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Japan-Inspired Gift Ideas!

12 Dec

Recently, I frequently find myself gifting Japan-related things! For example, my daughter took a bag full of Japanese candy for a birthday party. For Christmas, my older kids are getting a Yokai Watch DVD set and my toddler is getting a Mel-chan doll. It is a good way to be unique! Here are some gift ideas for the Japan-lovers in your life:

Melissa and Doug Sushi Slicing Set (a fun alternative to “traditional” food!)

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Kendama Toy (great for all ages!)

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Vive Le Color! Japan Coloring Book for Adults

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Yakusen Bath Roman Bath Salts (Japanese bath salts are sooo relaxing)

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Making Tape Gift Box (the mt brand from Japan is simply the best. I use it for everything!)

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Mitsubishi 100 Colors Colored Pencil Box (my kids have this set and it is awesome. Every color you could ever want, durable, and the color glides onto paper so smoothly)

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Nintendo Hanafuda Card Game (great for older kids, teens and adults)

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Yokai Watch Karuta (for your Yokai Watch fanatic)

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Kracie Pop N Cookin Candies (oh so-unhealthy but so fun to make and eat)

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Pack of Japanese Snacks

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Uncle Goose Hiragana Wood Blocks

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Go to my online Amazon store to see more ideas!!

BOOK GIVEAWAY: Once Upon a Time in Japan

24 Oct

IMG_7164My friends at Tuttle Publishing sent me another book to read and review: “Once Upon a Time in Japan” by NHK. The book comes with an audio CD. We recently went on a little road trip and listened to the stories on the CD. My 5-year old and 7-year old listened very attentively and were completely immersed in the stories. I enjoyed the stories as well! I thought I knew most Japanese folktales but there were a few stories I had never heard before. The book is a nice quality hardcover and the illustrations are very nice (there are 60 full-page color illustrations!). The book will be published November 3, 2015.

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Here is the book description from Amazon:

Bringing Japanese folk stories to the English-speaking world, this book presents eight stories from the popular NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation’s popular radio series Once Upon a Time in Japan. Each story is brilliantly illustrated by a talented Japanese artist. The tales recounted here are among Japan’s oldest and most beloved stories. Entertaining and filled with subtle folk wisdom, these retold stories have been shared countless times in Japanese homes and schools for generations. Like good stories from every time and place, they never grow old. Kids (and their parents!) will enjoy hearing these stories read aloud on the accompanying CD.

The fairytales and classic stories in this collection include:

  • The Wife Who Never Eats—the story of a man who learns the hard way the evils of stinginess.
  • The Mill of the Sea—the story of how a greedy man was responsible for the saltiness of sea water.
  • The Monkey and the Crab—the crabs teach a tricky monkey a lesson in fairness and honesty.
  • The Magical Hood—an act of kindness reaps great rewards.
  • Sleepyhead Taro and the Children—a story about what can be accomplished at the right time, and with the right help and the right spirit.
  • The Fox and the Otter—how a fox pays the price of deceit and selfishness.
  • The Gratitude of the Crane—a story about the rewards of kindness and the danger of curiosity.
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter—a girl who starts life very tiny turns out to be big in many ways.

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Would you like to win a copy of Once Upon a Time in Japan? Then simply comment on this blog post telling me what your favorite Japanese story is. Or if you don’t know any, just comment what your favorite thing about Japan is! One comment per person. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday October 30, 2015 and receive a free copy of this book! This giveaway is open worldwide. If you don’t win the giveaway or just can’t wait to check out this book, you can preorder the book through Amazon (at a great deal) HERE!

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Reclaimedmama is the winner of this giveaway! Congrats! I will be emailing you shortly.

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*Sometimes it may take awhile for your comment to appear.

Benesse Challenge Touch Review!

9 Sep

 

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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.
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.

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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. 

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!

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image from abbycomix.com

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!

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CONGRATULATIONS, adriperezvieira! You are the winner of the free book (chosen using random.org). 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 tuttlepublishing.com, or their titles are available via Amazon.com. Thank you for reading!

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.

http://www.nhk.or.jp/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.

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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!! http://www.nhk.or.jp/school/

Doraemon on Disney XD

28 Jul
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image from animeherald.com

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?

Japanese Children’s Books About the Number 100

25 Feb

We are still celebrating the 100th Day of School over here 🙂 My daughter dressed up like a 100-year old grandma at school yesterday… it was so cute!

I found it ironic and perfectly fitting that my daughter came home from Japanese School last Saturday with this book:

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image from kaiseisha.co.jp

The book is titled “100かいだてのいえ(The 100-Story House)” by いわいとしお (Toshio Iwai). This is actually the 3rd time my daughter has borrowed this book from the library. My kids just love it. The illustrations are charming and the story is quite magical. Another book in this series is “ちか100かいだてのいえ(Basement 100-Story House)”. Click the links to preview a few pages! I would recommend it for preschool through elementary school children.

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image from kaikeisha.co.jp

Also at Japanese School last Saturday, there was a special meeting for parents where a Japanese expert on Read-Alouds came to demonstrate how to read children’s books out loud to children. This meeting was very inspirational for me, and I made it a goal to do a better job reading to my kids. I want to use a more animated voice, not be afraid to read more slowly and pause between sentences, and take the time to go back and forth between the pages and discuss the book with my children.

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image from amazon.co.jp

Anyway, one of the books she read out loud to us was “100万回生きたねこ(The Cat Who Lived a Million Times)”by佐野洋子. This book was a longer picture book but it was beautiful. The recommended age for this book is elementary-school through adults. I think the older you are, the better you’ll be able to appreciate the depth of this story. (I don’t think my kids could sit through this book. But I really enjoyed it!). It looks like this book is also being made into a documentary, due out the end of this year.

Here is a video of buffalo.voice reading this book out loud:

Want to work on counting to 100 with your kids? Here is a printable worksheet from Happy Lilac.

Mr. Men & Little Miss Japanese Videos by Sanrio

5 Feb

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image from mrmen.com

I remember reading Mr. Men & Little Miss books when I was a child. Something about their bright colors, simple shapes, and distinct personalities was appealing to me! It seems they are making a come back these days. Check out their adorable website here.

The reason I share this on my blog is because I stumbled upon Mr. Men & Little Miss videos, that are in JAPANESE! They are made by Sanrio Japan. The videos are about 3 minutes long and perfect for little (and big) kids. These videos would be a great opportunity to teach children Japanese “feelings words(きもちの言葉).” For example, before or after showing the following video (Mr. Happy), you can teach children the following vocabulary:

しあわせ(shiawase) = happy

ふしあわせ(fushiawase) = unhappy

かなしい(kanashii) = sad

えがお(egao) = a happy face

わらう(warau) = to laugh

Here the formula I would use for getting the most out of these videos!

1) Watch the video by yourself and write down any words that you think your children don’t know.

2) Teach the children those words.

3) Watch the video together and discuss.

4) Review and practice using the new words throughout the week.

Here are a few more videos. You can find all of Sanrio’s videos here and here, and all the Mr. Men & Little Miss videos here.


Want to watch these videos in English? Click HERE.

Japanese Kids Websites: Kids Club and Online Books

19 Dec

image from 2kids-club.com

The makers of the popular website Origami-Club have a newish sister site called “Kids Club” that’s worth checking out. It has printable mazes, coloring pages, and instructions for kirigami, ayatori, etc. You can view the site in Japanese or English.

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They also have a wonderful site called E-Douwa (Douwa means “children’s stories”) where you can read many children’s books, in Japanese, online! This is a great resource if you are having a hard time finding Japanese books to read. There are Japanese folktales, Aesop’s Tales, stories from the brothers Grimm, etc.

image from e-douwa.com

image from e-douwa.com

 

PS I hope you and your loved ones have a very happy holidays!! Search my blog for  “Christmas“, “New Years“, etc for Japan-related activities ! 🙂

はじめてのおつかい: “My First Errand”

5 Sep

When you were a child, did your parents ever ask you to run an errand (おつかい) for them on your own?  I vividly remember going to the department store in Tokyo to buy some bread, all by myself… and I was only 4 years old! I felt like such a big girl! I even walked to my piano lessons by myself at that age. If you’ve ever visited Japan, you know that even today, young children take the train to school by themselves.

In this day in age in America, not only would this seem unimaginable, but downright dangerous to send a preschooler out by themselves. I don’t even let my kids play in our yard without me out there with them. (Oh how it would be nice to go back to the “good old days!”).

Anyway, “Hajimete no otsukai”, or “My first time running an errand by myself” is a pretty big milestone to some families in Japan. I recently found out that there is a TV show called “Hajimete No Otsukai/はじめてのおつかい“… the show has been around for over 20 years! TV Japan aired one of their specials recently and my kids were GLUED to the show! My kids must have been thinking, “What? A kid like me going shopping all by themselves? That is crazy!”. It was an adorable show! Here’s one of the older episodes found on YouTube:

Part 1

Part 2

You can watch an entire 3-hour long special HERE.

One of my favorite Japanese children’s books is also called “Hajimete No Otsukai“. I think the book might have inspired the TV show.

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I’d love to know about your “first otsukai” experience, if the country you live in is safe enough for kids to run errands by themselves, or any other thoughts you may have! 🙂

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