Monitoring Show: How Will Kids React When Their Pet Starts Talking to Them?

15 Sep

There’s a popular show in Japan called “Monitoring/モニタリング“. It’s a show that monitors human behavior using hidden cameras (“If ____ this happened to you, how would you react?”), and is supposed to be funny.

I wouldn’t say that everything on the show is appropriate for little children, but one segment I would recommend for kids is “If your pet/an animal/something that usually doesn’t talk started talking to you, what would you do?”. I’ve shown my kids these episodes on YouTube and they can’t get enough. It’s a great way for them to hear how other kids in Japan talk.

Here are some to get you started!

Benesse Challenge Touch Review!

9 Sep



Last year I introduced you to Benesse’s Challenge Touch/Kodomo Challenge program on this post. The program is for elementary aged children and offers a monthly downloadable curriculum. Many of you were just as interested in this program as I was. If you are hearing about Challenge Touch for the first time, here is a little introductory video:

This summer when I visited Tokyo, I happened upon their new Aoyama Area Benesse in the Shibuya/Omotesando neighborhood. The one in Aoyama is the flagship store, but there are locations all over Japan. These “Area Benesse” offices can help you answer questions about Benesse programs and products, sign up for services, try out materials, etc.


When we entered the building, we were immediately greeted by very friendly staff. One staff member helped my 7 and 5-year olds get started on some activities while I asked another staff member questions.

The biggest question I had was, “Can we use the Challenge Touch program in the United States?“.

The answer was yes… and maybe. Yes, as long as you have reliable internet connection, you can use the Challenge Touch tablet and download the monthly curriculum anywhere. The only problems you then face are:

  • Benesse will only ship its products to a Japanese address (at least that’s how it is currently). So you will either need to go to Japan and buy it while you are there (we had them ship the tablet to our hotel) or have it sent to a friend or relative, then have them ship it to you.
  • If your tablet happens to break, you will need to pay the shipping back to Japan, as well as have your friend/relative ship you the new one, which can be costly and a hassle.

We decided to take the risks and sign up to do the Challenge Touch program for one year. I thought the pricing was very reasonable. With the exchange rate the way it is now, it came down to about $25 per month (and the tablet is free as long as you continue the program for at least 6 months!). I also signed up for the insurance program, which was only about $15 per year. If you sign up for insurance, if your tablet breaks, you can get a new one for around $30 (otherwise I think they said a new tablet costs about $300).

A few days after putting in our order, our package arrived. In it was our tablet computer and some paper educational materials like workbooks and a kanji dictionary. (They actually sent us materials for the wrong grade at first. I contacted them and they immediately sent me the correct grade level).


We charged up the device, entered our login information, and then downloaded our first month’s program. It was pretty easy! (If you don’t know Japanese well, all of this might be difficult to navigate. The program is designed for children grades 1-6 who can speak Japanese already, not for adults learning Japanese for the first time).

The program was very easy for my second-grader to figure out on her own. She had a lot of fun playing with all the features. She completed her first two assignments in Kokugo (Japanese) and Sansu (math) and declared it was awesome. The program does a really great job at keeping kids motivated and having fun while learning. We are currently going on month 3 of using the program and she still loves using the Challenge Touch every day.

Other things we love about the Challenge Touch program:

  • There is an online library where you can borrow 5 electronic books at a time. There are hundreds of titles to choose from! This is included in the monthly fee.
  • You can practice writing kanji and play a game where you learn the multiplication tables, even when you are not connected to the internet.
  • My daughter enjoys sending me emails every day.
  • Just 3 months into the program, I can already tell my daughter is better at reading and writing kanji.

Some cons:

  • I didn’t realize Benesse sends out paper materials every few months, even if you just signed up for the electronic version. This is great, except I feel badly my aunt in Japan has to go through the hassle of forwarding all these materials over for us. I wish I could just pay a little extra to have everything sent to the U.S.
  • I am constantly worried my kids are going to break the tablet, haha. We have a rule in our house where they MUST be sitting at a desk if they are using it (no standing, walking around, laying on the couch, etc). We’ve also lectured them about not pressing too hard with the pen. So far so good.
  • The voltage is different here. Easy problem to fix though, we just use a transformer:


My kids normally use headphones as well when doing benkyou (study) on the Touch. We highly recommend this one! It is sized perfectly for kids’ heads, had a durable cord, and I don’t have to worry about the volume being turned up too loud. Headphones are a must for us because with 3 kids running around our little house, it can get quite noisy and hard to concentrate.



Bottom line is that we are so glad we took a chance and decided to try the Benesse Challenge Touch program. I can see us continuing for the next few years, and may even get a second device for our son when he begins first grade. I hope that someday soon they will make the program downloadable for iPads– wouldn’t that be nice?

Read more about the Kodomo Challenge program HERE and feel free to contact them if you have any questions. They are very nice!


I am NOT affiliated with Benesse and have NOT received any free products or compensation for writing this review. 

Japanese Back to School Supplies!

6 Aug

Have you all  started your back-to-school shopping yet? We have enjoyed our summer but I can’t wait to get back to the school routine (and have some peace and quiet in my house– ha!).

Something that (I feel) is far superior in Japan are school and office supplies. The pencils and erasers my kids use at their American school are always breaking/doesn’t erase well. We went to an office supply store while we were in Japan and I was in heaven! So many high quality supplies, and designed well too.

I came back to the U.S. and was pleasantly surprised that many Japanese school supplies are available on Amazon! And you can’t beat the free shipping. I gathered some of my favorite items into my Amazon store for you here. I’ll keep adding as I find more:


My 7-year old daughter and I highly recommend these MONO erasers. She chooses these over her cute, character-shaped erasers every time because they WORK!


My son would go crazy over this Yokai Watch Bento Box. I would buy this for him if I hadn’t just recently purchased a Super Mario one for him in Japan! (My kids are currently obsessed with this show… maybe I’ll write a post about it later).


And it’s time to kick it into high gear with our Japanese studies. I find that my kids’ Japanese gets worse once the school year begins because they are immersed in English so much of the day. Thankfully, there are now a lot of Japanese-language materials available online now, like this Hiragana Practice Board.


What back to school supplies do you like the most? Are you excited for your kids to go back, or do you wish summer could last a little longer?

Japanese Math App for Kids: わかる!算数

30 Apr

IMG_1713 There are SO MANY apps for teaching Japanese these days! Our current favorite is called: ”わかる!算数 for iPad” by GAKUGEI Co., Ltd.  (“I See! Math”) I downloaded the app for 1st grade ($4.99) and 2nd grades ($5.99). Both of my kids (ages 5 and 7) love working on their math skills with this app. The children first learn a new concept (addition with carrying over, telling time, etc), practice, then take a quiz. The animations are cute and rewarding. My kids have been using this app daily for about two weeks and they don’t seem to be tired of it yet. IMG_1714 I am pretty fluent in Japanese, but sometimes struggle explaining new math concepts in Japanese, so this program has been a great help. My kids are learning how to tell time, identify shapes, solve story problems, measure in centimeters, etc., in Japanese!

Here are the links by grade:

First Grade Math

Second Grade Math

Third Grade Math Part One, Part Two

Fourth Grade Math Part One, Part Two, Part Three

You can try out I See! Math for FREE (trial version) before you decide if you want the full version or not. There is also an option to switch the entire app over to English if you’d like. You can view all the apps created by Gakugei HERE. IMG_1715   What are your favorite Japanese apps for kids these days?

NOTE: I was not asked by anyone to write this review, and I did not receive any free products or compensation. I bought this app after doing my own research and this is all my honest opinion :)

Books About Japan by Tuttle Publishing, and a GIVEAWAY!

17 Apr

IMG_7931 I recently received a few books to review from Tuttle Publishing (thank you!). I was happy to do so because we already own and love “Japanese Celebrations” by Betty Reynolds (blogged about it back in 2011 here) so I was excited to see what else they had to offer.

Did you know that: “The Tuttle Publishing Company was established in 1948 in Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, Japan, and is today regarded as a premier publisher and seller of books rooted in Asian culture, language, and history…Today, Tuttle publishes 150 new titles each year in focusing on Asian Languages, Asian Food & Cooking, Gardening & Flower Arranging, Crafts & Origami, Children’s Books, Martial Arts, Asian Literature, Games & Graphic Novels, Asian History & Culture, Health & Fitness, Self-help & Eastern Religion, Asian Art & Collectibles, Interior Design & Architecture, Travel Guides, Maps, and Business Books.​” source WOW! I had no idea they specialized in and published so many books about Asia. There’s over 100 books about Japan alone.

The book I’d like to highlight today is “Cool Japan Guide” by Abby Denson. This one was a surprise favorite. I’m typically not super into comic books, but this one was very informative and fun to read. IMG_7933 Our family is going to Japan again soon, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed thinking about what to pack, what to see, how to get around, etc. This book did a great job of compiling a lot of helpful travel tips! Abby explains what to pack, how to get and use a JR Pass, what to see and eat, manners when using a Japanese bath/onsen, what a homestay is like, etc. I would highly recommend this book to anyone preparing to travel to Japan for leisure/business or for a homestay. It might also make a great gift for someone who loves Japan!


image from

The day after receiving this book, I caught my 7-year old daughter reading the book. She loved the comic-book style and enjoyed learning about what to expect in Japan. My father, who is Japanese, picked up the book one day and asked if he could borrow it. IMG_7942 I know we can get a lot of free information online these days, but there is definitely something special about flipping through an actual book. I feel like I learn so much more.

Anyway, would you be interested in winning this book from Tuttle Publishing? They have generously offered to send “Cool Japan Guide” to a Hiragana Mama reader (sorry they had originally said any book, but the company just told me in order for this to be open worldwide, it has to be just this book). To be eligible to win, please visit Tuttle Publishing and write a comment below saying which book(s) look the most interesting to you! Please also include an email address so we can contact you if you win. For a bonus entry, please share this post on Facebook or pin it on Pinterest, then comment saying that you did so. The winner will be announced Sunday April 19. Good luck!

*****the giveaway is now closed*****

CONGRATULATIONS, adriperezvieira! You are the winner of the free book (chosen using You will be contacted shortly. おめでとうございます!

Everyone else, you can get free shipping over $50 at, or their titles are available via Thank you for reading!

Using Labels to Learn Japanese

25 Mar

I recently came upon the realization that I really need to work on my children’s vocabulary. So one night while they were sleeping, I used masking tape+marker to label items around the house in Japanese! When they woke up in the morning, the kids had fun discovering what I had labeled in the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedrooms. I think this will help us learn some new words and use them in context. The labels are an eyesore, but I plan to remove them once I’m confident we have mastered the use of that word.





If you would like to do the same, just walk around your house and write down the things that your kids would not be able to name in Japanese. There may be some words that you’ll have to look up in a dictionary! Use a permanent marker to write the word on masking tape, and stick it on the corresponding item. When everyone in the family has learned the word, you can remove the masking tape.

Print Kids (printable Japanese educational worksheets for grades preK-3)

2 Mar

We have had a lot of school cancellations due to the weather lately (our city’s coldest February in 150 years!). On those no-school days, I’ve had to devise a plan to keep my kids busy and learning. We’ve been printing some worksheets from ぷりんと きっず (Japanese study free paper website). It has activities that are PERFECT for my preschooler and first-grader. I plan to use this site to keep my kids learning during their summer break as well!


This is just a small sampling of what’s available on the website. There are learning activities for grades preK-3rd grade, with plans to add more. There’s practice worksheets for hiragana, katakana, kanji, telling time, reading a calendar,counting money, etc. You can see all the subjects covered here on their sitemap. Here are the top 10 worksheet from the site:

printkidsYou can “like” them on facebook to stay up to date:

I encourage you to visit Print Kids and browse around. You are sure to find something for your kids or yourself!

Japanese Party Games for Kids and Teens by Get-Club

5 Feb


If your kids are anything like mine, they love to have FUN!! And what better way to learn a language than by having fun. I recently happened upon a website called “ゲットクラブ” (Get-Club). It is a site that sells party favors and games, but since we don’t live in Japan, the section that interests me the most are the pages containing party game ideas. Don’t let your kids navigate this website alone, as many of the party games are aimed at adults, but they do have two pages dedicated to party games for children and teens. Some of the games include videos of how to play the game, which is very helpful!

For example, here is the game “たたいて、かぶって、ジャンケンポン!” (Hit,Cover,Rock Paper Scissors):

Here is another Rock-Paper-Scissors game where you WANT to lose, in order to win “あとだしジャンケンゲーム“:

These game ideas would be great for birthday parties, play dates, or a rainy day at home.

Click HERE for a list of party game ideas for kids, and HERE for party game ideas for teens.

You may also be interested in this post, Japanese Children’s Games.

NHK for School!

27 Jan

Dear Hiragana Mama Readers, thank you so much for sticking around! We welcomed a new baby girl into our family a few months ago and have been savoring these fleeting newborn days. I have even less free time than before, but I really wanted to share this website with you today: NHK for School.

I visited this site a few years ago and back then, it was nothing to write home about. But now, it is a fabulous GOLDMINE of educational resources for the school-aged student. The site contains thousands of educational episodes and video clips, along with suggestions for how to use it at school/home. The content can be searched by grade level (first grade through high school) or by subject (Japanese, math, social studies, science, art, physical education, etc). It is pretty awesome.


Now, I wouldn’t recommend this site for people who are just beginning to learn Japanese, or toddlers. If you don’t know a little bit of Japanese, it might be hard to navigate this site. The website was designed for students in Japan to supplement their learning at school. This site is perfect for those of us living overseas trying to teach our children about the Japanese language and culture. I feel like this is a great mid-week supplement to Japanese School (hoshuuko). If you can’t afford TV Japan, this is a great alternative. You can read more about the purpose of NHK for School in English, here.

Anyway, if you haven’t already checked it , click this link and enjoy!!

Doraemon on Disney XD

28 Jul

image from

I’ve blogged about Doraemon (ドラエモン)before, but if you haven’t heard of it, it is a very popular cartoon/comic that has been around in Japan for many many years. The cartoon books are great for kids, and I’ve been looking into getting my 6-year old this Doraemon Kanji Book. 

I was recently clicking through the Disney Channel and had to do a double-take when I saw “Doraemon” in the lineup! I guess Disney X D has started airing an English-language version of Doraemon starting this month (news article by The Japan Times HERE). I’ve set my DVR to record a few episodes, and am excited to see what the show is like in English. You can see a little preview on the Disney X D website HERE.

Here are some of the first episodes of Doraemon in Japanese, with English subtitles.


Have you watched Doraemon in Japanese or English?

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