Friday, 27 May 2016

The Japanese kindergarten trip: What to know before you go

We have just come back from an "ensoku" ”遠足” or a school trip with my daughter's kindergarten. This was my second time to go and so I was a lot more expert than a year ago when we went for the first time and I felt, again, that there was some memo I didn't get. There was no actual memo, it's just that gaijin sometimes/often have no idea what the unwritten rules are in Japan.
Psychedelic pattern is the cover on the bus curtain!

So here are a few tips to make your first school trip go more smoothly and help you feel less like an alien who just dropped in from another galaxy. 

The ground sheet

In Japan, picnics are often done on a blue plastic sheet or tarpaulin. For school trips, it's not really the done thing to bring along the blue plastic sheet. It needs to a be not too big (this is Japan there are guaranteed to be loads of people there and not enough space), and it should be cute. Some kind of decoration on it. Like this picnic sheet. Last year I took a beach mat that I have from when I lived in Germany. It was all wrong. This year we took a "Frozen " one and a "Disney " one and were at one with the crowd.

The bento

Make sure to check if there are any rules about lunch at your kindergarten, though you probably know them already from making bentos every week for your kids. Some kindergartens have all school lunch so it might be your first bento making experience. Some kindergartens are staunch: "Must all be home made food, no frozen stuff!", some are "Whatever you wanna give your kids is fine with us, even stuff with peanuts or loaded with corn syrup!". Make sure you have more than enough for your own family. Last year I just made a regular bento and my daughter seemed to want more so got another rice ball from a friend's mother! I was mortified. But she was well prepared. I looked like a stinge.

The snacks

I was also unaware the first time round that there would be a "snack exchange". You bring along lots of great goodies to snack on but make sure they are individually wrapped and shareable. Today I also didn't quite get it right. Well I did remember to go along armed with individually packaged cookies for my daughter to share with her friends at lunch. In return she got quite a few different things ranging from rice crackers, to candy, gummis and chocolate (all individually packaged of course), which she was ecstatic about. But when we got on the bus to go home a second round of snack swapping started up (All the other mothers suddenly brought out bags of candies they must have had stashed for just this occasion!)but I was all out. Luckily my daughter wasn't excluded and wouldn't have let herself be either, but I felt like I had missed the memo the locals all got again. Once again, bring more than you think you will need. Do not bring home made stuff to share. Nobody wants your home baked cookies, no matter how amazing they are. They could be poisoned you see. Japanese people prefer to give store bought things to other people so in the unlikely event that someone gets sick, you can blame the company that made the food. 

The commemorative photo

You may be going to a park or a zoo or a factory or some other (possibly underwhelming) place, and there is bound to be a commemorative photo taken, so be aware of that! I knew that there would be a photo taken today, but I didn't realise I would actually also be in it. I thought it was just the kids. One word: Hat hair.

Find your pack

Today, we were taken by bus to a zoo. Once there we there, we could look around by ourselves. Everyone quickly formed their packs, actually ours had already been formed on the bus. Luckily we had a pack to walk around the zoo with. The only ones who were lone wolves were the fathers who had come along with their children and didn't know any of the other parents (and probably felt a bit uncomfortable hanging out with all women, just my guess) since they are not usually involved in the kindergarten activities from week to week. 

The appropriate greeting

You are back from the trip, the next time you see your mama friends at kindergarten it's "この間お疲れさまでした!”、"Kono aida otsukaresama deshita". Which very roughly translates in this case to : That was a good trip the other day.  If someone says that to you, the reply is お疲れさま!or お疲れさまでした!+ a comment on the day like: What a fun trip it was/It was such a hot day!/My kids were exhausted, how about yours etc.

I hope this will help you have a stellar first school trip with your kids. 
May your children fall asleep on the bus home! 
Our day out at the horrible little zoo we go to every year was so much fun for my children if not so much for me. But they were absolutely hypo on the bus on the way home due to excitement of being on a big bus with their friends and having consumed a large quantity of junk food. (I had been having fantasies of them both passing out 2 minutes into the trip home and me sipping my coffee and reading blogs on my ipod all the way....). Luckily they did both pass out 2 minutes after getting back into my car and so I took a detour through the Starbucks drive thru (Thank you universe for drive thrus so mummies can get a caffeine hit without leaving sleeping kids unattended in cars). And FINALLY got my chance to sip my coffee and read blogs on my ipod outside 7-11 using their free wifi which reaches to the car park whilst they snored their heads off.

Let me know what advice you would add to this.  Do Japanese school trips sound better or worse than the ones in your country? I'd love to hear your comments!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Let me introduce you to one of my readers: Hannah chan

You may have heard of "san" being used in Japan like Mr or Mrs in English. Chan is what we attach to the end of people's names who are dear/familiar to us or younger than us. There is also sama for revered people (My husband calls me Jayne sama for a bit of a joke), kun for boys/men only but chan can also be used.

Well I have been back blogging now for just a few months, but not long after I started back, Hannah started following me on Facebook and reading my blog. Since I lost a lot of my regular readers, I was very grateful to know there was someone out there reading what I was posting.

Hannah lives in the UK, but loves Japan. 
I was very chuffed that she had taken the time to read a lot of posts on my blog and take the time to comment on my Facebook page. 
Then, one day I noticed that Hannah has her own Etsy shop. 

PaperDaisyCo is the shop's name and you can find the cutest handmade cards made with washi tape. 

What is washi tape? 
It's that really cool decoration tape you find in craft stores with all kinds of patterns and "washi" ”和紙” is "wa" or "和" which means "Japanese" and "shi" or "紙" which means paper. So it's Japanese paper, made from fibers such as bamboo, hemp, rice and so on, which someone had the great idea to make into colourful tape. And Hannah loves it. Please go and have a look at her creations. This is just the kind of card I would want to get for my birthday.

I'm always curious to know how other people find their passions and start their own businesses so I did a little interview. 

Why did you decide to start a card making business?

I have always loved making cards for friends and family and it has always been a hobby of mine to create homemade cards. When I discovered Etsy as a craft website and saw what beautiful things people were creating I thought I'd give it a go and put some of my creations on there.

I notice you use washi tape, where did you get your inspiration for that from?

I had never heard of washi tape before we actually visited Japan back in 2013. We went to Tokyu Hands (department store) and I was in complete awe standing in the stationary section looking at all the beautiful tapes, wrapping paper, pens and materials. I only bought a few tapes and materials with the plan to use them for cards I make for family and friends. When I returned home, I had 3 birthday cards to make for my Mum, my brother and sister who are all born on the same date! I used the tape to create 3 different cards. When I gave the cards to my family they were so impressed, they convinced me to start selling them so I discovered Etsy and that's how it all started. I love working with washi. I try my best to get it from Japan and use tapes that are made in the traditional way using rice or hemp as the base of the tapes. In the UK washi tapes have become very popular over the last few years but they tend to be cheap versions from China. I can't wait for our next trip to Japan where I can stock up on some supplies. 

What goals do you have for your card making business?

In terms of goals I have had my little online shop for over a year now and I am really happy it just steadily gets sales. It is a hobby of mine and as I am so busy with other work commitments I love making the odd card or creation. I had started to think about making cards to be sold locally in shops but i want to keep it as a passion rather than turn it into work for now. I was very successful with doing craft fairs and Christmas Markets in 2015 so that is certainly something I will look into for this year too! 

Thanks for answering my questions, Hannah.
The thing I love about Hannah's cards is when you see them, you can tell they have been made with love. This year my "word of the year" is "Creativity", so I really want to support people who are also out there making things.

It is also fascinating to me how Japanese things, like washi tape, cosplay, karaoke spread to other countries. I have lived here for so long now (14 years!) that I get a bit confused about what the outside world or "gaikoku" "外国" is like these days.

The world is certainly a lot more global than it was when I came here. Back then it was a huge adventure to go to Japan. Now pretty much everyone is doing it. Yay. There is so much to love about Japan, I'm glad that it's becoming a place that people are finally starting to visit in great numbers. I hope you'll be able to get back here again soon Hannah!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Friday Flowers: Another arrangement challenge

Due to being away on holiday, its been a few weeks since I managed to do some flower arrangement. Today is Friday, so as an end of week treat to myself, I set off on an adventure with my son, Hugo in tow to a new flower shop I have never visited before. 

The staff at Aoyama Garden Flower were outside when I got there and immediately made me feel very welcome. They have two poodles, Choco and Hana (flower) who were running around but so well behaved compared to my own little fur ball, Sebastian. 
Hugo loved patting them whilst he waited for me to get what I wanted. 
I'm always a bit nervous when I go to a totally new store here in rural Japan. Sometimes people freak out when I show up as they think they have to speak English and so are a bit scared to talk to deal with me as they would a regular customer. But not so today, yay.

Today my mission was to get some flowers for an arrangement for the English school where I work. My boss gave me a budget of 2000 yen ($NZ 25, $US 18), which isn't that much when you want to create an arrangement that is not ikebana. Luckily when I was telling a neighbour I was going to do an arrangement for my school today, she gave me some beautiful yellow roses out of her garden, too.

So here is what I started with.

This arrangement will go on a coffee table and be viewed from all sides so it's necessary to make it pretty from all angles. That is a bit for tricky than just a front view one. 

The colour combination is totally crazy but I think it works! 
I'd love to see what you have all be making, post your latest flower arrangements on my Facebook page

Wanna be able to do this too? You totally can! 
Join my email list and keep up to date with news about my upcoming online flower arrangement course: 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Travelling by Budget Airline with Kids?: What to know before you go

I've just come back from a week away in Australia with my DH (Darling Husband), DD (Darling Daughter, 4) and DS (Darling Son, nearly 2). We went to the Gold Coast and met up with my family who came over from New Zealand for a week of sunshine, shopping, fun parks, swimming and even a bit of sand.
Hugo thrilled to be allowed to play iPad. We save it for really special occasions like long haul flights, long distance car rides.

For me this was the first time to use a budget airline (BA), in this instance Jetstar. It's the only airline that flies direct from Narita to the Gold Coast and for us, no connecting flights was a must with my son in tow. Since I'm used to flying to New Zealand which is 11 hours, an 8 hour flight sounded like a piece of cake and it certainly was nice to only have to fly 8 hours. However, there are few things that you should do to make flying a BA like Jetstar more pleasant without having to shell out even more money. 

Check In Early

When we arrived at Narita, 2 hours before our flight, there was already a HUGE, very very slow moving line of people waiting to check in. There were only 3 desks checking in our whole flight that day. I'm not sure if this is standard or if it was just a low staff day or something. But that was painful for us to have to wait in that line, at dinner time. On the way back, we were at the airport very early and were the first in line to check in. Waiting 10 minutes for check in to start was much more relaxing than being at the end of a huge hardly moving queue. So just beware that BAs might not have so many people checking people in as a regular one.

Request Your Seats

Which brings me to my next point. If you are travelling with someone under 2, even if they are too big for the bassinet, you can still request the bassinet row when you book ( I did this by online chat), and then just make sure you ask again when you check in early at the airport. If your kids are a bit older, booking the seats at the bulk head even if you have to pay extra could be a huge benefit on longer flights. You can't be sure of getting them, but it certainly doesn't hurt to try.

Bring Empty Water Bottles

Liquids in carry on luggage are subject to restrictions but empty water bottles are not. You will be able to take empty plastic bottles with you into the international departures area and then fill them at a drinking fountain, which there is usually at least one of. I was under the impression that there was a fountain on the plane too but we never found it, though we had enough with us to survive the 8 hour flight. Just. On a BA, you will probably get zero attention from the flight attendants unless you want to buy something, so it pays to be prepared.

Bring More Food Than you Think You Will Need

If you are not going to take advantage of meals that you have to pay extra for, then bringing your own is totally fine. We packed all our own food and I thought we had loads of food, but when you are sitting on a plane and there isn't much to do, having a snack is one way to pass the time. Also if your plane is delayed like ours was you have to watch that you don't get caught short around meal times. Our flight was supposed to arrive before 7pm but didn't get in until after 8pm and was 8:30 by the time we got our luggage and into the arrivals area. Luckily at Narita's new BA terminal (Terminal 3), there are some good options for food and the exit route brings you past them as you leave the terminal, unlike Terminal 1 and 2 where you have to find your way up 3 levels to the departures area. So bring more than enough food. 

Take Advantage of the Kid's Luggage Benefits

Travelling on Jetstar, you are able to take one piece of luggage that can be a car seat, portacot or stroller/pushchair. Even though my daughter is 4, the online Jetstar chat staff member assured me she was also entitled to an extra piece of luggage. So we took a push chair and my son's portacot. Both total life savers on our trip, the portacot saved us $140 in extra charges at our hotel for using theirs. Those pieces of luggage are not subject to weight limits like a suitcase, so we did stuff the empty spaces in the portacot with nappies on the way there and shopping on the way home. 

All in all our flight was a pleasant one, made so by having enough food, being seated in the bulk head row and flying in low season. It was the first time I have flown with the kids and had my husband along to help, not sure I would fly alone again now! 

I'd love to hear your tips for flying budget airlines! Please leave a comment!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Bento Recipe: Japanese style stewed pumpkin

This recipe is one of my "go to" vegetable recipes for something to prepare for bento lunches. 
You can make this anywhere in the world, as long as you can get your hands on pumpkin!

You will need:
1/4 of a small green pumpkin (I haven't tried it with other types but it could work)
a microwave proof bowl
1-2 table spoons of soy sauce (Japanese style like kikoman)
1/2 teaspoon of fish stock (I think chicken or vegetable would also work)
1 table spoon of mirin or failing mirin 1/2 table spoon of sugar and a table spoon of white wine
(These measurements are a rough guide, you may need to add or reduce the sugar/soy sauce depending on your own tastes, more can be added later so err on the side of caution). 

Wash pumpkin, scoop out seeds, and cut into bite sized pieces.

Fill bowl with water to just under half way, then add soy sauce, stock and mirin or sugar and wine to the bowl and mix. 

Place pumpkin in bowl with skin down, cover loosely with microwaveable food wrap and microwave until pumpkin cooked through. For me this takes about 7 minutes at 500 watts. 

Once cooked, gently mix so flavours have a chance to soak into the pumpkin and if possible leave to stand for about 30 minutes before serving or even better eat it the next day in a bento like this one!

I'd love to see you bentos so please send me a photo on my Gaijin Housewife Facebook page. 
Or why not join our Gaijin Housewife Community where we will be sharing all kinds of tips and information about Japanese life. 

Want to keep up to date on Gaijin Housewife's Japanese recipes that you can cook anywhere in the world? 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Japanese Kindergarten: Open lesson day or 授業参観

I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to choosing a Japanese kindergarten. 

Today I'm going to tell you a little bit about the "Open Lesson Day".

If your child has started kindergarten you might be wondering what they are doing there all day. I know I certainly did. Those first few weeks after my DD started and I no longer knew what she was doing every second, took some adjusting to. 
Going along to the open lesson is a great way to see how the class works and what the kids get up to. I still have very little idea as my DS reports every day that they did "nothing special", but at least she seems to enjoy going to school and doing "nothing special" every day. .

When does it take place? What happens?

In my daughter's kindergarten, a few weeks after it starts for the new year, they have an open lesson where parents (though it is mostly mothers), come along and watch what happens in class. It is all very well choreographed in advance so the kids usually sing some songs and the teacher shows you the kinds of things they get up to on an average day and talks to the parents about various issues. 

Video Cameras are usually OK, unless otherwise stated

DO NOT forget to bring your video camera/smart phone like I did. I didn't think it would be appropriate to be recording everything, but all of the other mothers had theirs out and so I had to do what I could with my very old school cell phone. Also bring your own "uwabaki" or indoor shoes/slippers preferably in a fashionable paper bag to put your own shoes in if leaving them outside the class is not an option. 

The PTA Showdown

Now, be aware, that they may also choose the PTA representatives for the class after the lesson display. The open lesson is the "hook", if you will, to get everyone there. This involves all the parents sitting in the class, avoiding eye contact until someone breaks down and volunteers to do it.  It is terribly uncomfortable, so if you don't want to or can't be on the PTA, do your best not to be chosen....That said, if there is a standoff that just goes on and on, rock scissors paper or "Janken" may be required to choose someone. This is my least favourite part of the whole year. However, if you do end up becoming part of the PTA, you will not be doing it all alone, like some of my friends in other countries have said happened to them. There are lots of people all doing it together - in very Japanese fashion. If you are chosen, you can still give your husband some of the responsibilities, too. That seems to be totally fine at my kindergarten, sometimes the mother will do it, sometimes the father. 

What to wear on open lesson day.

I sometimes feel a bit confused as to what is the appropriate way to dress for various events at kindergarten. I don't want to stick out anymore than I already do as a foreigner, at least wearing appropriate clothing makes me feel a tiny wee bit less conspicuous. 
I would go smart casual. Look like you have put in a little effort but not "Entrance Ceremony" level of wearing a cream coloured suit or anything.

Open lessons are really fun to watch and see your child's "at school" persona which is often different from at home. Enjoy! 

Have I missed anything? Does your kindergarten in Japan do it differently? If so please leave a comment so we can all learn more! 

Friday, 29 April 2016

Friday Flowers: Weeds and stuff I found around my neighbourhood

This week's arrangements are brought to you buy "Stuff I found around my neighbourhood", many of the things are weeds that grow wild. The cost of today's arrangemenet: $0. I'm very lucky to live in such a green part of the city where in spring and summer there is no shortage of wild flowers and weeds that look a bit like flowers.

This time I made three small arrangements. 

When you put them all together, they look like this:

They are all quite different and mismatched but I think that is definitely part of the charm. The vases are just 3 small white ones I got from the 100 yen shop a long time ago and have been gathering dust in my cupboard.  Having 3 is the perfect number. Even though it's an odd number. Also the triangle shape that you make when you place the vases where you are going to display them, should be uneven. Not perfect distances from each other or in a straight line. That is the difference between ikebana and regular flower arrangement. Also notice the bits sticking out of each arrangement how they kind of reach out to the other ones. That helps to bring the whole arrangement together. 

I hope you will give it a try. Please send me your photos to my Facebook page. 
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