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Hiragana Chart Giveaway

30 Apr

みなさま、おひさしぶり〜!We are back from a FABULOUS trip to Japan and (sadly) back to normal life. It was a whirlwind trip– we hit up Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nagoya, Hakone, and Yokohama in 2 weeks (I know, we are crazy). We saw lots of friends and family, ate tons of mouth-watering Japanese food, saw gorgeous sakura everywhere, and had the time of our lives. What I want to say to all of you out there is, “Don’t be afraid to go to Japan with young children. It is a blast, and worth the extra effort to take them there!” My daughter is already begging to go back. I’ll be sharing what we did with our children in Japan over the next few weeks.

I also want to thank my loyal readers out there who frequent my blog. Your insightful, kind comments always make my day. I know a lot of you out there are just like  me, trying really hard to teach your children Japanese. SO, I have a little giveaway this week. I am giving away a waterproof Hiragana Chart to one lucky reader. I will ship to anywhere in the world except for Japan (because if you live in Japan… you are already a lucky duck). All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment and answer one of the following questions:

1) Why are you passionate about learning Japanese/ teaching your children Japanese?

2) What is your favorite/ most useful post on Hiragana Mama?

The winner will be selected randomly and announced on Saturday, May 5th, which just happens to be Children’s Day! I will contact the winner to see where I can send the prize. Sorry it is such a little giveaway (I don’t make any $ on this blog)! But these charts are hard to come by in the States. My kids love practicing their hiragana while taking a bath with their chart. Here are some pictures I took of the Hiragana Chart I’ll be giving away:

 

 

 

I didn’t take the chart out of the package to take the photos. But we have a similar bath chart, so here you can see what it kind of looks like:

At 60 x 42.5cm, it is a pretty large chart. It just sticks to the wall of your bath with water. Good luck, and check back for posts about our trip to Japan 🙂 Thanks for reading, and please share with your friends!

 

International Flight with a Preschooler

15 Mar

image from fumira.jpAre you going to be flying with your preschooler in the near future? So am I, and I’m actually excited for it! My 4-year old has been looking forward to this trip to Japan for weeks. She’s big enough to sit in her own seat and not squirm out of her seat belt, old enough to be entertained with books and in-flight entertainment, doesn’t need help eating her food, and knows not to kick the seat in front of her. Awesome. BUT a 17-hour flight will still feel like an eternity, even for an eager 4-year old. Here are my ideas for busting boredom on the plane:

ACTIVITIES THAT DON’T REQUIRE YOU TO PACK ANYTHING EXTRA:

1. Fingerplays and hand-games, like “Paper-Rock-Scissors”, Niramekko (にらめっこ), Patty-cake, etc.

2. Let her use your digital camera to take silly pictures of herself (then pass it to their sibling for entertainment).

3. Do some stretching exercises together every hour.

4. Play “I Spy” with the in-flight magazine, or items in the plane.

5. Download educational apps/movies on your iPod/phone for her to watch.

6. Watch in-flight entertainment.

OTHER ACTIVITIES:

1. Bring a piece of yarn and teach her how to play cat’s cradle, learn how to braid, or make a bracelet/necklace.

2. Fold origami (print some instructions at origami-club).

3. Color Wonder or Water Wow (special markers that only write on special paper).

4. Sticker books (I love the Sticker Dolly series).

5. Preschool workbooks. On a 2-hour long flight we had recently, one workbook occupied her for the entire flight! If you search for “printable worksheets” on this website, you will find lots of links to sites that have free Japanese worksheets for kids.

6. Doodle with crayons on plain paper (endless possibilities: self-portrait, tic-tac-toe, make a maze for her to complete, etc)

7. Bring a roll of masking tape to make body art, artwork on paper, make a paper chain, etc.

8. Read a new children’s book or magazine together. Make sure to read it several times to get the most use out of it.

9. Make paper bag puppets (I love these). You could even use the barf bag.

10. Scratch pads are fun (Target has them in their party section for a dollar).

11. Bring a paint-with-water book and some q-tips to use as brushes. (I found some in the dollar section at Michaels)

12. Coloring books.

13. Make her a photo book with pictures of the people you will see on your trip, and help her learn their names.

14. Be creative with pipe cleaners: make animals, eye glasses, letters, etc.

15. Bring a deck of cards and play “Memory”.

SNACK IDEAS:

1. Lollipops, starbursts, juice, or fruit snacks for the take-off and landing to help with ouchy ears. (I DO NOT recommend lollipops for kids younger than 3! Big sticky mess!)

2. Granola bars (I like the Cliff bars for kids)

3. Dried fruit

4. Pretzels

5. Animal crackers

OTHER THINGS TO BRING ON BOARD FOR A PRESCHOOLER:

1. A comfort item (stuffed animal or blanket), especially on a long flight

2. Spill-proof cup for drinks

3. Waterproof bib

4. Neck pillow (I have a tutorial here)

5. A change of clothes (and make sure to dress in layers)

6. Kid-size headphones (if they are not provided by the airline)

7. Wet wipes

Do you have any other tips for preschoolers? What have your experiences been like? If you have a toddler, be sure to check out my International Flights with Toddlers post for more ideas!

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.

Happy Hinamatsuri

28 Feb

***

Isn’t this a cute ekaki-uta? March 3rd (this Saturday) is Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day) in Japan. Read my post from 2011 for ideas on how to celebrate ひなまつり!

This year, my children made these crafts in honor of Hinamatsuri (all ideas are by my talented friend Az!):

hina ningyou made of clay and paper

hina ningyou card by my daughter

hina ningyou card by my son (with mommy's help)

I was craving mochi so I used this mochiko recipe from Cookpad (Cookpad is the equivalent of America’s “Allrecipes”). It was easy to make and my kids gobbled it up!

anko mochi cake I made in honor of Girl's Day

Are you doing anything to celebrate? Do you own a hina-ningyou set? (If so, I am jealous!)

P.S. I am sorry I have been slow about responding to emails and comments. We had a family emergency this weekend and I am still recovering from our whirlwind trip… 5 planes in 3 days! I feel like I have been run over by a shinkansen :). The good thing is, I now feel more prepared for our long plane ride to Japan. I’ll be posting about what I plan to do to entertain my kiddos for 17 hours on the plane soon!

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.

ANA’s “IS JAPAN COOL?” Campaign

17 Feb

Have you already seen this video? I love it! So many of the things I love about Japan are showcased. Visit All Nippon Airway’s “Is Japan Cool?” WEBSITE, and enter to win a pair of tickets to Japan, which would definitely be cool!

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.

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?

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.

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 :).

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