Mokuseiderz, Palm-Sized DIY Robots from Japan!

31 Mar

One of my friends recently opened up an online toy shop (Johport) specializing in unique wood toys from Japan. She gave us one of the DIY robot kits to review.

These robot kits are called Mokuseiderz– “Mokusei” means “made from wood” in Japanese. What we thought was really cool (especially my daughter, who is a percussionist) is that these kits are made from high-quality recycled drum sticks.


What we noticed right away are that the kit pieces are tiny! The recommended age range is 12+. You will need to have a steady hand and try to make this in one sitting so you don’t lose any pieces. The instructions were minimal but after looking over all the pieces and watching a few YouTube videos, my 13-year old and engineer husband were able to put the robot together in about one hour.

Despite the small size, the little robot is very high-quality and easily posable! My kids had fun changing its poses, and it stands up surprisingly well too.


We took our little Mokuseiderz robot to the zoo:

If you know a teen or adult who loves to tinker, I think they would love this kit! There are several different robot styles available. Check them all out HERE.

You should also know that Johport is passionate about sustainability and is partnered with One Tree Planted. With each robot purchase, a tree will be planted!

There are many other beautiful toys for purchase. Please share Johport with any friends you know who love eco-friendly and unique toys!

“Mio the Beautiful”: An interview with author Kinota Braithwaite

2 Mar

Representation is a powerful thing. When I was a child growing up in the United States, I did not see many books or shows that had characters that looked like me. As a result, I often felt like an “other” and did everything I could to try and fit in with the majority. I did not like “looking different.”

Several years ago, when I watched the movie “Wonder Woman” in the theater, I literally gasped and felt like cheering in the opening scenes when women are shown as powerful warriors. I thought, “This is the power of feeling represented.” I again had a similar feeling when I watched “Crazy Rich Asians.” It felt freeing to see so many people who looked like me in a major movie. Recently I had the experience of reading the picture book “Eyes That Kiss In the Corners” and was overcome with emotion as I read it out loud to my daughter. No children’s book I had read had ever stated that Asian eyes were beautiful before.

I’m grateful that in recent years many wonderful children’s books have been published featuring a wider range of cultures, nationalities, experiences, and ideas. In the United States, we are seeing more diversity in books.

I do not think that children’s books in Japan have quite as much diversity or representation… yet. But one book is giving me hope: “Mio the Beautiful“, by Kinota Braithwaite. Kinota decided to write this book after his young biracial daughter was bullied at her school in Japan. Unlike some other parts of the world, classrooms in Japan are still mostly ethnically homogeneous, so it is easy to stand out if you look different. This book tackles the issue of racism in a gentle way and encourages teachers and children to be kind to one another.

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Kinota and his daughter over Zoom. I am not comfortable or a natural in front of the camera, but I hope you will watch and enjoy. The best part of the video is Kinota and his daughter Mio reading their book out loud together in English and Japanese (starting at the 7:00 mark).

Thank you Kinota and Mio!

You can purchase their book here:

  1. Amazon (US)
  2. Amazon (Japan)

Online Japanese Classes for Kids

26 Feb

What a year it has been! When COVID-19 shut down our schools in March 2020, I thought for sure my kids would be attending school and other activities “like normal” by the fall. Instead, they have been going back-and-forth from remote-learning to in-person learning (with social-distancing and masks), and most after-school activities have been cancelled or on Zoom.

To be honest, I was very skeptical of online learning at first. And indeed, there was a big learning curve in the beginning for both students and teachers (many tears were shed). In-person learning is ideal for most situations BUT I’ve learned that online classes are not all bad. Creative and innovative teachers around the world have stepped up to the plate and made online learning WORK. Technology has allowed us access to amazing classes and teachers, and we have saved so much time and money by not having to travel to lessons.

The Japanese Language School that my children attend is now all on Zoom, and many other Japanese Schools around the world have also gone online. Some have open enrollment, meaning anyone can sign up. I have seen an increase in Japanese class offerings on popular educational sites like Outschool. So while travel to Japan may still not be possible at this time, we can use technology to our advantage and have Japan come to our homes.

Here are a few online resources I recommend:


  1. Cafetalk.com

I am a fan of Cafetalk! I have blogged about them before (read here). My children took private Japanese lessons and their teachers were excellent. I thought the pricing was reasonable and scheduling was easy. Not only can you take Japanese language lessons, but you can also learn other skills (in Japanese!) like music, dance, abacus, art, etc.


2) Outschool.com

I have personally not used Outschool before but have heard many great things about their classes. I have actually considered teaching for them, and can tell you that they have high standards for the teachers they hire. They have several beginner and intermediate Japanese classes currently available.


3) Classes by JASC (Japanese American Service Committee)

Donguri-Kai by JASC

Their Winter II classes have just begun but you might still be able to sign up.

“Donguri Kai continues to provide Japanese education through online classes for children from kindergarten to elementary school. Class meets in a live online classroom once a week to fortify reading, pronunciation, conversation, and communication in Japanese. Teachers interactively guide students to enhance their communication skills. Students interact on-screen to stimulate and encourage each other through various learning activities.”


Tampopo Kai

“Tampopo Kai is an online Japanese cultural program for preschoolers. Through various engaging activities such as singing, storytelling, and arts & crafts, children and their parents are exposed to the richness of the Japanese language and culture.

Topics that will be covered in Tampopo Kai classes are, but not limited to: Japanese holidays, customs, traditions; Japanese vocabulary words (e.g. colors, numbers, shapes, sizes, family members, greetings, seasons, weather, body parts); Japanese arts (songs, kamishibai-style Japanese story boards, origami).”

They currently meet twice a week on Zoom! Sign up here.


4) Free, self-paced lessons

I think the best way to learn Japanese, especially for a beginner, is to have a real-life teacher who interacts with you. But if you want to learn at your own pace, or want to learn for free, some of the following resources might be for you!

duolingo

My 12-year old uses this app to help maintain her Japanese. It is great for learning and reviewing vocabulary.

Easy Japanese Conversation Lessons by NHK

A wonderful series of 48 lessons that teaches basic conversational skills as well as teaching about the Japanese culture.

NHK for School

I’ve shared this resource before (here) but it’s worth repeated mentions. Hundreds of 10-minute videos covering a wide range of subjects such as Japanese grammar, math, history, science, and bullying. Videos are for preschool though high-school students. Often, there are accompanying printable worksheets and questions you can use along with the videos.

And then of course, there’s many YouTube channels and even Instagram pages that teach Japanese. Those are all awesome supplements and fun/entertaining but I find that it’s easy for kids to watch them mindlessly instead of putting in the work of learning Japanese.


Are you aware of any other online classes for learning Japanese? Please share in the comments section!

Be sure to follow Hiragana Mama on facebook for more frequent updates!

Mister Donut Pon de Ring Copycat Recipe: It tastes amazing!!

7 May

We were supposed to take a family trip to Japan this month, but because of the pandemic, we had to cancel our plans. One of the (MANY) things I was looking forward to was eating donuts from Mister Donut… specifically their pon de ring donuts. If you have not eaten these, you have not lived! I am not a huge fan of the traditional dense & cakey donuts in the United States. <I do like donuts from Krispy Kreme and Duck Donuts when they are fresh.> But these donuts in Japan… they are NEXT LEVEL. Not only are they pretty to look at, but the taste is just indescribable. The donuts are a perfect amount of chewy with a slight crisp on the outside.

During this quarantine, I have been craving these donuts so I looked for a copycat recipe. The first one I found was a fail… didn’t taste like the original at all.

The second recipe I tried by Oceans-Nadia was winner!! It tasted as close to the real thing as you could get, I think. But the recipe called for shiratamako, which is very hard to find (and expensive) where I live. So I experimented with using mochiko instead, and I also experimented with using different types of tofu. Yes, you heard right– TOFU! But you can’t taste it at all in the finished product. The tofu helps give the donuts just the right texture.

These donuts were so good we have made them THREE TIMES this week!

Here is our final recipe!

Mister Donut Pon de Ring Donut Copycat Recipe (makes 4 donuts)

Ingredients:

100g Mochiko (we used Koda Farms brand)

100g Pancake Mix (We used our favorite: Birch Benders Classic Recipe Pancake Mix)

100g Extra-Soft Tofu

100g Plain Yogurt

Vegetable Oil (for frying)

Parchment paper (4 squares, about 4inches by 4 inches)

For the glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 Tbsp Milk

1 Tbsp Honey

Instructions:

  1. Mix the first 4 ingredients together in a bowl using your hands or a wooden spoon until it is all the same texture. It might look really dry at first but it will come together. After mixing, dump it out onto a clean surface and knead a few times. It should be soft like play-doh and slightly sticky. Start heating up oil to medium-high(I used about 4 cups of oil? Deep enough for frying the donuts)
  2. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Set 3 of the pieces aside.
  3. Take one piece and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each of those pieces into a ball.
  4. Arrange those 8 balls onto a piece of parchment paper so they they form a ring. The balls should touch each other but don’t smush them together.
  5. Repeat with the other dough so you end up with 4 rings total.
  6. Make the sugar glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, milk, and sugar together in a bowl.
  7. Carefully, scoop up each ring INCLUDING the parchment paper with a spatula-turner. Then gently slide the dough+paper into hot oil.
  8. Fry the donut for 1-3 minutes, then flip and fry for 1-3 more minutes (watch them carefully… I flip when they start turning golden in color). Discard the paper.
  9. When the donuts are done frying, carefully lift them out with tongs and dip them in the sugar glaze on both sides. Place on a cooling rack (I place my cooling rack on top of a baking sheet to catch all the drips).
  10. Wait a few minutes, then enjoy!

I am not a food blogger, so my recipe might be lacking. I highly recommend watching this video by ochikeron, especially if you are unsure about how to make the pon de ring shape. Her recipe is very similar!

Some additional notes:

  • If you DO have shiratamako, you can use that instead of mochiko. It will make your donuts even more mochi-mochi. I made this recipe using just mochiko, just shiratamako, and half mochiko+ half shiratamako. The donuts turned out great each time.
  • I have made this recipe with both regular tofu, and extra-soft tofu. The extra-soft tofu made the dough much easier to mix, but both tofus resulted in similar-tasting donuts.
  • Instead of dipping the donuts in the sugar glaze, you can use a spoon or pastry brush to apply the glaze to the top of the donuts instead.
  • Instead of this sugar glaze, you can dip the donuts in chocolate or kinako instead. Yum!
  • The type of pancake mix you use could make a huge difference in the taste and texture of these donuts. We really love the Birch Benders mix. Other people have had success using Japanese hotcake mix.
  • If making the pon de ring shape is intimidating, you can just roll the dough into a normal donut shape, or even just make donut holes.

Let me know if you try it!

Disney+ Shows You Can Watch in Japanese

8 Apr

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Some Disney+ shows can be watched in Japanese! Just select “Japanese” in the languages options. Which ones have I missed? I really wish more of the full-length movies were available in Japanese.

  1. The Mandalorian
  2. Star Girl
  3. Lamp Life
  4. Forky Asks a Question
  5. Shop Class
  6. Disney Family Sundays
  7. Purl
  8. The Imagineering Story
  9. Diary of a Future President
  10. Be Our Chef
  11. The World According to Jeff Goldblum
  12. Pick of the Litter
  13. High School Musical the Musical Series
  14. Marvel Hero Project
  15. Pixar in Real Life
  16. Disney Nature series
  17. Timmy Failure
  18. TOGO the Untold True Story
  19. One Day at Disney
  20. Lady and the Tramp (Live-action)
  21. Short Circuit
  22. Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings

Note: I live in the United States. Shows may be different in other countries. 

 

 

Netflix Shows for Kids You Can Watch in Japanese

3 Apr

Here is a list of Netflix shows that you can watch in Japanese (in the United States). Just click on the language selection button on the bottom right corner and choose Japanese. Let me know if you know of any others in the comments!

(P.S. I’ve also been posting A LOT of Japanese learning resources on my facebook page recently, so hop on over! https://www.facebook.com/HiraganaMama.Blog)

(I’ve also received some feedback that the Japanese language option is not working for some of you for these shows! I am so sorry. I am not sure why it works for some and not others.)

  1. Teasing Master Takagi-san (my kids’ favorite! Best for tweens)
  2. PJ Masks (for preschoolers)
  3. Care Bears & Cousins (younger children)
  4. Robocar Poli (preschool? I haven’t watched it)
  5. Llama Llama (TV-Y)
  6. Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Pretty sure all the Pokemon shows can be watched in Japanese! Just search “Pokemon” in the search bar.)
  7. Minecraft Story Mode (TV-PG)
  8. Brainchild (TV-G)
  9. Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures (TV-Y)
  10. Spirit- Riding Free (TV-Y7)
  11. Starbeam (TV-Y)
  12. Dragons Rescue Riders (TV-Y)
  13. Magic Schoolhouse Rides Again (TV-Y)
  14. True (TV-Y)
  15. Hello Ninja (TV-Y)
  16. Lu Over the Wall (PG)
  17. Stranger Things (PG-14… for teens!)
  18. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (PG)
  19. Angela’s Christmas (TV-Y)
  20. The Princess Switch (TV-G)
  21. K-On the Movie (PG)
  22. Flavors of Youth: International Version (TV-PG)
  23. Julie’s Greenroom (TV-Y)
  24. Little Miss Sumo (TV-G)
  25. Treehouse Detectives (TV-Y)
  26. Archibald’s Next Big Thing (TV-Y)
  27. Ask the Storybots (TV-Y)
  28. The Investigators (TV-Y)
  29. Chip and Potato (TV-Y)
  30. Lalaloopsy (TV-Y)
  31. Carmen San Diego (PG)
  32. Who Was? Show (PG)
  33. Anne with an E (TV-PG)
  34. Case Closed (TV-14)
  35. Captain Underpants (TV Y7)
  36. Glitch Techs (TV-G)
  37. Fuller House (TV-PG)
  38. Nino-Kuni (TV-14)
  39. Rilakkuma and Kaoru (TV-PG)
  40. Samurai Gourmet (TV-PG)

I am sure there are so many more. I didn’t feel like checking ALL the shows!

I found it interesting that some of the shows I thought for SURE would have Japanese dubs, didn’t! For example Beyblade Burst, Glitter Force, Sonic the Hedgehog, Yo-Kai Watch, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and Power Rangers.

Note: This worked for me from a PC. Some users are having trouble switching the languages from their Roku or other devices.

 

Setsubun with Kids!子供と節分!

31 Jan

Sunday February 3rd, 2019 is a Japanese holiday called Setsubun (せつぶん). It is a day when you chase evil out and invite good fortune in by calling out, “Oni wa~ soto! Fuku wa~ uchi!” If you are unfamiliar with this holiday, Chika of Japanagos does a great job explaining in this video:

Setsubun is easily one my my children’s favorite Japanese holidays. We keep it pretty simple– one parent puts on an oni (ogre) mask, and the kids throw dry soybeans a them. Sometimes we make ehoumaki (rolled sushi). Here are some fun and easy ways to celebrate setsubun even if you live outside of Japan!

1) Make an Oni Mask or Craft!

There are many free printable oni masks online. Here is one from glico:

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Also check out ちびむすブログ and KF Studio for ready-to-print masks!

If you want to put forth more effort, there are A LOT of amazing setsubun/oni craft ideas at the website HoiClue. My favorites are these oni hats, oni bag, and oni ball-throwing game. Seriously, go check out HoiClue. So many great game ideas, too!

The Happy Birthday Project has instructions for how to make oni horns (つの) which I thought was really cute.

Instagrammer @hirommy_anniversary has great setsubun party decoration ideas, here.

2. Make Setsubun Food!

I fell in love with this Setsubun bento box. It doesn’t look too difficult so I might give it a try. I found this idea at トクバイニュース:

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They also offer suggestions for how to make Ehoumaki.

3. Learn the Oni no Pants (おにのパンツ) song!

I think every preschooler in Japan learns this song. My daughter learned it at her Japanese School last week and she loves to sing it with the hand motions. This video by ハピクラワールド is pretty similar to the version she learned:

There are many versions of this popular song. Check out videos by キッズボンボンTV and ピンキッズ.

4. Read/Watch stories and videos about Setsubun

There are many Japanese children’s books about Setsubun, but do not despair if you do not have access to Japanese books. Many are available on YouTube as read-alouds. Check out these setsubun videos by PopoKids and KidsTube.

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I love Shimajiro/Benesse. I think this video is one of the best for teaching young children about Setsubun:

And click here for another Shimajiro video about Setsubun.

If you like Chibi Maruko-chan, here is a ちびまる子ちゃん video about Setsubun.

5. Use this opportunity to reinforce hiragana 😉

Your kids might groan, but you can find printable hiragana-practice worksheets at ちびむすドリル about Setsubun.

 

I hope I’ve provided enough ideas for you to get started!! You are also welcome to check out my Setsubun Pinterest Board for more ideas, or look back at my past posts about this holiday here(2013), here(also 2013), here(2012) and here(also 2012).

Japanese Halloween Videos!

29 Oct

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Halloween is fast-approaching! In past years, our family has done Japan-inspired family costumes like Totoro and Pokemon, but this year we let each kid pick whatever they wanted– so they chose Elastigirl (from The Incredibles), a stormtrooper (from Star Wars), and Cinderella.

The weather in our part of the world has been just awful for Halloween festivities– cold and rainy every day. Perhaps it is the same for you. So I have compiled some of my favorite kid-friendly Japanese Halloween videos, so you and your kids can snuggle up under a blanket, maybe munch on some Pocky? and learn Japanese 🙂 Enjoy, and ハッピーハロウィン!

Shimajiro is always my favorite:

(Learn the lyrics to グーチョキパンプキン here)

 

A 30-minute compilation of Halloween songs by ピンキッツ:

 

Super Simple Japanese always publishes great songs:

 

Learn how to fold a cute origami ghost:

 

Halloween make-up how-to for tweens, by ちゃおチャンネル:

 

Or perhaps order or borrow Studio Ghibli movies to watch! I think Kiki’s Delivery Service is especially perfect for this time of year.

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Play Smart by Gakken book review (and GIVEAWAY!)

24 Aug

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I have three children, ages 10, 8, and 3. I often find myself in situations that involve a lot of waiting, especially with my 3-year old. Waiting for her older siblings while they participate in piano lessons and other extracurricular activities. Waiting at the airport. Waiting at the dentist’s office. Waiting for dinner to be made.

And waiting is HARD for a preschooler! I don’t want her to have too much screen time, and I also want her to be mentally stimulated . One of the best solutions I have found for these WAITING situations are these workbooks by Gakken called Play Smart.

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Want to win all 6 of these books? Keep reading!

The workbooks are full-color on every page and the paper is very nice. They are age-appropriate, fun, and have STICKERS! My daughter honestly can and has worked on these books for hours. We use them when she needs to be sitting quietly in church. We used them on the airplane when we went to Japan this summer. And we work on them when her siblings are at school. We totally love them and I can see her skills improving with every book we complete.

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The following is from the Gakken website:

Gakken Play Smart Workbooks are bestsellers in Japan where 1 million Play Smart workbooks are sold each year, and the books have been enjoyed by tens of millions of children. The winning Play Smart formula:

• Puts the emphasis on fun – so much so, that children have no idea that they’re building important skills while they trace lines and shapes, cut and paste objects, solve mazes, create crafts, and tackle other simple, enjoyable activities.

• Includes parent involvement: Extensive research asserts that young children learn the most, have the highest rates of literacy, and the most developed math skills, and even social skills when there is parent involvement in the learning process. Every single page of the Play Smart workbooks includes “notes to parents” offering advice to help each child progress.

Has been proven to strengthen kids’ reasoning, decision-making, and concentration skills, which helps them prepare for the classroom – and for life.

• Includes age-appropriate trying, cutting, pasting, and drawing activities to build fine motor coordination and other important skills. 

• Uses  stickers within the context of certain activities and also as rewards for completed work.

We made a video of us working on the Play Smart Animal Picture Puzzlers for Ages 3+.

These books are in ENGLISH but I try to speak to my daughter in Japanese as we work on the pages together. I love seeing some Japan-inspired pictures on some of the pages.

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I can’t wait for you to check these books out. I have teamed up with Gakken to host a GIVEAWAY! One lucky winner will be sent the full set of Play Smart Picture Puzzler Books– 6 workbooks total!  To enter, simply visit this site: https://www.gakkenplusna.com/playsmart then tell me in the comments below which Play Smart book would be perfect for your child! Then, for a BONUS entry, follow @gakken_playsmart on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gakken_playsmart/ then leave another comment saying you’ve followed them. Don’t have a toddler or preschooler? Please share this giveaway with someone who does.

This Giveaway will begin on August 24th and conclude on Friday August 31st at 9pm EST. At that point, a winner will be announced and must contact me within a week to claim their prize. This giveaway is only open to residents of the United States. 

The winner is Lindsey!! I will be emailing you 🙂 おめでとう!

No worries if you don’t win… these books are affordably priced at $6.99 each. They are available on Amazon (free shipping for prime members). Gakken even has a few FREE pages you can print and try out if you just can’t wait! Free printables HERE! Stock up for all those times of WAITING :).

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Disclosure: I was sent some free Play Smart books by Gakken to try out and review. I have tried some of their other workbooks in the past, both from Japan and from the U.S. and LOVED them, so I was happy to write this blog post and host a giveaway. If you purchase these books through my Amazon links, I will receive a small percentage of the sale to help keep this website up and running. Arigato!

Kodomo No Hi Videos

5 May

May 5th is Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) in Japan. Here are some videos to help your children learn about this holiday.

A great interactive video by Benesse, 「しまじろうとこどもの日を楽しもう!」<こどもちゃれんじ>4月ライブ授業:

“What is Kodomo no Hi?” (こどもの日ってなあに?)by CHK名古屋:

The classic children’s song associated with Kodomo No Hi by キッズボンボン, 【♪うた】こいのぼり〈振り付き〉【手あそび・こどものうた】Japanese Children’s Song, Nursery Rhymes & Finger Plays:

Read-Alouds about Kodomo No Hi:

A Just-For-Fun Koinobori Stop-Motion animation:

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