Archive | January, 2012

Food I Want My Kids to Experience in Japan

31 Jan

image from yaizu-uonaka.or.jp

I am a list-maker. And I have been making a lot of lists in preparation for our trip to Japan. One little list is “Food I Want My Kids to Experience in Japan.” You will NOT find us eating at McDonald’s or KFC while we are there… no away! Japanese food and restaurants ONLY!

Food I Want My Kids to Experience in Japan

1) Okosama Lunch (お子様ランチ): This is the Japanese version of a “kid’s meal” and usually includes fried rice, ebi-fry (tempura), purin, etc. (Click HERE to see my version)

2) Sushi (すし): My kids currently LOVE ikura-sushi (salmon roe). I bet they would love a kaiten-sushi restaurant!

3) Taiyaki (たいやき): My daughter has a taiyaki-making toy set, but she’s never tasted a real taiyaki.

4) Takoyaki (たこやき): The frozen kinds don’t compare to the fresh, hot, crispy-on-the-outside takoyaki sold on the streets.

5) Choux-Cream (シュークリーム) : The Japanese make the best cream puffs.

6) Kasutera (カステラ) : Yummy spongy cake.

7) Melon Pan, An-pan, Cream Pan (メロンパン、アンパン、クリームパン): We’ll probably eat these for breakfast a lot.

8) Ramen (ラーメン): I want them to know the difference between real ramen and instant ramen.

9) Calpis drinks/other Japanese drinks (カルピス): They’re available in the U.S. but they’re really expensive here so I never buy them.

10) Mochi (もち): all kinds!


(Shinkansen sushi train at a kaiten-sushi/ 回転寿司 restaurant)

What should I add to my list? Am I missing anything major? I didn’t add curry, gyoza, etc because I know how to make those at home. What Japanese foods are you craving right now?

P.S. Are you afraid that there might be radiation in your food? How do we know what’s safe and not safe to eat in Japan?

せ:せつぶん Setsubun 2012

29 Jan

Don’t forget this Friday, February 3rd is a Japanese holiday called Setsubun. I posted about Setsubun last year HERE and HERE (click to see lots of fun activities and printables!).  It is a great way to chase out evil and invite happiness into your home for 2012! (If you are eating eho-maki, the direction to face this year is north-north-west).

New for this year: Enjoytokyo.jp has cute printable oni masks HERE.  I especially like this disco-oni!

image from enjoytokyo.jp

Who usually ends up playing the part of “oni” in your family? In ours, we all take turns. And instead of throwing beans, we throw mini marshmallows… less chance of someone getting hurt!

の:ノンタン (Nontan)

27 Jan

One of my favorite Japanese children’s book characters is Nontan/ノンタン! He is a mischievous, curious, fun-loving kitty cat. The book series is written and illustrated by Sachiko Kiyono (キヨノサチコ) and have been around since I was a little girl. There are books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. The illustrations are adorable and the stories are cute, short, and perfect for little ones. Here are some of the books:

image from kaiseisha.co.jp

My children really enjoy having these books read to them. There’s a book for every occasion: potty-training, taking a bath, making friends, birthdays, Christmas, and most frequently… playing! I bet these books would be really popular in the United States too, if they were translated into English. The characters are so universally relatable. I highly recommend this series for children.

Next time you visit Japan, or a Japanese bookstore, take a look in the children’s section of the bookstore. I am sure you will find some of these adorable books! There are also Nontan DVD’s/TV shows too. Columbia makes a newer show called “Genki Genki Nontan/げんきげんきノンタン” and you can find some older Nontan episodes on YouTube:


What are some of your favorite Japanese children’s book characters? I would love to hear!

***

Click on “Select Category” –> “Books & Stories” in the sidebar for more book recommendations.

Want to learn more? LOVE Nontan? They just launched an official Nontan Blog.(I am drooling over the cute stuffed animals and iPhone covers!)

Find worksheets to practice writing の HERE!

Website: My Little Nomads

24 Jan

Traveling to Japan or other foreign destination with your children? “My Little Nomads” is an excellent website! The author writes, “I started My Little Nomads to share my love of travel and a conviction that traveling the world is even more amazing with kids than without.”

Here are some posts that I found especially helpful in planning our trip to Japan:

1) Travel Tips for Tokyo

2) 29 Tips and Tricks for Traveling the World with Kids

3) Travel Articles on Japan

 

Thank you for a great site, My Little Nomads!! I wish I could travel the world as extensively as you.

Website Spotlight: Creative Mamma

24 Jan

A few weeks ago when I was searching for a cute printable chore chart for my 3-year old, I came across an adorable website called “Creative Mamma.” Not only does she have free printable/customizable chore charts like this:

But she also has these super-cute printable kokeshi calendars for 2012.

I thought some of you might like her work as much as I do! Thank you, CreativeMamma!

Year of the Dragon Blog Carnival

23 Jan

Happy Lunar New Year! I was asked to submit an article about being an Asian-American mom to the MomsRising Year of the Dragon Blog Carnival. I feel honored to be included in the lineup of other powerful Asian-Americans. I decided to write about the reasons why I love raising my half-Japanese children. My  husband sometimes accuses me of being a “glass half-empty” kind of person, so in 2012, I want to focus on being a more positive person, especially towards my children. Click HERE to read what I wrote! What are some reasons why you love your children (Asian-American or not)?  I challenge you to write down 10 things you love about them in your journal, baby book, or blog. I would love it if you tweet, like, or share the article in other ways if you enjoy it :).

P.S. I now have a Hiragana Mama Twitter account. I know. I told myself I would NEVER join Twitter. I just want to try it out and see what it’s all about. If you want to follow me, just search for HiraganaMama. But I warn you, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Buying Plane Tickets to Japan (for a family)

19 Jan

One of the first things you need to do once you decide you are going to Japan is to buy plane tickets! And if money doesn’t grow on trees for you (like me), looking at the ticket prices can be pretty nerve-wracking. Especially when you are traveling as a family. $1500 times 4+ people?? Those numbers can get pretty scary :).

from fumira.jp

this looks so much like my little family 🙂 (from fumira.jp)

Here are some tips that I have for trying to get the lowest fares (and other booking tips):

1) As soon as you start thinking about going to Japan, start checking prices. Check on several different sites… for example, we diligently watched prices at iace-usa.com, expedia.com, kayak.com, and a few others. That way, you’ll start getting a good idea of what the average ticket price is, who’s usually the cheapest, etc.

2) Decide the dates you want to be in Japan, and decide if those dates are flexible. Then check plane ticket prices for your ideal dates, and also other dates you would consider. Sometimes, a day or two earlier or later can mean a huge difference in ticket price. Usually, flying out/in on a weekday is less than on a weekend.  Find out if there are any major Japanese holidays during that time. If you can avoid holidays, your ticket will be cheaper.

3) Call airlines and travel agencies and talk to a real person instead of only searching online. Sometimes you can get a better deal on the phone (but sometimes it’s cheaper online).

4) Be aware that if you book your tickets through a travel agency or at a discounted price, restrictions might be put on your ticket (no refunds, no changes, no early seat reservations, etc). If you don’t want to deal with those hassles, consider paying a bit more and booking directly through the airline company. We bought through a travel agency and was disappointed to find out that we can’t put in seat requests until one month prior to our trip. That makes me nervous!

5) Keep in mind the time change and the time you’ll be traveling when planning your vacation. Japan is 13~14 hours ahead of us, which means you will lose a day or two on the way there (at least from the midwest, where I live), and possibly another day on your way back. So you might be on vacation for 14 days, but in reality that means you only have 11 whole days in Japan. When we booked our tickets this time, I wanted to leave Japan on a Saturday evening, but after I bought our tickets, realized that we would be arriving back to the states on Saturday but leaving Japan on Friday. That was a painful realization! Don’t make my mistake! (I don’t like how Japan uses the 24-hour clock… 23:00? Gets confusing to me).

6) If you are taking young children, I recommend paying for their seat (it’s usually discounted) instead of going the free-lap-child route, especially if your child is not a little baby. On a domestic flight, it might be worth saving the money, but on a long international flight?!? I think you’d be crazy to think your 18-month old can sit on your lap for 17 hours. Flights these days tend to always be full, so you can’t always bank on having an empty seat next to you either.What is your sanity worth? (If you DO have an infant, request a bassinet asap! Many airlines can provide you with one in the bulkhead seats).

7) Take into account taxes and other fees when comparing prices. Some sites include them, some don’t. That makes a huge difference!!

8) Are you willing to travel to a different airport? We found that sometimes, if you are willing to drive 2 hours to the next closest airport, you can save over a thousand dollars (per family)on plane tickets. Likewise, are you willing to fly into several different airports in Japan? For us, the difference between landing in Tokyo Narita or Tokyo Haneda was huge! And those two airports are less than 2 hours apart from each other by train.

9) I don’t know if this is super important to you, but I really wanted to fly ANA or JAL. JAL of course was very expensive, but Continental/ANA was surprisingly affordable. They are known for their good service and child-friendliness. I am sure it depends from flight to flight though. It just seemed to me (from reading many online reviews), that customers were much happier on those two airlines.

10) If traveling with kids, consider their schedule. Will flying red-eye or flying during the day be more ideal? Can your kids handle two layovers or are you willing to pay extra to only have one layover? We are flying during the night, hoping that our kids will sleep for the majority of the flights.

11) Don’t force yourself to go to Japan if you haven’t saved enough money. Japan is awesome but not worth you going into debt or living outside your means. Buying plane tickets is just the tip of the iceberg.  Food, lodging, and transportation AFTER you get to Japan is not cheap either! If going to Japan is your dream, save, save, save so you can fully enjoy the trip without too much stress.

Any of you seasoned travelers out there have other tips?

As for our family, we ended up booking online through iace-usa.com. They were a few hundred dollars cheaper than other airlines at the time we booked our tickets.  Another well-known travel agency is jtbusa.com. (you can also use IACE and JTB to book Japan Rail Passes, rent a cell phone, etc. More on that later).

One last tip… after you have bought your tickets (and your heart has stopped racing from the excitement), don’t look at airline prices anymore. Just start planning your stay in Japan and make it a trip to remember :).

Win a Free Trip to Japan

18 Jan

The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) may not be giving away 10,000 plane tickets, but they ARE giving away a dream vacation to Japan for one lucky winner and their guest! The sweepstakes ends on February 29, 2012. The winner must travel between March 31, 2012 and June 31, 2012. Click HERE to enter, and HERE for all the details.

Which itinerary do you hope to win?

Travel Pillows for Children

17 Jan

Free Travel/Neck Pillow Pattern

子どものトラベル/旅行用まくら(ネックピロー)、無料パターン

We bought plane tickets to Japan! Yipee! I am EXCITED but mixed in with the excitement is a lot of nervousness. I am especially nervous about how my kids will do on an airplane for 15 hours. We don’t plan to take car seats and I know their little heads will not reach the headrests on the airplane’s seats.

SO… I decided to make them their own travel pillows (they might be called “neck pillows” too). They turned out even better than I had expected, was inexpensive, and they each took less than an hour to make, even for a beginner sewer like me. Want to make some too?

First, download this free travelpillow PDF pattern (my pattern is for 2T and 4T size). Print two copies, cut out, and tape together.Or, on an 8×10 paper, draw a pattern like this:

Cut on the solid line for 4T (and up) and the dotted line for about 2T (my son is 18 months and this size fits him perfectly).

Lay the pattern onto fabric (I recommend fleece). Make sure the fabric is folded in two so you get two identical pieces.

Next, pin the pattern into place.

Then cut around the pattern with fabric scissors, leaving about 1/4″ around the pattern:

When you are finished, it should look like this:

Next, take the pattern off, and turn the fabric so the right sides are facing each other, and pin.

Then sew all around the edges, making sure to leave 1/4″ seam allowance (is that what it’s called?). IMPORTANT: Leave about a 4″ opening UNSEWN so there’s a hole to put fiberfill in! Another tip: Sew slowly and carefully around the corners.

When finished, turn the pillow inside-out.

Then, fill the inside of the pillow with fiberfill (the stuff you put in pillows or stuffed animals). I bought mine at JoAnns… they were located in the pillows section. Stuff it a lot for a firm pillow and less for a soft pillow. I prefer firmer for these travel pillows.

When finished stuffing, sew the opening closed by hand using a blind stitch.

And voila! Custom travel pillows for your kiddies!

Isn’t this football fleece too cute? It was 70% off so I paid less than 2 dollars for it!

For my girly-girl:

Both of my kids LOVE their travel pillows!! I just hope the pillows help them sleep comfortably on the airplane!

How do you help your children fall asleep and sleep comfortably on long flights?

P.S. Even though I sized my daughter’s pillow to “4T”, I can use it comfortably as well. So go ahead and make one for yourself too!

P.S.S. I’ll be doing a separate post on things the kids can do on the plane while they are AWAKE. Email me if you have any great suggestions! (UPDATE: Click HERE and HERE for my blog posts on how to travel by plane with your children)

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JULY 2012 UPDATE: I hate to toot  my own horn, but these pillows were a lifesaver on our long flight to Japan. Our flight was full so there wasn’t enough room for the kids to lie down, so when they wanted to sleep, they had to sleep sitting up. We put these pillows around their necks then placed blankets on either side of them to keep them from falling down, and it worked great!! Here’s the proof:

Website: KC Lab Hands-On Project

10 Jan

I found a great Japanese website called “KC Lab Hands-On Project“, which is a part of “Kids Creative Lab.” The mission of this site is for children and parents to have fun playing and learning together.

There are printable activities for all age levels from pre-K through high school. These activities include mazes, hiragana practice, math, stories, etc.

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