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Tsuwari: Morning Sickness

13 Jun

I am so sorry for my long absence from blogging. I have been feeling miserable for the past few months. I couldn’t eat much, couldn’t keep down much, lost lots of weight, and had absolutely zero energy to do anything. My children are lucky I fed and clothed them and got them off to school every morning! Maybe some of you can relate.

The happy news is that we are expecting another baby! We can’t wait to see what new adventures being a family of five will bring. And yes, of course, we will be trying to raise this child bilingual too!

I want to dedicate this post to other mothers who may also been suffering from this horrible thing called morning sickness, or tsuwari(つわり). Especially you Japanese-American mommies. I don’t know if any scientific research has been done, but from observing many different women in my life, it seems that Japanese women have it extra hard when it comes to feeling sick when pregnant. I know of several in my circle of friends who were terribly sick the entire 40 weeks of their pregnancies. Most of my Caucasian friends seem to get over it by 12 weeks or so, or they never have it that bad to begin with (of course there are others who are not so lucky).

When I was 12 weeks pregnant, I would read things like, “Your morning sickness should be getting better and going away in the next week or so!” online and in pregnancy books. “Ha!”, I would think. “I think mine is just peaking”. I couldn’t relate to the women who craved ice cream, pickles, and fried chicken. Absolutely NOTHING sounded appetizing or edible to me, not even water.

Then one day I decided to search for remedies on Japanese websites. I typed in something like, “What did you eat when you had morning sickness?/つわりのとき、なにをたべましたか?”. Here are foods that Japanese women like to eat when they are pregnant:

– Cold noodles, like somen, soba, and hiyashi-chuuka

– tomatoes

– watermelon, peaches, nashi (apple-pears), strawberries… can’t begin to tell you how much I wish I could eat momo/もも (peaches from Japan) right now!

– jello, purin, ice, water with lemon

 

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I was relieved to feel that I could probably eat some of those things! I ran to the Asian food store and bought some somen noodles. I think I ate somen for lunch for a week straight. It was great because it only takes 3 minutes to prepare, doesn’t smell, you can eat it cold (hot foods made me extra nauseous), and it goes down easily.

A few weeks later when I was able to eat a little bit more, I started eating hiyashi chuuka (see photo below). I added some tomatoes and cucumbers.

I couldn’t eat most vegetables, but I found that I could eat cold cucumbers dipped in some miso paste. Edamame was how I got some protein into my body since I couldn’t eat meat.

If you become anemic like I did, tofu is a good Japanese food that has iron. You can eat it cold by just pouring some soy sauce over it.

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I found that the popular Japanese recipe site, Cookpad, has a bunch of recipes for those suffering from morning sickness. Click HERE to see them! I hope that as you scroll through the recipes, something might sound good to you. For drinks, I found that I could drink water if it has a slice of lemon in it, or I could drink mugicha (cold barley tea).

I found that I was not alone in my aversion to hot rice! It is really hard to think of what to eat when you are used to having rice with almost every meal. Now at 20 weeks pregnant, I am just now able to start eating rice again, in small amounts.

I just find it funny that when I’m pregnant, I want to eat Japanese food, even though I grew up in America eating all kinds of food from different cultures. Is it just that we crave the foods from our childhood, or is there something in our genetic makeup that makes us want food from our “homeland”?

 

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If you have any advice for surviving a hard pregnancy, please post a comment! I know that every woman and pregnancy are different, so not all advice applies to everyone. But it is still nice to hear that we are not alone. I hope to start posting more regularly. I have TWO kids in Japanese School now(busy!). During my morning sickness I survived graduation and the start of a new school year. I am also on the Activities Committee so I’m helping plan Undoukai (Sports Day). I’ve also been checking out some new and wonderful websites that I can’t wait to share with you! Thanks for sticking around!

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DIY Training Chopsticks (トレーニングはし)

10 Oct

chopsticks2

Recently, we took the kids to a Japanese restaurant, where they ordered a bowl of ramen. I was delighted when the waitress brought them some training chopsticks. As I studied the chopsticks, I realized it is super easy to make yourself! It took me a few tries to get the tension just right, but it WAS really easy. So the next time you go out to eat at an Asian restaurant, just take along a rubberband (or hair tie) and you are ready to make your own training chopsticks in just a few minutes!

I made you a short video so you can see exactly how it’s done:

After I published my video, I saw that a few others have made similar videos. You can watch them all to see which technique works best for you 😉

Please share with your friends who have children, or adults who have yet to master the art of using chopsticks!

*****

P.S. Eating Japanese food with a fork is silly. Learn to use chopsticks! (past post about training chopsticks here)

Click HERE and scroll down to see how to use real chopsticks.

I Want to Teach My Child Japanese- Where Do I Begin?

3 Oct

from fumira.jp

I have had a few readers ask me, “I want to teach my children Japanese, but I don’t know where to begin. Can you help us?” This is a tricky question to answer, because everyone has such different life circumstances, but I will do my best to offer some suggestions. In my experience, here are some things you can do to help your child learn Japanese:

IF AT LEAST ONE OF THE PARENTS IS FLUENT IN JAPANESE:

– Speak Japanese as often as possible!! I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Speak Japanese during meals, in the car, everywhere!

– Read as many Japanese books as you can get your hands on to your children. (You can subscribe to books online).

– If you watch TV or listen to music, make sure a lot of it is in Japanese.

– Sing songs in Japanese.

– Send your child to a Japanese School.

– Set up playdates with Japanese-speaking children so they can learn though play.

– Start exposing your child to hiragana and katakana as early as possible.

– Visit Japan if possible– the longer/more frequent the better.

– Visit Japanese-speaking relatives, or talk to them via Skype.

IF THE CHILD’S CAREGIVERS DO NOT SPEAK JAPANESE:

– Do as much of the above as possible.

– Invest in a Japanese tutor, conversation partner, babysitter, etc. The more authentic Japanese they hear, the better.

– Subscribe to Benesse’s Kodomo Challenge program.

– Watch Japanese TV (get TV Japan through your local cable provider) or find videos online. (Click on “YouTube Videos” under “Categories” to see what videos I’ve found to be good).

– Experience Japanese culture by cooking Japanese food together, celebrating Japanese holidays, folding origami, playing games, etc. (A lot of these activities can be found by searching my website).

– Make flashcards and learn new vocabulary words every day.

OTHER ADVICE:

– Set goals, such as “We will speak only Japanese for 2 hours every day”. My children are most ready to learn in the mornings, so we have set a goal to speak only Japanese in the mornings.

– Improve your own Japanese skills so you can be a help to your child.

– Even if your child is a baby, speak Japanese to him/her. It is amazing how quickly they learn, and it’s good to get in the Japanese-learning/teaching habit early.

– Every little thing you do makes a difference. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away, and don’t compare your child to other children.

– Keep it fun.

– As children become older, the schoolwork gets harder and harder. I don’t know many older children who LOVE going to Japanese School or love being taught Japanese by their parents. BUT I also don’t know any adult who has regretted going through the “hardship” of learning Japanese when they were young. So keep that in mind when the learning gets tough… it’s worth it!

– Search my website and try all of the activities! I have found dozens and dozens of great websites with ideas for activities, crafts, printable worksheets, children’s songs, etc for you. Don’t just read my blog… actually DO all the activities with your children!

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE?

How did your parents teach you Japanese? What are some things you are doing that are working/not working for your family? Please share with us! And if you enjoy reading HiraganaMama, please share this blog with your friends who may be interested in Japanese. The more readers we have, the more we can share and learn from each other!

Check out my online store for more resources:

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Spring: The End and Beginning of a Japanese School Year

21 Mar

This Saturday, my daughter finishes her first year of Japanese School. She has two more years of preschool, then will be in the first grade. When I look back at what my daughter was like one year ago, I can’t believe how much she has grown! Sending her to Japanese School has been one of the best decisions we have made.

This video is for those of you sending your child to Japanese School for the first time. It is bittersweet to see them grow up!

International Flight with a Toddler (eek!)

6 Mar

We are counting down the weeks until our Japan vacation! As much as I am looking forward to the trip, I am also dreading the time change and the 17-HOURS WE’LL BE FLYING IN A PLANE. If you include getting to the airport early, boarding, the layover, etc, we’ll basically be traveling with our two kids for 24 HOURS STRAIGHT (and that’s just one way). That thought is enough to make me want to hyperventilate.

I’m not too worried about our 4-year old. She can watch movies for hours on end, loves to color, and can be reasoned with. Our almost 2-year old on the other hand…He is a good boy, but very fidgety with a short attention span. He doesn’t enjoy TV yet, so the in-flight entertainment won’t do much good.

I am determined to do absolutely everything I can to make our flight to Japan as smooth as possible. Here’s my plan of action, and I would love any suggestions.

UPDATE August 2012: Now that we are back from our trip, I have written about my post-trip thoughts in GREEN below.

AIRPLANE LOGISTICS:

1. I’ve called the airline and made sure we are sitting in the back two rows of the plane. CONS: We are right by the bathrooms, which might be noisy. We’ll be the last to get off the plane. PROS: In the back (at least on our plane), the rows are 2-across instead of 3-across, so nobody else will have to sit next to us. My boy and I can sit in the very back so if he kicks, he’s only kicking his sister’s seat :). It’ll be easy to stand up in the back if necessary, and we’ll never wonder if the bathroom is available or not. (Even though he’s still 1, we bought him a seat. Having him as a lap-child would be hell.) We’re also flying overnight, which means that (hopefully) our kids will sleep for at least 10 hours of the flight).

This was a great idea, but the airline messed up our seats on the way to Japan and we ended up sitting in the middle of the plane 3-across, and one person in business class. It ended up working okay. My husband sat in business for the first half of the flight and got some sleep, then we switched so I could sleep. There were a few moments when I had both kids by myself that got a little crazy (like, when they both decided sleeping was not necessary!).

2. I’ve agonized over this next decision, but we are bringing the toddler’s car seat. CONS: It will be a pain to carry around (we are considering getting the Kidz Travelmate or the Car Seat Accessory to turn the car seat into a “stroller” for the airport), and extra luggage of any sort is not convenient in a place like Japan. PROS: Toddler Boy (let’s call him “Goro-kun”) won’t be able to escape out of his seat belt, he’ll be more comfortable, and may even fall asleep. Since we’re bringing the car seat, it’ll be difficult to bring a stroller on top of that. We’ll probably buy a cheap umbrella stroller once we get to Japan.

At the last minute, we decided to NOT take the big car seat and rent the CARES seatbelt. We are glad we decided to leave the carseat at home. We already had a lot of luggage+2 kids, and adding something else to lug around would have been hard. Not having a carseat meant my kids could sleep with their heads in my lap or like this. The CARES seatbelt was somewhat helpful on our domestic flights. BUT on ANA, we were told by multiple people that we were not allowed to use the CARES system, which was a bummer. Even if it was allowed, I don’t think it would have worked well with the TV screens on the backs of the seats.

3. A smart dad at parents.berkeley.edu suggested: “before I buckled his car seat in, I took one of the big blankets that the airline provides and anchored one end under the seat and tucked the other end into the seat pocket, creating a “sling” in front of his seat. That way when he got tired of a toy and dropped or threw it down, I didn’t have to repeatedly unbuckle my seat belt and wedge myself into the tiny space between my seat and the seat in front of me and wrench my back trying to reach the toy on the floor, but instead I could simply pluck it out of the sling.” Good idea. I’ve heard other people say to use the blankets as a “tent” above the car seat to create darkness for your child who wants to sleep.

4. A good tip from CNN.com: “If two parents are flying with the child, Feddersen suggests sending one on the plane early to “get your sails set up.” Meanwhile, the other adult can wait with the child in the gate and board as late as possible.” You’ll be surprised how long you have to wait at the gate sometimes while everyone boards. The kids get fidgety, fast.

The time between when you board the plane to take off seriously feels like ETERNITY. Be prepared for that.

STUFF TO DO ON THE PLANE (that’s not big, messy, noisy, or too sugary)

1. With the In-Flight Magazine: Play “I Spy” and “Peek-a-boo”.

2.  Put lots of pictures and videos on your camera or iPod. Goro-kun loves to watch videos of himself so I put together a mini-movie of him doing his favorite things and put it on my iPod. If you don’t have an iPod or something similar, you can make a photo album of your child’s favorite people, places, and things.

The iPod was GREAT. An iPad would have been even better.

3. Save the cups you get with your drink on the plane. My son loved stacking them, and rolling an ice cube back and forth between the two cups.

4. Memorize a lot of finger rhymes. Finger puppets don’t take up a lot of space and are entertaining too.

5. SNACKS! Lots of it. When all else fails, “Do you want some fruit snacks?” usually does the trick. I plan to put small portions of different food in the snack-size Zip-loc bags. I’m bringing goldfish, pretzels, gummy snacks, dried fruit, etc.

We actually didn’t end up eating most of the food we brought. ANA brought us food quite frequently and was well-stocked with extra snacks and fruits in-between meals too.

6. Decorate the barf bag with stickers.

7. Bring their favorite stuffed animal. My son had a lot of fun pretending to “feed” his stuffed monkey.

8. I plan to consult my pediatrician first, but if all else fails, I plan to have some Children’s Benadryl on hand. You never know, your child may suddenly become sick on the plane, so it’s nice to have some handy.

Our pediatrician recommended Children’s Advil, so that’s what we took, and I think it helped.

9. I’ve heard of people wrapping every toy and snack in wrapping paper, then bringing one out every hour or something. This is a good idea because it will be exciting and take up more time. BUT I wonder where all the trash (wrapping paper) goes, and how this works with airport security?

We did not do this.

10. Stick to the bedtime routine. When it’s time to sleep, I’ll brush their teeth, get them in pajamas (maybe they should even just start out in PJ’s?) and read them a book.

11. Bring a new paperback book to read. (or a lift-the flap book… those are always a hit with toddlers)

12. Create animals and other things out of play-doh.

I wasn’t brave enough to get out the play-doh.

13. Lots of moms say masking tape is great. You can put it on your face, use it to piece together paper, wad it into a ball, make train tracks with them on the tray table, etc. The great thing about masking tape is, they peel right off.

We didn’t end up using the masking tape.

14. Use this time to teach new skills, like taking shoes on and off, zipping zippers, doing buttons, learning the names of body parts, counting, colors, etc.

15. Easy sticker books. We got THESE. We got 4 different kinds in the series, so they ended up being about a dollar each.

16. When your kids are bored and you’ve run out of tricks, take a “field trip” to the bathroom or walk down the aisle once or twice (make sure not to bother other passengers).

We walked up and down the aisles a lot!! And hung out in the very back of the plane where there was some extra room.

17. I’m bringing a small car. I can make roads with t he masking tape I’ll be bringing and he can drive it around his seat.

18. Bring pipe cleaners and cheerios. You can string the cheerios and make a bracelet or a wand. You can also make glasses with the pipe cleaners.

This was entertaining for about 5 minutes.

19. Color Wonder or Water Wow. These are markers that won’t damage anything and write on special paper. I love these.

20. Fun apps on your phone or iPad.

21. I loved what a commenter, “Toni”, said on 5minutesforamom : “The KEY is definitely DEFINITELY to pull these items out one at a time. And I need to back up and say do not bring out even one item until you have completely and thoroughly exhausted every single entertainment item on the aircraft that stirs your child’s curiosity. For starters, just keep her looking out the window and watching the baggage handlers while on the ground. Point out the moving bag belt. Count the bags riding on the belt. Try to wave at the handlers. Oooh and aaah over planes moving on the tarmac. Move to opening and closing the window shade when she gets bored of just looking out. Move to the air flow knob overhead. Get breeze going and make a big deal about feeling it. Move to the magazines. Scrutinize the pages together. Find the toys in the onboard shopping magazine. Make believe you’re using them (ie. “Mommy’s going to ride down that slide. WeeeEEeee!”) Find a magazine photo of a full face, tear out the lips and put it over your face like a mask and talk through the torn hole. She’ll crack up forever over it. And when you’ve done all you can do with the plane as entertainment, THEN begin to bring out the guns, oh so slowly. And even a trip to the bathroom can be a distraction.”

OTHER ITEMS TO BRING ON BOARD FOR YOUR TODDLER:

1. Sippy cup (you don’t want to deal with spills!). I make sure my toddler is drinking from his sippy cup at take-off and landing to help his ears not hurt. Definitely bring  a sippy cup.

2. Waterproof bib (I like Bumkins brand)

3. More diapers and wipes than you think you’ll need, and rash cream.

4. A change of comfortable clothes YES! One for the kids, one for you.

5. Mini first aid kit

6. Hand sanitizer/wipes

7. Headphones (if it doesn’t come with your flight) ANA had headphones, but not sized for kids.

8. A trash bag to put stinky diapers in (like THIS)

9. Patience, TONS of it.

10. A sense of humor!

OTHER WEBSITES WITH HELPFUL TIPS:

1. Deliciousbaby.com

2. Babybites.com

3. Formulamom.com

4. Wikihow.com

When we land in Japan, I am going to give myself a HUGE pat on the back. Then devour the nearest cream puff. Have I mentioned that our arrival time is 5am? Oh my. We are in for a loooong day.

I don’t know if I ever want to arrive at a foreign destination that early again!! A lunchtime arrival would be perfect!

Other tips: Smile and be nice to everyone. Expect the unexpected. Wear layers (it’s cold on the plane). And if possible, travel internationally when you don’t have a toddler.. ha! 🙂 Just kidding, kind of! It is definitely the hardest age. BUT it IS possible. Good luck!

Even though preschoolers are easier, flying internationally is still hard for them (and you). Another post dedicated to flying with preschoolers is coming up next.

Omiyage (Souvenirs) to Take to Japan

22 Feb

Japan is a country where the giving of souvenirs/gifts are very important, as well as the presentation of those gifts. Japan is also a country that seems to already have everything … they have all the brand-names and their technology and design seem to be far superior to the rest of the world (and, everything is cuter!). So. What to take to Japan as gifts? I know a lot of people are going to take good care of us in Japan so I want my gifts to be nice and thoughtful.  After asking my friends and “researching” on the internet, here are my omiyage ideas:

image from ameapa.com

FOR WOMEN:

* Eco Bags (Reusable Bags) from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. They are cute, functional, and seem to be popular in Japan. (click HERE to see how much they are selling for in Japan!). I read that large eco bags are hard to find in Japan. BONUS: they can double as gift wrap!

* Nice hand lotions from somewhere like L’Occitane or Crabtree and Evelyn. I bought these cute gift sets. Who wouldn’t love these whether you live in Japan or anywhere else in the world?

* Little hand sanitizers, called “PocketBacs”, from Bath and Body Works. Inexpensive, cute, and useful. I have heard that since hand sanitizers are not widely used in Japan, you’ll have to explain to your gift recipient how to use this. I think it would look really nice to package 2 or 3 of these in a clear cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon.

* Kitchen tools and accessories from Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel. I think beautiful kitchen towels, pretty cupcake liners, or unique kitchen tools would be nice (note: measuring cups, unless they are measuring spoons, are probably not a good idea because they are different sizes in Japan and in the U.S.)

* Foods like fancy balsamic vinegar, local honey, maple syrup, jam, or spices.

* Pretty earrings, perhaps made locally where you live.

* I hear that cute aprons are popular these days. Anthropologie has some that any girl would love! For someone who likes to host home parties.

* If your recipient is into scrapbooking/card-making, pretty papers, stamps, stickers, cutters, etc might be nice (I like the Martha Stewart Line that can be found at Michaels or JoAnns).

* Nice stationery and notepads (Barnes and Noble, Hallmark, and Papyrus have nice selections).

FOR MEN:

* For my grandpa, I plan to get some beef jerky, nuts (nuts are expensive in Japan), and dried fruit.

* NFL or College team T-shirts or other apparel

* I hear teenage boys like shirts from Hollister, or vintage shirts.

* American candy. I have read that Skittles and Reeses’s are two candies that can’t be found or are rare in Japan.

YOUNG GIRLS AND BOYS:

* Hair accessories and clothes from Gymboree or Janie and Jack (or any store, really).

* Sticker Dolly books. I LOVE these!! Great quality and so adorable. I recommend this one.

* Disney princess stuff.

* T-shirts (perhaps from Old Navy?)

* “Where’s Waldo?” books.

* Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and other “American” snacks.

* Things that go along with American holidays, such as egg-dyeing kits for Easter, Halloween candy, etc.

* Your favorite children’s books or music CD’s.

FOR ANYONE:

* Girl Scout Cookies! Those definitely can’t be found in Japan, right? I think the Thin Mints would be a hit.

* Chocolate-covered pretzels.

* Gourmet flavoring for popcorn.

* Tea and coffee (I don’t drink either, so I don’t have any recommendations).

* If going before the winter holidays, I hear American Christmas ornaments are a hit. Hallmark has a million to choose from!

* CD of music played by your local orchestra.

* Think local! What is unique to your area?

PEOPLE WHO YOU’RE REALLY CLOSE TO:

* For my aunt who is going to be helping us a lot in Japan, I thought I would make her a photo book of our trip to Japan and send it to her after our trip so she can recall the fun we had! I have used Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Blurb, and they are all great.

* For my grandpa, I am going to give him a framed family photo.

* It might be fun to put together a CD of your favorite music for a special friend.

*****

WHEW! I hope this list helps someone out there, because I did A LOT of thinking to come up with things that might be well-received by  friends and family in Japan! I’m also going to take a stash of gift wrap, gift bags, and tissue paper so I can wrap these gifts nicely after we arrive in Japan. I know it’s not REQUIRED to give everyone a gift, but it sure feels good to reciprocate the kindness that everyone shows to us when we visit.

And yes, you may say that omiyage adds bulk to your luggage, but after you give them all away, you’ll have more space for all the fun things you buy in Japan :). OH, also, it’s a good idea to not take anything that takes up a lot of space. Most Japanese homes are very limited on space. So something that can be consumed or used up is best. Also, be careful with chocolates in the summer, as they may melt.

Do you have any great omiyage ideas? If you live in Japan, what are some things you love to receive from overseas? アメリカから欲しいお土産は,何ですか?Don’t forget to check out my post about what to buy in Japan, here.

Things I Want To Buy In Japan

3 Feb

Let’s be honest… I wish I had a TON of money to spend in Japan! I just love everything there– the food, electronics, toys, accessories, clothing– aaahhh! I wish I had a “dokodemo door (どこでもドアー)” so  I can go shopping in Japan whenever I want :). Keeping in mind our budget and limited luggage space, here are my tentative shopping lists:

image from rakuten.co.jp

FOR MY KIDS

1.  Snacks and activities for the plane ride back to the States.

2. My daughter wants a Rikka-chan or Mell-chan doll.

3. Little diecast Japanese cars and trains for my son to play with.

4. Coloring books and colored pencils.

5. Some Anpanman toys (both my kids love him!).

6. Furikake.

image from blog.anecan.tv

FOR ME (I feel ashamed that my list is much longer than my list for the kids…)

1. Sunglasses. I have spent years looking for sunglasses that will stay on my little/short nose. I am hoping Japan will have some that will stay on my face.

2. A haircut. All my friends get haircuts in Japan and they come back looking so cute! If I had the money, I would also love to get a complete makeover and makeup lesson there too. Oh, and a manicure and pedicure :).

3. Makeup. I love the color palettes they have in Japan! Maybe I will finally find the perfect foundation, blush, and lipgloss there?

4. Bento boxes and bento accessories (for when I’m an awesome mom who makes cute bento lunches someday).

5. Sakura tea and sakura essence– you can’t buy them in the United States (nowhere that I know of).

6. Nice pens (like the Pilot Frixion).

7. New chopsticks and chopstick holders.

8. Fabric (you know they make the cutest fabric there right?). And sewing pattern books.

9. I would love to be able to bring back a pretty yukata.

10. Hina-ningyou set (a small one) for Girls’ Day.

11. Stuff related to other Japanese holidays, like Kodomo no Hi, Tanabata, Setsubun, Oshougatsu, etc. I don’t know what the likelihood of me finding all those things off-season are though.

image from heart-2-heart-online.com

FOR OMIYAGE (gifts for friends and family)

1. Candy/Snacks.

2. Phone Accessories.

3. Chopsticks.

4. Stickers.

5. Stuff from the 100-yen shop.

6. Fake eyelashes (by request… for one of my stylish sisters).

7. Origami.

***

What’s on your wish list? What are the stores you recommend I hit up in Japan?

P.S. Happy SETSUBUN! Will you be throwing beans today? Or maybe eating an eho-maki?

JULY 2012 UPDATE: We’ve been back from Japan for a few months now, and here are some things I wish I had bought, or bought MORE of:

1) Japanese “very-short” socks! They are the bomb.com! All of my girlfriends are always asking me where I got my socks. I wish I had bought dozens of them to give to my friends. They are higher-quality and better-designed than short socks you can find in America. AND they look super-cute peeking out of your shoes. Not to mention, they are very affordable. You can buy them at any sock store in Japan– UNIQLO is known to have great ones. (2013 update: You can buy Uniqlo’s short socks online now! I just received my order and they are just like the ones from Japan.)

image from shopping.yahoo.co.jp

2) Dried fish. I’m not sure if you are a fan, but I really wish I would have bought more to snack on!

3) Hair ties. I bought a set of hair ties at a 100-yen store, and wish I would have gotten more! The hair ties I buy in America (from Target or Sally’s) just don’t cut it for me… they stretch out and lose elasticity easily, and don’t keep my thick hair in a tight ponytail. The ties from Japan are AWESOME.

4) More “interesting-flavored” kit-kats. We bought several boxes at the Haneda Airport duty-free shop to give to our friends. They were a huge hit!! We gave them to all of our American friends and didn’t have any left for ourselves. Unique “Pocky” flavors were a hit too.

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 :).

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:

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