out to dry, the yarn will become straight and re-usable.

In addition to teaching us how to not waste “things”, Mottainai Grandma teaches us how to not waste the seasons (make art with leaves in the fall, make snow angels in the winter), how to be polite, how to make the most of your imagination, etc. The  books are very entertaining to read! Does this remind you of anyone else’s mother/aunt/grandma?

If you are interested, the books are available for purchase HERE from White Rabbit Express and HERE from the Japanese American National Museum. It would be fun to own this Mottainai Baasan Karuta set, too! (Hiragana Mama is not sponsored by any of these companies).

Kodomo Challenge Video

9 Jul

Here’s another great Kodomo Challenge video starring Shimajiro :) This episode has Japanese greetings, food, colors, vehicles, songs, and more. Enjoy!

Click on the “YouTube Videos” category under “Topics” to see more Japanese children’s videos.

Things To Do In Japan With Kids: Visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine

3 May

If you are going to be in Tokyo, be sure to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine! It is a spacious, peaceful park in the middle of the city with lots of trees. My children enjoyed being able to run free without worrying about bumping into other people. I enjoyed the Japanese atmosphere and many photo ops.

My little one enjoyed taking pictures too, with her new birthday gift:

I wish I would have read THIS page on the Meiji Jingu website about shrine etiquette before visiting. I’m afraid we weren’t very respectful as a result of not being informed. If you are planning to visit any shrines in Japan, be sure to study up on proper etiquette first!

{Next time we go to Japan, I would love to hire a professional photographer to take family pictures for us.}

To end our visit, we treated ourselves to vanilla, sakura (cherry blossom), and tofu-flavored ice cream (the store is located right by the entrance). The tofu flavored one was interesting… a bit weird at first, but then it gets better :).

The Meiji Jingu Shrine is super close to Harajuku, and also close to Shibuya and Omotesando. I’d say 1~2 hours is a good length of time to check the place out.

***

In case you missed it, I’m having a little giveaway this week! Just one more day to enter!

Omiyage (Souvenirs) to Take to Japan

22 Feb

Japan is a country where the giving of souvenirs/gifts are very important, as well as the presentation of those gifts. Japan is also a country that seems to already have everything … they have all the brand-names and their technology and design seem to be far superior to the rest of the world (and, everything is cuter!). So. What to take to Japan as gifts? I know a lot of people are going to take good care of us in Japan so I want my gifts to be nice and thoughtful.  After asking my friends and “researching” on the internet, here are my omiyage ideas:

image from ameapa.com

FOR WOMEN:

* Eco Bags (Reusable Bags) from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. They are cute, functional, and seem to be popular in Japan. (click HERE to see how much they are selling for in Japan!). I read that large eco bags are hard to find in Japan. BONUS: they can double as gift wrap!

* Nice hand lotions from somewhere like L’Occitane or Crabtree and Evelyn. I bought these cute gift sets. Who wouldn’t love these whether you live in Japan or anywhere else in the world?

* Little hand sanitizers, called “PocketBacs”, from Bath and Body Works. Inexpensive, cute, and useful. I have heard that since hand sanitizers are not widely used in Japan, you’ll have to explain to your gift recipient how to use this. I think it would look really nice to package 2 or 3 of these in a clear cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon.

* Kitchen tools and accessories from Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel. I think beautiful kitchen towels, pretty cupcake liners, or unique kitchen tools would be nice (note: measuring cups, unless they are measuring spoons, are probably not a good idea because they are different sizes in Japan and in the U.S.)

* Foods like fancy balsamic vinegar, local honey, maple syrup, jam, or spices.

* Pretty earrings, perhaps made locally where you live.

* I hear that cute aprons are popular these days. Anthropologie has some that any girl would love! For someone who likes to host home parties.

* If your recipient is into scrapbooking/card-making, pretty papers, stamps, stickers, cutters, etc might be nice (I like the Martha Stewart Line that can be found at Michaels or JoAnns).

* Nice stationery and notepads (Barnes and Noble, Hallmark, and Papyrus have nice selections).

FOR MEN:

* For my grandpa, I plan to get some beef jerky, nuts (nuts are expensive in Japan), and dried fruit.

* NFL or College team T-shirts or other apparel

* I hear teenage boys like shirts from Hollister, or vintage shirts.

* American candy. I have read that Skittles and Reeses’s are two candies that can’t be found or are rare in Japan.

YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS:

* Hair accessories and clothes from Gymboree or Janie and Jack (or any store, really).

* Sticker Dolly books. I LOVE these!! Great quality and so adorable. I recommend this one.

* Disney princess stuff.

* T-shirts (perhaps from Old Navy?)

* “Where’s Waldo?” books.

* Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and other “American” snacks.

* Things that go along with American holidays, such as egg-dyeing kits for Easter, Halloween candy, etc.

* Your favorite children’s books or music CD’s.

FOR ANYONE:

* Girl Scout Cookies! Those definitely can’t be found in Japan, right? I think the Thin Mints would be a hit.

* Chocolate-covered pretzels.

* Gourmet flavoring for popcorn.

* Tea and coffee (I don’t drink either, so I don’t have any recommendations).

* If going before the winter holidays, I hear American Christmas ornaments are a hit. Hallmark has a million to choose from!

* CD of music played by your local orchestra.

* Think local! What is unique to your area?

PEOPLE WHO YOU’RE REALLY CLOSE TO:

* For my aunt who is going to be helping us a lot in Japan, I thought I would make her a photo book of our trip to Japan and send it to her after our trip so she can recall the fun we had! I have used Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Blurb, and they are all great.

* For my grandpa, I am going to give him a framed family photo.

* It might be fun to put together a CD of your favorite music for a special friend.

*****

WHEW! I hope this list helps someone out there, because I did A LOT of thinking to come up with things that might be well-received by  friends and family in Japan! I’m also going to take a stash of gift wrap, gift bags, and tissue paper so I can wrap these gifts nicely after we arrive in Japan. I know it’s not REQUIRED to give everyone a gift, but it sure feels good to reciprocate the kindness that everyone shows to us when we visit.

And yes, you may say that omiyage adds bulk to your luggage, but after you give them all away, you’ll have more space for all the fun things you buy in Japan :). OH, also, it’s a good idea to not take anything that takes up a lot of space. Most Japanese homes are very limited on space. So something that can be consumed or used up is best. Also, be careful with chocolates in the summer, as they may melt.

Do you have any great omiyage ideas? If you live in Japan, what are some things you love to receive from overseas? アメリカから欲しいお土産は,何ですか?Don’t forget to check out my post about what to buy in Japan, here.

Kodomobushido/こども武士道

5 Jul

Older children learning Japanese might be interested in this website: Kodomo-bushido.com. It is a website for children that uses animations, games, and stories to teach the ancient language and culture of the Samurai.

Wikipedia does a better job explaining what “bushido/ぶしどう” is: Bushidō (武士道?), meaning “Way of the Warrior”, is a Japanese code of conduct and a way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry. It originates from the samurai moral code and stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honor unto death.

は:はし Training Chopsticks

6 Mar

A few weeks ago, I decided to make somen for lunch. And I thought it would be fun to let my daughter use chopsticks for the first time. Somen is NOT the best food for first-time chopstick users! … but it was definitely fun to watch my determined 2-year old try to shovel the slippery noodles into her mouth.

After the experience, I thought, “THAT didn’t go well. I guess I’ll put the hashi away for another year or two.”

Then, one of my (very thoughtful) friends presented me with this gift:

Training Chopsticks! They are really awesome. It is just right for little hands and my daughter got the hang of it in under a minute. (In Japanese, this particular set is called コンビ ベビーレーベルはじめてサポートおはし. The Japanese on the front of the package says “Made for a growing child’s hands”, “From ages 2 and up”, “Teaches correct positioning”, “For both right and left handed children”, “OK for the microwave”, and “Won’t slip easily”).

The back of the package has detailed instructions:

What a great invention! AND the best part is, it is available for purchase in the USA. You can buy it from Amazon.com by clicking here. It is priced pretty reasonably at $6.49. (If you haven’t joined Amazon MOM, you should! It’s free and you get free shipping on almost everything, including these はし!).

If this particular set doesn’t appeal to you, there are other types of training chopsticks, here and here.

When you introduce your child to chopsticks, make sure to teach them about chopsticks etiquette too (from JustHungry).  You’ll learn things such as… Never use chopsticks as a hair accessory. It’s like sticking a fork in your hair. You’ve never been guilty of that crime, have you?

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