Gaijin Housewife in Japan

Bringing you every day life in Japan to your part of the world.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Ikebana with kids: A fun summer holiday activity

This week, I decided to let the kids do the flower arranging. I just happened to be passing through the flower department of the supermarket, as you do, and noticed that they were very cheap, so I bought some. When my daughter got home from school she was very excited to see a bucket of flowers sitting there waiting and asked if she could do some flower arrangement. So I thought, hey I didn't have anything in particular planned for the flowers so why not let the kids have a go.
 For ikebana with kids, it's best not to use a pin holder, so I gave them plastic bowls with floral foam in them. No stress. Since my son is not quite 2 yet, we didn't use scissors, I just broke the flowers or pre-cut them into manageable sizes

 They were so excited about getting to do their own arrangements and I was extremely surprised how long it held their attention, too. Especially my son who is, well not even 2 yet. He was the last man standing!
So here are some photos of the transformation of the flowers, best 1,000 yen I've spent on my kids for a while.


 By Hugo, 1 year 10 months.
 By Amelia, 5 years old.
The finished products: Amelia on the left and Hugo on the right. Their quirky and colourful creations are really brightening up my entrance. 

My beginners online ikebana course is going really well! The students and I are having a lot of fun creating arrangements together and sharing the photos with each other. Check out my Facebook page and you will also see me doing a "Facebook Live" ikebana arrangement! That was a lot of fun and I will definitely do it again soon!
Thanks to all those who were watching me live! 

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Monday, 27 June 2016

Summer Holidays in Japan: How can I help my child with their other language?

Summer holidays are coming in exactly one month. I've been getting a bit stressed out about them this year as I will have a 5 year old and a 2 year old to keep busy when it's really hot outside. We won't be able to roam around in the garden and go to parks, well not in the day time and not if we don't want to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. For a NZer, the summer in Japan is really tough. 

I've considered getting on a plane and flying the 11+ hours to NZ. (It's like about 30 hours travelling door to door to my mother's house), but we did just drop a small fortune on our trip to Australia where we saw my family anyway and it's also winter over there. 

So I have 2 kids to keep busy and my other goal is to work on my daughter's English during those 6 weeks as she spends a large chunk of her day at kindergarten speaking Japanese and I've noticed that it seems to have taken over her English in the space of just over a year. She does still speak to me in English, but I've noticed she seems to have a lot more to say when my husband is around and she is in Japanese mode.

My daughter has also taught herself how to read hiragana and many katakana symbols so I also want to introduce her to reading English as well. I wasn't really too sure where to start on this. Thankfully my sister is a primary school teacher and has given me an idea of what to do, but I'd also love to hear from other mothers out there in Japan or anywhere actually who are helping their children to learn a second language that is not the language used in their school. 

It's not all doom and gloom. We do have some friends coming back from overseas with their children who are English speakers (they are supposed to be learning Japanese!). I'm looking forward to some English language play dates with them. We can do more skype dates with my sister to have more chances to talk in English to fill in time. 

We can go to the Aquarium every day if we want to.
There is a community swimming pool that doesn't cost a lot to go to and if all else fails there is playing under the garden hose, whilst fully clothed (mosquitoes).
I've been getting some great ideas from this website about how to manage our days.
I'd love to hear from you about what you will be doing this summer with your kids to work on their other language. 

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Friday, 24 June 2016

Rainy season in Japan: Enjoy the "Ajisai" (Hydrangeas)

The rainy season in Japan can be unpleasant, it is my least favourite time of the year. The mugginess is uncomfortable, the mold growing on everything is just yuck. The pages in my books get all warped and the laundry never quite gets dry.

However, one of the bright spots of this time of year is the hydrangeas! The sakura of the rainy season.
They are everywhere and so colourful and cheering when it's dreary and grey.

It amazes me how they just grow wild all over the place, so well...except in my garden where they refuse to grow except extremely begrudgingly. 

A few days ago I heard about a temple not so far away from here that has a lot of them growing so I took a detour on my way home from town to go and see them. I was expecting there to be throngs of people jamming the car park with their cars and setting up tripods all over the place but it was a week day and it was deserted! A deserted temple can be a little creepy, especially since I know there was someone there somewhere but they didn't come out to greet us. I'm sure there were a pair of eyes watching us from within one of the buildings. So even though it was extremely tempting to take a big armload of flowers home with me, I restrained myself. (I don't often get the urge to steal flowers but hydrangeas and daffodils do that to me a bit). 

I had my son with me who is nearly 2 and he was very excited to see all the flowers in the different colours. He tried to sniff them, cause that's what you do when you see flowers right? 

We explored the temple and I wished I had made the effort to bring my real camera so all photos are ones that have been snapped very hurriedly on an iPod touch as I chased my son around. So may things to get into at a temple.

If you are in the area and would to visit, here is the location: Nyoraiji in the Natsui area of Iwaki city.

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Monday, 20 June 2016

Tokyo Disneyland: My experience visiting with a five year old.

My daughter and I just got back from a trip to Tokyo Disneyland. It was her main birthday present for her 5th birthday. We went last year for her birthday too, but to Disneysea. I think this year was even better than last time and I'll tell you why.

1. A year is a long time in a kid's life and a 5 year old is so much more able to handle going there for a full day out than a 4 year old!

2. We went to Disneyland which I really think is a bit more suited to kids than Disneysea. Last year my daughter was desperate to see Ariel and all things related to her, so we went there. There are a lot more attractions and since you don't have to walk all the way round the giant pond like at DisneySea, you can get places more easily.

On the bus to Disneyland, soo exciting!
Our trip from Fukushima to Disneyland started at 4:15 am when we got up and quickly got dressed, jumped in the car, drove through the empty streets to the bus stop, raced into the convenience store, grabbed some breakfast and then were just getting back to the bus stop as the bus pulled up and we left at 5:15 on the dot. 3.5 hours later, we arrived at Disneyland at 8:40. 20 minutes before the gates opened, and already there were hundreds of people lining up to get in. It was already very hot, so we elected to go stow our luggage and then hang around in the shade until the line started moving. It took 10 minutes just to get in the gate. But once we were actually in there, the people dispersed through the park and it wasn't as crowded.
The crowds entering Disneyland. This photo gives me heart palpitations.
First thing was to try and get a fastpass for the Monsters Inc ride. There was already a huge queue for that, so we passed on that and got one for the Buzz Lightyear astro blaster ride. While we were waiting for our time to come to do that ride, we went on Space mountain and did the Stitch Encounter (All in Japanese, but fun). Amelia LOVED the Buzz Lightyear "shooting game", but I was glad to have used a fastpass to get on it since it was a bit lame really. But she liked it so much we had to do it again. 
The Easter parade. 
Even thought it is already Summer, Disneyland is still doggedly celebrating "Easter", so there was a special short parade with lots of dancers dressed as rabbits. I was surprised to see people parked on the parade route a couple of hours before, in order to get a front row view of the parade. I was especially surprised since it was so hot. The pavement was very hot, too. Most of them did have sun umbrellas up to keep the sun off but it must have been a long time to wait, roasting away there on the hot pavement. This scene was repeated before each parade and it seemed that most people were there by themselves and this was their way of enjoying Disneyland. Spending 2 or 3 hours "waiting", keeping their spot, alone, so no toilet breaks so they could enjoy the best view of the parade that I have a feeling they had seen many times before. 
The lunch time parade, Amelia's favourite: Rapunzel.
Since the park was not crowded that day, rocking up to the parade route (especially in the critter country area) just as it started, we were able to get great vantage points all three times. I also think the terrace seating of the restaurants in Tomorrowland would have been great if you just want to see it go by and don't need to be right in the front. 
In order to make the parades a bit more enjoyable, definitely take a ground sheet with you, just big enough for everyone to sit on. I got mine from the 100 yen shop. It will save you getting dirty and if it's hot or cold, provide insulation. I also bought some fold up squabs (also 100 yen shop) to save getting sore bums during long waits. My daughter loved them. 
Riding on the tea cups, a Disneyland must do.
Another way I noticed that people were enjoying Disneyland was to go dressed exactly alike. I wish I had asked some of them to let us take their picture but the link will show you lots of good photos of what I'm talking about. I totally didn't realise this was a thing. I even saw one couple dressed as Chip and Dale, in actual squirrel suits (and it was like 30 degrees). Disneyland is kind of like a parallel universe where that is totally ok. 

There are some good tips on this blog post about visiting the Disney resort. And this post tells you how to avoid busy days, using the busy day calendar. I have found that week days in June tend not to be so busy as it's not summer holidays and most schools have already done their school trips by then (Yep Disneyland is a totally valid destination for a school trip!). The only problem is it is the rainy season so you might get rained on like we did last year (stock up on raincoats whilst you are at the 100 yen shop, too). This year it was fine but hot. If you can avoid the weekends, definitely go on a week day. On weekends you will be waiting for 3 hours for popular rides, very little bang for your buck there. 
The obligatory photo in front of the castle
Also, there are perfectly good water fountains that dispense cold water after a few seconds all through the park, so when I ran out I just filled mine up again. I'm not sure why you would pay Disney prices to buy a bottle of water, but even on the very hot day we went we never saw other people using the fountains. 

Also as you enter the park, there is a very nice shaded area on the far left, near the bus stops, with picnic tables where you could have a picnic if you wanted to avoid crazy Disneyland prices. You can get a stamp on your arm to re-enter the park as well, so getting on the Monorail or walking back to Maihama station area, there are some nice restaurant options for lunch or dinner in the Ikspiari shopping mall. 
The restaurant area of our hotel, behind the trees at the back is a huge queue of people waiting for their turn to have breakfast at 9:30 in the morning.
We elected to stay the night as we wanted to see the night parade, fireworks and projection mapping show and then getting back on a bus home again would have been a bit much and meant getting home at 1am....
We stayed at the Tokyo Bay Maihama Hotel, which was nice and very close to the parks. I was also happy it had a Japanese style bathroom in our room! My only disappointment was that when we went down to have breakfast, which was included in our room rate, there was a huge queue of people waiting to be seated. We waited for over 30 minutes. When we finally got to sit down, the queue had doubled in length and there was less than an hour to go for breakfast...I would not pay extra for that breakfast buffet either. Definitely go to the convenience store in the hotel and buy some bread or rice balls instead. Or get on the free bus to Maihama station and get something at the mall or station. 
We found this great photo op at the Disney Store in Ikspiari Shopping mall at Maihama station. No queues, and someone was there to take photos, too!

All in all it was a fantastic trip. I'll need a few days to recover!


Friday, 17 June 2016

Gaijin Housewife Online Ikebana Course! UPDATED

Well I've been working on this for a while. Mostly working on my courage to actually do it. But I have started my very first ikebana course for beginners. 

Now, all I need is some students! That's where you come in!
We'll be making arrangements like this
Not like this, this is reaaaally difficult
One day you'll be able to make something like this, in my Intermediate course
This course is being run for the first time ever, so this time there is no charge. (Yep totally free). I am accepting 3 more people 1 more person to the course, to keep it cosy and so I don't get too overwhelmed. 

We will be using Facebook, so you will need to be active on there to take part.

You will also need:
  • A pair of flower scissors
  • A pin holder (available from Amazon  or Amazon Japan if not your local garden center) 
  • Some flowers, though not many since with ikebana less is more.

Each Friday I will be uploading a video and some photos so you will be able to see how we make the arrangement. Then it's your turn. When you are done, snap a few pics and share them on our private (actually SECRET) group so the other members can see what you've done and we can all learn and be motivated. Sounds a bit scary, sharing your photos with others, but I assure you it's super fun to see what other people have made and you will be amazed how different everyone's is.

So to join, all you need to do is go to my Facebook page and PM me, saying "I'd like to join the course!". The first week starts today, but you can join in any time between now and June 23rd, 2016.

So go on! click the link and join up. I guarantee in a month's time you will be a flower arranging ninja....just kidding, but you will be way better than you are now! 

Here's a sneak peak of what we are making this week:

Looks difficult right? Well it's not if you know where to start and I show you how in my videos. So come join me and let me help you on your way to being a flower arranger extraordinaire! 


Monday, 13 June 2016

Japanese Tea Ceremony: Try this at home!

Today I was lucky enough to be invited to my friend Junko's house for a tea ceremony experience.
Here we are trying to do it on video for you as I think its way easier to get a feel for how to do it through video. Please bear with the quality of it and my son popping in out and at one point grabbing the iPad and trying to make a run for it.

Junko is a very busy woman and lives with her husband's grandmother, mother, father and their 4 children...That's 9 people in one house! But today the house was quiet when my son and I visited and we were treated to an experience of Japanese "Omotenashi", or hospitality.

The Gogatsu (May) Doll was still out on display, especially for us to enjoy. These mini samurai suits of armor are for "Children's Day" on May 5th. Hugo, is a bit scared of them and eyed it dubiously. So I didn't have to worry about him touching them!

Tea ceremony is usually held in a "Cha shitsu", which is a small room especially for tea ceremony but today we used the Japanese room in her house that has rice mat flooring and low table.

Anyone can enjoy tea ceremony if you can get your hands on some powdered match and a tea whisk, and of course you need the sweets. They are just as important. 

Here are some of the things that are used:
A tea scoop, called a "cha shaku", a whisk called a "cha sen" and a tea bowl which is usually some kind of pottery that matches the season, either in colours/design or shape.

Junko showed me how she sifts the powder (using a tea strainer) before she puts it in the special pot used during the tea making. That ensures there are no lumps. 

Then she served me the sweets. While I enjoyed them she made the tea. 2 small scoops of powder with about 100 mls of hot water at 80-90 degrees. Then whisked until it gets frothy. I'm sure there is a knack to getting the froth just right, but if you whisk however you want to it will taste the same. 

The bowl is present with the "front" towards you so you can admire it. Then hold the bowl in the palm of your left hand, use the right hand to turn it clockwise two times so the front is facing outwards away from you and drink 3 big sips. When you are finished turn it two more times and the bowl will be facing to the front again and you can enjoy it. The bowl front and back all looked the same to me, I guess once you can tell the difference, you have officially "arrived" as tea ceremony insider. 

The tea is bitter, but the sweets that I had just eaten were very sweet so the two balanced each other perfectly and my mouth had almost no leftover bitter or sweet taste, just harmony with the hint of matcha. 

I asked Junko, why a mother of 4 who has to cook dinner for 9 people every night, would do tea ceremony. Surely there must be other things to do, like sleeping, taking a shower.

She said that it is a time to forget about everything else that is going on (with 4 kids that would surely be a lot), and to just focus on the act of making and drinking the tea. Time slips away when she is doing that and afterwards she feels refreshed. This sounds very familiar to me as I often have the same experience when I'm doing ikebana. So I think the busier you are, the more important it is to make time to do these kinds of activities. 

I also asked her how often she invites her friends over to have a tea ceremony. "Never!", she said. This was the first time for her to show her skill to someone and we had so much fun, she realised she should try to do it more often. Tea ceremony has a reputation for being so serious but really I think you can make it a fun thing to do with friends. 

Friday, 10 June 2016

Friday Flowers: Birthday Flowers for my Daughter

My daughter turns 5 today. What a fast 5 years it has been since she was born in NZ, not that long after the massive triple disaster we had here in Fukushima and Tohoku. 

If we were in NZ she would be starting school, and it would all be such a big exciting birthday but since we are in Japan she is already in kindergarten which is just like school really (9-2pm) so there is nothing new for us as we did that last April.

But to celebrate her birthday this year, we (just my daughter and I) are off to Tokyo Disneyland for the day and staying the night there! I am so looking forward to it being just the two of us for a change. My husband will be on duty with DS until we get back on Saturday evening.

Getting to Disneyland from here involves getting up at 4:30am (me) so we can get to bus stop by 5:15am to get on the bus which will (traffic permitting) get us there in time for when the gates open at 9am. It's going to be a biiig day. I'm sure there will be some exhaustion vomiting at some point (always happens when DD gets really tired, just please not on the bus). 

So since we are going to be away from home on her actual birthday, I decided to make a special flower arrangement for her a few days beforehand so we (me too!) could enjoy it before we went away. 

This time I decided to go with lots of pinks since she, very stereotypically, loves pink. I was wondering how the different shades of pink would look together, but I think it turned out pretty well. 

I used floral foam for this arrangement and a glass vase, as I love to use glass in summer. It's so much cooler to look at than porcelain or other opaque materials. Really!

She was so excited when she came home from school and saw it. She even said "Thank you for making the pretty flowers for me Mummy". Aww. 

My ikebana course will be starting on the 17th of June, 2016. I have 3 places left for members of my mailing list. If you'd like to try your hand at beginner's ikebana, enter your email below to find out more details. 

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