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Cafetalk: Private Lessons Using Skype!

15 Oct

Have you heard of Cafetalk? You must check it out. It is one of my favorite Japanese-learning resources! (Special promotional link at the end of this post!)

Cafetalk is a website that connects you to tutors from all over the world. The tutors teach languages (TONS of Japanese teachers!), music (piano, voice, ukulele, etc), arts and crafts, hula, abacus/soroban, and a lot more. There are thousands of lessons offered.



As you know, I am passionate about exposing my children to as much Japanese language and culture as possible, so I searched the Cafetalk website for tutors who teach Japanese to children. I was a little bit overwhelmed with all the choices, so I asked a Cafetalk representative to recommend teachers to me (you can chat, call, or email them and they are very helpful!).

I registered online (very easy), entered my Skype name (you must have Skype to use Cafe Talk), then signed up for some lessons! It was all very straight-forward, and I thought the lessons were priced very reasonably (cheaper than hiring a tutor to come to my house). Many tutors even offer free or discounted Trial Lessons.

The day of our first lesson came, and my kids sat anxiously in front of our computer, waiting for our Skype tutor to call us. The lesson was for my two older kids, but Baby Sister wanted to join in the fun.


Our tutors were always right on time. I love that. And I love that we didn’t have to leave the house, and my kids could be in pajamas.


I sent each tutor specific requests before each lesson. For example, “I want them to practice katakana”, or “Could you help them increase their vocabulary?”. The tutors went above and beyond my expectations, catering their lessons to my children and sending a follow-up message after the lesson was over, which included what was taught during the lesson, and what my kids could work on during the week. One of the tutors sent me a message ahead time asking me to print out a worksheet to use during the lesson.


One tutor did such a great job keeping my kids engaged during their entire 20-minute lesson. She used a game of guesstures to teach action words. My kids loved it, as evidenced by this video! My kids are always sad when their lesson comes to a close.


Sometimes the lessons were face-to-face conversations,  and sometimes the tutor would use a feature on Skype where they can type on the screen during the lesson. I thought that was pretty neat. Here’s an example from when my kids were practicing katakana:



Overall I was very pleased with our Cafetalk experience. I was impressed with the number and quality of tutors available on the website, the customer service, and price.

The only downside for us was that since we live in the New York Time Zone and most of the tutors live in Japan, many of the lessons I wanted to try were not available during my children’s after-school hours (because that would be the middle of the night in Japan). The tutors we found were Japanese teachers who had moved to Hawaii or the mainland.

Our family was given a few free lessons in exchange for a review. To be honest though, we enjoyed Cafetalk so much that I’ve already paid for a few lessons as well!


I think this service is a great supplement to my children’s Japanese education. I know that in a few years, Japanese School may become too difficult or sports will get in the way of attending. So Cafetalk may become our alternative to Japanese School at that time.

I highly recommend Cafetalk if you want to learn Japanese (any level– beginner or advanced, and any age!). It is great for people who want to learn from home, or live in an area where getting a private tutor is difficult or expensive.

Cafetalk has generously offered Hiragana Mama readers 500 free points! You can use your points to purchase any lesson. Click HERE for your free points!


The 500 points will be delivered to your account only if you sign up using this special link.  Also, the points will be usable only for 30 days after you sign up. 

Please let me know what lessons you tried and how you liked it!

Love, Hiragana Mama

NEW Gakken Go Go Workbooks!

10 Sep

I believe learning should be fun, motivating, and rewarding. If you believe that too, you should check out the new Go Go series by Gakken!

Gakken has been creating educational materials in Japan for years. Go to any bookstore in Japan, and you will see shelves lined with workbooks by Gakken. Just recently, they have started branching out and creating workbooks for sale in the United States. They reached out to me to see if I’d like to review the new books, and I said SURE! because I knew they create good-quality books.


The books arrived and my children (even the ones who are too old for them) couldn’t wait to flip through the colorful pages and admire the cute stickers.


Hmm which sticker to use next?

The first thing that impressed me was the quality. Every page, front and back, is full-color. The pages are nice and thick so you could use pencils, crayons, or markers. The stickers are high-quality and the illustrations are adorable.


2-4 year old tracing book

Go Go Tracing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)


from the 4-6 year old mazes book

I also liked that the books are very age-appropriate. I received several books for 2-4 year olds. My almost-2-year-old could do some of the beginning pages, but the rest of the pages were a bit too advanced. I know they will be just perfect in a few months! However, she wants to use up all the stickers NOW!🙂

Right now they also have books for 3-5 year olds and 4-6 year olds. I hope that as the company keeps expanding, they will publish more books for older kids too! (See all the currently available books HERE). I would also love to see their Japanese language books (like hiragana) here too.


cute stickers galore!



As someone who is passionate about Japanese culture, I was thrilled to see that pieces of Japanese life are included in the books. People who don’t know anything about Japan may be confused by things like Koinobori (carp fish) and Hinaningyou (Girls Day Dolls), but I LOVE it!





Gakken workbooks are available for purchase NOW! And I think they are very affordable, ranging from $5 to $8 on Amazon. Totally worth it to keep my kids busy and learning. The stickers are definitely motivating and rewarding for little ones.



Here are the Amazon links to purchase the books.

Go Go Intellectual Skills 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Life Skills 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Cutting and Pasting 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Tracing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Drawing 2-4 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Life Skills 3-5 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Mazes 3-5 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Go Go Cutting and Pasting 3-5 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Go Go Mazes 4-6 (Gakken Workbooks)

Go Go Intellectual Skills 4-6 (GakkenWorkbooks)

Want to try out a few pages before deciding to purchase? Gakken has generously provided free sample pages from each book, which can be downloaded HERE. Enjoy!


よつばと!(Yotsuba&!) Book Review

28 Jun

Do you know what I LOVE? I love to see my children reading books. And I especially love it when they read Japanese books!

My oldest, now 8 years old, is getting a little bit old for our Japanese picture books. But her reading skills are not strong enough for a lot of Japanese chapter books. So I have been on the hunt for books that she can easily read by herself, and ones where the content would be interesting enough to keep her engaged. We tried Doraemon, Yokai Watch, and Chibi-marukochan, but she was like, “meh”. They didn’t hold her interest (she is picky).


I came across a review by Japan Info about how a comic book series called よつばと!/Yotsubato by Kiyohiko Azuma is great for people learning Japanese. I researched a little bit more and decided to give the series a shot. I got a great deal on  Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)through Amazon but they are sometimes available on eBay as well, and you can always get them from (but the shipping is expensive). There is an English translation of this series too, so make sure you are getting the right language when ordering.


ANYWAY… the よつばと!comics were a huge hit with my 8-year old! She read one, sometimes two books per day. Sometimes I found her laughing out loud as she read. As soon as she completed the entire series (books 1-13), she started reading book 1 again. She told me she likes the series because “Yotsubato is like me. A foreign girl who knows Japanese, and she’s silly.” I’m reading the books too (I’ve only read up to book 5 so far) but even I find them very engaging and fun to read.There’s not too many kanji, nothing inappropriate for a child, and you learn about Japanese culture as you read! 2 thumbs way up from my daughter and I!

Official Yotsubato website is HERE.

Preview some pages HERE.

Wikipedia article HERE.
Buy Volume One here: Yotsubato! Vol. 1 (Yotsubato!) (in Japanese) (Japanese Edition)

Buy books 1-12 in a set here: Yotsubato Comic set Vol.1 to 12 (Japanese)


This is a totally unbiased, unsponsored post about Yotsubato, but I will receive a small portion of any purchases made through Amazon to help fund my website. Thanks!

How to Read a Calendar, in Japanese

23 May

Here are some resources for learning to read a calendar in Japanese.

The trickiest part is learning to read the numbers correctly. has an excellent printable that shows you how to read dates, with accompanying worksheets, HERE.



Some more printable calendars can be found at Happy Lilac.

After you’ve learned how to read a calendar, I thought this game, by Tatsushi FUKUNAGA, was a wonderful way to review.


And here are some YouTube lessons on how to read a calendar in Japanese:


And here are some videos about how to say the days of the week in Japanese:

Dino Books Review! Read Bilingual Stories Online

2 May


You’ve probably heard of Dino Lingo, a company that has made a language-learning program for kids. If not, I have blogged about that program HERE.

Well, they have recently launched a brand-new site called DINO BOOKS ( If you’re teaching your child a second language, you’ll want to learn more about this site!

Dino Books is a site where children can read hundreds of stories (they currently have 5000+ books) in 20 different languages. In addition to stories, there are some nursery rhymes, songs, tongue twisters, and games. There’s also “stories” where the kids can build their vocabulary too (colors, numbers, things in the house, etc.).


So for example, we can pick a story, and then choose “Japanese” and “English” as our languages of choice. Then as we click through, we can have the story read to us in both languages. This was so nice because if my kids heard a word they didn’t understand in Japanese, they could simply listen or look at the English version right below to figure out the meaning of the unknown word.


Ideally, I would be sitting right by my kids and reading books to them for hours every day, giving them my undivided attention. But in real life, that doesn’t happen. I’m often trying to multi-task, helping one kid with homework while helping the other fold laundry while keeping another child from climbing onto the countertop while trying to make dinner… LOL. Can you all relate? So sometimes, it is nice to just be able to say “Hey, read some books on Dino Books!”. My kids can easily navigate the site themselves and read several stories in one sitting while I finish making dinner. You can even use a tablet to read the stories.


Does this sound like something you need in your life? A Dino Books membership is normally $99/year (less than $10 per month…less expensive than buying hundreds of bilingual books for sure). But you can visit the site and read the first few pages of most books for free first before you decide.

They also have a Mother’s Day special going on right now for 20% off with code MOM20 !

Here is a sample video:



Dino Lingo has generously offered to give away a FREE YEAR of Dino Books  to one lucky Hiragana Mama reader! To enter this giveaway, simply visit Dino Books, then leave a comment on this blog post with the following information:

  1. Why do you want to win this giveaway?
  2. What languages would you choose to read the stories in?
  3. Your email address (if you don’t want to leave your email address, just make sure you come back to see if you were the winner and then email me. Sometimes people win my giveaways and I have no way to contact them!)

Sometimes it takes me awhile to check and approve the comments so please don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away.

A winner will be chosen at random on MONDAY, May 9th, 2016 and will be announced on this blog post. Be sure to check back to see if you were the winner!

The winner of this giveaway is JOANNA WISE! Please send me an email at and I will forward your name on to Dino Lingo so they can award you the prize. Thanks to all who commented. Best wishes to all of you in your language adventures!

P.S. Don’t forget, Children’s Day/ Kodomo no Hi is on May 5th!


Thank you Dino Lingo for this giveaway. Dino Lingo did ask me to try out Dino Books in exchange for a review, but all my opinions expressed above are honest and my own.

Fun Way to Practice Kanji

1 May

My daughter is now in 3rd grade at Japanese School. The amount of new kanji they have to learn every week is, to be honest, overwhelming. It is very difficult to practice, memorize, and retain hundreds of kanji, especially when you don’t live in Japan and aren’t exposed to Japanese words all the time.

Oftentimes, “kanji-practicing time” is accompanied by lots of whining and feet-dragging. I have been trying to brainstorm ways to practice kanji that isn’t so dreary. Here is one game I thought up that my daughter really enjoyed.


  1. First, practice writing the kanji you are trying to learn in chalk. I drew squares and my daughter wrote the kanji within the squares.
  2. Then to play the game, call out the kanji in random order. The other player runs/jumps to that kanji. Take turns if you’d like!

This turned out to be a great way to practice both writing and reading kanji, and we got in a little bit of exercise as well. This game can be used to learn hiragana or katakana too!

I’m hoping to share more kanji-practicing ideas with you in the future. What are some of your tips for learning and retaining kanji?

“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami

15 Apr


It is no secret that our family is obsessed with books, both English and Japanese. We go to the local library every week and come home with piles of books. I often do my research online beforehand, looking up the most recent award-winners, reading Amazon reviews, etc so I know what I’m looking for.

A few weeks ago I walked by the “New Books” section at the library and this pretty book caught my eye:


It is “Friends”, by Aiko Ikegami. I was lured in by the cover illustration, and when I saw that the author was Japanese, the book immediately went into my library bag.

We were pleased to find that not only were the illustrations beautiful, but the story was wonderful as well. Here is the synopsis:

A girl from a faraway place begins her first day at school. She doesn’t speak the language and she looks different. She just doesn’t fit in. But one day, she makes an unexpected friend–a squirrel! Then a rabbit joins them. Soon the girl’s fuzzy woodland friends are followed by human ones and school becomes more fun! When a surprising new student joins the class, the girl and her new friends know just how to make him feel at home.


I don’t know about you, but I can relate all-too-well to being the new kid at school. I moved around several times as a child, and can tell you that it is nerve-wracking to begin life at a new school, and especially in a new language. My children have never moved, but they got a taste of this feeling when we visited Japan last summer and I enrolled them in school for a few weeks. My kids were shocked at how different everything was. The food–the routines–the discipline–the bathrooms–the language– ! But the wonderful thing about children is, they are great at making friends, even with a cultural or language barrier. This book shows how easy it is to reach out to someone new and help them feel welcome.


I highly recommend this book for all children. It is simple and short but can help you begin a conversation with your children about what to do if a new kid joins their class- or might help ease their worries if THEY are the new kid. I was thinking it would be nice to have several copies on hand to give out to any new kids in my children’s classes. How thoughtful would it be to gift them a book like this with a hand-written note? Might be wise for teachers to have a copy as well.

One last idea– this would make a sweet farewell gift for a Japanese student returning to Japan, or an exchange student. You could include a message about how you’re glad to have become friends!

Anyway, I liked the book so much that I looked up the author/illustrator online. She has a website at: I was thrilled to discover that she lives in the same city as my parents and immediately sent her a note telling her how much we enjoyed her book and if we could meet someday.

Aiko was kind enough to send me a signed hardcover copy of her book to give away to a blog reader! If you would like a chance at winning this book, simply leave a comment on this blog post saying who you’d give this book to and why. (Book giveaway only open to U.S. residents). I’ll announce the winner on Monday April 18! (Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear right away… sometimes it takes me awhile to check and approve the comments!)

Giveaway is now CLOSED! I used, and the winner is commenter #1!!

“G”, please email within a week to claim the book! Thank you everyone else for commenting!

Thank you, Ikegami-san! We look forward to reading your future books!


“Friends” by Aiko Ikegami can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Hiragana Learning Videos for Kids

2 Mar

I’ve found the best Japanese hiragana-learning videos for you! Use them to introduce, teach, and review hiragana with children. (Looking for FREE printable hiragana worksheets? Click HERE. )

I think YouTube Channel SweetDinos has some of the best videos. Here are two to get you started! Visit their channel for all the hiragana and katakana.


You Tube channel Nokkana Animation has many hiragana videos for the youngest leaners. Here’s just two of many:


Ikuman is another YouTube channel with great learning videos for children. Here’s an example:


Here’s even more, in no particular order.

Click HERE for a good video that I can’t embed on this site, but it’s good! It’s called ひらがな見つけちゃおう!/Let’s Look for Hiragana!


A Hiragana song by the Shimajiro Channel:


Learn Hiragana Song by ハグクモーション:


Myu Sings AIUEO by Myu Papa:


Japanese Alphabet Hiragana Song by Hiroto S:


あいうえお by jun egusa:


Japanese Alphabet Song by LetsLearnJapanese:


Do you have a favorite video that I failed to mention? Comment below!




Best Online Japanese Educational Videos for Kids

24 Feb

I know I have videos all over the place on my blog, and many of them need updating (sorry!). So I’ve compiled a list of the best YouTube channels onto one post for you. Please let me know if there are any great ones that I’ve missed! Thank you so much to the people and companies who create these videos so the rest of us can learn Japanese!🙂

Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Babies and Toddlers:

1. ノッカーナアニメーション (nokkana animation):  adorable, short videos that will entertain your little one and teach them a few words in the process. Lot’s of Peek-a-Boo-style videos. There are dozens and dozens of videos and playlists, teaching everything from hiragana, colors, nursery songs, and a lot of more. (They also have a similar channel called Nokkana World).

Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Preschoolers:

1. しまじろうチャンネル(SHIMAJIROCH): I just love everything by Benesse. I credit Shimajiro and his pals for a lot of my children’s Japanese education. This YouTube channel is full of short stories and fun songs. 

2. 東京ハイジ (TOKIOHEIDI) : Lots of cute animations and songs!

3. チブクラ!(Small Crafts): Short videos that will inspire you and your preschooler to craft.

4. oojioo: A YouTube channel just full of cute ekakiuta’s (songs that help you draw).

5. 童謡チャンネルby takanonGB: Lots of Japanese children’s songs with lyrics so you can sing along.

6. 動く絵本、童謡、いないいないばあ の動画「ゆめあるチャンネル」: Lots of Japanese children’s songs, fingerplays, and stories! They’ve added a lot of new content since I last visited a few years ago. Here is their website:

7. Visit my blog post where I’ve listed all the best hiragana learning videos!

8. YouTube Channel SongsPlace has many children’s songs and fingerplays.

9. SongsLand is another channel with Japanese children’s songs.

10. PinkFong has a lot of Japanese animated short stories (lots of Aesop’s Fables) and songs. There’s English videos mixed in there as well.

11. Takanotetsuya has many great songs for preschoolers. I think this channel is intended to be for prospective preschool teachers in Japan.

12. 保育士バンク!チャンネル【公式】This is another channel full of songs of preschoolers, performed by preschool teachers.

13. TEASOBI channel : even more songs and finger rhymes

14. 子ある日和 手遊び歌 Japanese children’s songs performed by teachers, plus origami instructional videos.


Best Japanese YouTube Channels for Grade-Schoolers:

1. jun egusa has created a lot of animated videos to teach math, Japanese history, kanji, etc! I’m pretty impressed.

2. The Mr. Men Little Miss videos by Sanrio has many many little episodes that could help with Japanese listening skills.

3. YouTube Channel キッズボンボンhas many videos about animals, science, kanji, hiragana, fairy tales and Japanese folktales, etc.

4. The FujiTV Kids YouTube channel has many educational and just-for-fun videos.

Best Japanese Educational Videos for Grade-Schoolers:

1. NHK for School is hands-down, the best resource I have found. You can search all of their educational videos by grade level or subject matter. Love this website so much! I have sung its praises before in this blog post.

2. The Science Channel website has a lot of great videos for gradeschoolers on up.


Best Japanese Educational Videos for High Schoolers and Beyond:

1. Erin’s Challenge! by the Japan Foundation : lots of videos and other resources for the older Japanese student. (blog post)

2. JapanSocietyNYC: has a lot of excellent videos showcasing the Japanese language and culture.

3. PuniPuniJapan: The animation is interesting but you can learn a lot of Japanese vocabulary! Lots of Japanese lessons.


Please comment below with your favorite resources and YouTube channels!

More Shimajiro Videos

2 Feb

Shimajiro (Benesse) has some of the best Japanese videos for kids on the internet!



Here is a video that’s  perfect for Setsubun (which is tomorrow!)

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