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Mothering education circle

One day while I was watching my son play at the local community center, two oba-san approached me and casually started taking to me about how I'm raising my son in a country not my own. Little did I know that this small talk would turn into something that happened monthly and in a very formal manner. These two sweet ladies were both grandmothers and part of a group of women learning about how to raise children. Having already raised their own, they get together inviting any mothers they meet to join in and share stories and questions that most all women who have had to care for other humans have encountered. So far it has been a great experience as a foreigner to be part of this group. Not only does it provide me with Japanese practice, but it involves me in something I've never dealt with before from my own cultural perspective, formality. The meetings are very structured with an opening, introduction speech, topic reading, and then group discussion. While all of the mother's are gathered around discussing their trials and tribulations the grandmothers are in another room caring for children, giving the mothers an hours break from parenting. It's structured, but relaxing, allowing a small respite once a month from watching and guarding the small child.  But my favorite part about the group is how non judgemental everyone is. This includes the older women who truly seem to just want to learn how to better raise tiny humans. They give advice but also encourage different styles of teaching and raising children. I'm not sure if there are other groups exactly like this one around Japan, but if you are a parent looking for camaraderie in the works of fostering the next generation of the human race, I highly recommend asking around at local community centers for mother groups like this one. 

Feel tropical mood in winter!

You already know Japan has four seasons and it's still cold winter. And some parts of Japan are currently having heavy snow. But in Tokyo, there's an event where you can feel like as you're in a tropical land.I visited Orchid Festival in Tokyo which is held at Tokyo Dome in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. The festa's official name is "Japan Grand Prix 蘭 International Orchid Festival" (蘭/Ran means orchids) . It's called one of the largest orchid festivals in the world, and as the name suggests, there are a lot attractive spots.EntranceEntrance gate was decorated with, of course colorful orchids, and it was designed by Takarazuka Revue Company, Japan's female-actresses-only-gorgeous musical company. Visitors enter into the exhibition passing this gate of the large heart and gorgeous dresses both decorated with orchids.Group worksAfter the gate, there are many many artworks of orchids. Most of them are created by orchid farmers, but some are made by students of agricultural high schools.This is Mt. Fuji,They are Kimono (of course they are not wearable!),This looks waterfall,Why a gorilla on the top??Simple work using traditional Japanese room and pots.Table coordination created by ambassadresses to JapanEvery booth has original character reflecting own cultures. Find your country's ambassadress's work!Individual worksThey are not ikebana, but flower arrangement, wall hanging or painting,  also interesting to see.Works by professional artistsHuge works by headmasters of ikebana schools and famous flower artists. My schoolmaster created one using bamboo and orchids.CompetitionVarious kinds of pots are displayed. You'll be surprised to see these unique orchids.This looks normal. Just as I imagine when I hear "orchid".This looks like sunny-side-up!Small ones are pretty.Seeing many beautiful orchids, I found unique ones. They are all the same "orchids"...Cobra orchid,Spider orchid,Rose-printed orchid...so delicate.You could spend a whole day looking all the exhibition (don't worry, there are food stands and seats for rest) and also you can buy some pots at market space. They sell various flowers from under 1000yen. You can pick up your favorite.This event is held until February 17, opening hours: 9:30 to 17:30. Entrance closes at 17:00. Visit there and forget the freezing weather for a moment!

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!

Top 5 healthy, cheap and easy foods and meals for terrible cooks in Japan

If you're a terrible cook like me, you'll know that sinking feeling of walking into a Japanese supermarket and realising you have no idea what anything is, let alone how to fashion it into something edible. You will also realise that most of your tried-and-tested recipes from home either contain things impossible to find in Japan, or require an oven. And who has an oven in Japan?So you think "Okay. I'll try and find Japanese recipes in English..." and they include stuff like "You will need miso"! You will need MISO! Have you seen a miso aisle, recipe writer?! You're gonna have to be a bit more specific than that! Here are the top 5 things you have to look out for in any Japanese supermarket, that may just save you from starving.5) Key ingredient: Mixed vegetable bagsThese things are a lifesaver. Go to the supermarket and buy some, you won't regret it! Cheap (at around 100 yen), healthy, and go with any of the things I am about to show you. More importantly, all the preparation required is 1: open bag 2: put in pan 3: turn on hob 4: wait. (Washing the veg and adding a little bit of oil to the pan also help!)They contain ingredients like carrots, cabbage, Japanese mushrooms and moyashi (bean sprouts), but vary depending on brand and season. I like the brand above as they don't contain many mushrooms, but you can find ones that are mixed more to your taste. If you're really on a budget, you can buy bags of just moyashi, that will set you back about 30 yen. If you're using the veg as a main part of the meal, one bag is enough for two meals.Pair these veg with many types of noodle such as chinese-style (中華) and some pepper to get a vegetarian friendly, super quick meal. Add them to the top of ramen to fill it out a bit. Add mirin, sake and soy sauce when cooking these for a typically Japanese umami flavour. The possibilities are endless!4) Ready made nabe (hot pot)You will see these in the fridge section, in aluminium containers. Buy one and take the ingredients out from their separate packages, put them in the aluminium tin, put the tin on the hob and heat up. You have yourself a meal! No other ingredients required, but you can add extras like the veg in 5) if you wish. Beware! If you have an electric/IH stove, you may not be able to use the original tin, even if the packet says "IH 対応" or "IH compatible". ("IH incompatible" is "IH非対応") In this case just transfer to your own saucepan or frying pan.3) ChamponAnother really easy, healthy meal comes in packages that look like this. Search for ちゃんぽん written on the packet. This is a Nagasaki speciality which in its full-fledged, authentic version contains octopus, prawns, fish paste and all sorts, but works well with just veg too.Grab a bag of vegetables as in 5) and heat in a pan. (If you want to add meat or other ingredients, heat these up too) Add the noodles, broth powder and water, heat up and you're done! Quick and easy meal with the bare minimum of prep and washing up required, what's more to love?!2) Key ingredient: thinly sliced porkThinly sliced pork goes with anything! Chinese food, Japanese food, western food... anything is possible with this stuff. Pair it with the wondrous vegetables in 5) and you have a perfect noodle accompaniment. I guess it works with rice too. It may sound like "thinly sliced pork" is a needlessly long term for bacon, but the Japanese version isn't as salty or flavourful, is thinner, and has more streaky fat- than British bacon, anyway.  The more subtle flavour (okay, boring flavour) means it doesn't overpower the rest of the meal (okay, it doesn't really taste of much but gives you a more balanced meal). (I miss decent bacon) (Sigh)1) Sara udonThis is the ultimate in cheap, easy, and healthy meals. The picture above has those magical words 具いり (gu iri), meaning that the packet contains the main toppings. Add the vegetables in 5) and the pork in 2) to make it even better. Even the non-gu iri stuff just needs 5) and 2) to be ready- just add the included sauce, and maybe water if required. The great thing about Sara Udon is that the noodles are ready to eat- just stick them on a plate and bob's your uncle! The noodles are not like usual udon as they are thin, crunchy and almost snack-like, which also means that these things have a shelf life to compete with any emergency biscuits that may be hiding in your cupboard.Stock up on a few of these, and you will never go hungry in Japan!Do you have any super easy, Japan friendly food hints? What do you cook at home in Japan? Leave a comment!

Japanese Food Experience: KIT KAT MANIA

When you are at the supermarket, have you ever noticed there are different sorts of KitKats? Did you even notice they change seasonally? Actually, Japanese people are really crazy for KitKat and there are not only a few different sorts, there are MANY different sorts. Let’s take a look at the KIT KAT MANIA.  KitKat was introduced to Japan in 1973, but as we know the Japanese people, it didn’t stay with a normal milk chocolate taste. Japanese people are creative when it comes to food and sweets and so within the over 40 years of KitKat in Japan more than 300 versions have been released. But how could KitKat become so popular in Japan? At least one reason is its name itself. KitKat is often pronounced as “kitto katto” in Japanese which sounds like “you will surely win" (きっと勝つ kitto katsu). Because of this the chocolate snack is seen as a lucky charm. Many people use it to get cheered up for university entry exams. Even special versions of KitKat are sold for this season of the year when special words are printed on the chocolate.  The regular versions of KitKat There are some versions of KitKat you can find all over the year in Japan. These are the regular milk-chocolate KitKat and a bitter chocolate version. For sure, it wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn't a Maccha KitKat version which looks pretty good in green and really tastes like green tea. Another version you can often find is strawberry KiKat. The new KitKat Luxury Every Day also seems to stay for a longer time. Mainly these packs with 12 chocolate bars inside are available at supermarkets and drugstores and cost around 200 to 400 Yen.  The seasonal versions of KitKat Japan is famous for the time-limited products which are only sold within specific times a year. For sure, this also goes with KitKat. Every year they have new ideas and release new products changing with the seasons. But take care, mainly you can have them only once and soon after the seasonal change they disappear – and won’t come back.  However, as example for an always-coming-back version you can see Pumpkin KitKat around two months before Halloween. There are some sorts of Yaki-KitKat which you can bake inside the oven, coming up regularly with different tastes.  Some seasonal versions are: Rasberry, Vanilla Ice, Sweet Potato, Baked Cheese Cake, Ginger and even more... Fun fact: the Japan Post is releasing a special designed KitKat every year for New Year’s greeting. However, it’s just a special look for the regular milk chocolate KitKat. The regional versions of KitKat Here you can find another reason why KitKat is so popular in Japan. The tradition of Omiyage lets people buy regional-limited products on their trips – why not to choose a regional KitKat? But don’t worry, you don’t need to travel everywhere to try the regional versions. Sometimes you also can find them at duty free shops and Don Quijote stores.  The regional versions mostly include some special products of the area, just like apples from Shinshu area, Maccha from Uji or Momiji from Hiroshima. Mainly it is a box of 12 KitKat Minis which costs 800 Yen (+ tax). Sometimes smaller packs with five chocolate bars are also available. Here you can see the recent regional versions which you also can find on the Nestle website. But don’t worry, there are even more versions. Tokyo – Rum Raisin Yokohama –Strawberry Cheese Cake Shizuoka & Kanto area – Tamauya Honten Wasabi Nagano – Shinshu Apple Tochigi – Tochi-Otome Strawberry Kanto Hokuriku area – Azuki Sandwich Kyoto – Itokyuemon Uji Maccha Kyoto – Itokyuemon Roasted Tea Kobe - Kobe Pudding Hiroshima – Momiji Manju Kyushu – Amaou Strawberry Kyushu & Okinawa – Purple Sweetpotato Kyushu & Okinawa – Green Tea of Kumamoto Also added to the local souvenirs are the Sake flavoured KitKat and Strawberry Cheese Cake KitKat which have a special box design. The last one looks like Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. You mainly can find these at the Kanto area. The airport versions of Kitkat Especially for foreign tourists, there are big boxes of KitKat which you only can get at the airport. These include ten smaller boxes each with three KitKats inside. That’s why it is perfect to take it home and present them to friends. Sure, sometimes you also can find them at other places. One example, which versions you mainly find at Haneda airport, you can see on the picture below. There they have Japanese Strawberry, Hokkaido Red Bean, Sakura Maccha and Uji Green Tea. Lately, they also added Hokkaido Melon with Mascarpone Cheese which is pretty delicious. So, take your chance to get these boxes at the airport. KitKat Chocolatory From 2014 the KitKat Mania went on with special shops which only sell exclusive KitKat versions. By now there are nine KitKat Chocolatory stores all over Japan, however four of the stores are located in Tokyo. The other you can find in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. At these stores you can find KitKat Sublime versions, special fruit versions and gift boxes. They even have an online shop. Check out the website here. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - How about you – are you going with the KitKat Mania in Japan? Have you tried different KitKat versions? Which do you like best?

Cake and flowers. What could go wrong?

Romance is important to the continuation of the species. (For more information, write to your local congressman).  Western countries are no strangers to Valentine’s Day. With the flower giving and the red color and the awkwardness. But Japan took it a step further (where have I heard that before?) and made White Day as well. White day seems to have come from a confectionery company, originally marketing marshmallows and later white chocolate, as a way to increase Valentine’s Day sales. And man, did it work! I treat White Day as a sort of “Take-Two” for romance. I am prone to making mistakes, and it`s good to be able to re-do gestures without the faux pas that are inevitable in an international relationship. Japan has literally everything to offer if you look closely enough, so there is no shortage on things to do eat and talk about. So here are three ideas that pop up in my head when I think about Osaka and Valentine`s Day. (This applies to White Day as well.) 1. Osaka Station Osaka Station is a world of possibilities. It`s got everything under the sun for you to do. There is a plethora of restaurants to choose from in any level of romance you are looking for. The price goes up as well, I guess. Maybe making a home cooked meal is the way to go instead… You can meet your beloved in a romantic waiting spot outside Daimaru, in a place called “Toki no hiroba”. It`s the perfect place for a dramatic meeting, just like in the movies. 2. Nakanoshima If you are in Osaka anyway, take a stroll through the Dochika underground and come up on the end, you might be tempted to walk a bit further down and to the left to Nakanoshima. About five minutes from either Yodoyabashi station or Kitahama station (Keihan line) is the Nakanoshima Rose Garden. It is a lovely place to just walk around on a cold February afternoon………. Actually it is better to go in May when the roses are actually in bloom, but who can deny a good walk through a garden anyway, regardless of color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway, and you are supposed to be focusing on your date! It`s a simple idea and best of all, it`s free! 3. Make cake in the rice cooker Back in my home country, the oven, used for baking, cooking giant roasts and the like, is a staple in every building. It was actually built into the wall of my kitchen. In Japan, this is not so. You may have to shell out some tens of “man” to get a decent oven for something more than just heating toast. Instead of a cool oven, I have a very cool rice cooker. (I got it instead of a PS4 during last New Year`s Aeon gift card bonanza). The recipe I found on the internet explains a very simple way to make a chocolate cake. Well, things did not go as planned. The recipe said to use the normal rice cooker settings, but I guess I have to look at the manual a bit more closely. Oh well, lesson learned.  I will be making this cake again on the 14th (and possibly next month too) and I really hope I don`t burn the house to the ground. 4. Flower language I am not afraid to say it. I would love to receive flowers some time in my life. I don`t think it has happened so far, as my memory fades with each year. I think everyone, even the most tough, hardy sailors would be at least a bit happy receiving flowers. In the olden times, people used flowers to communicate, just as we do these days with emojis. If you send someone a text saying “I am so looking forward to meeting your parents” and put a smiley face on the end, the message would be read as the truth. But if you put an eye-rolling yellow guy, a beer glass or even a sarcastic thumbs-up, guess what, you will be sleeping on the sofa for the rest of the week. It`s a mistake we all must face some day. During some ancient period, people sent flowers. The way it goes is you write a message to your long distance lover. This message is as vague as possible. But the real key is the flower that comes with the message. If the flower is, for example a violet, it represents “honesty”, but if the flower is an orange lily, it would mean “revenge!”. And of course if you send a cactus flower, you are looking for something more than a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. Wink wink.  The saying goes “you can`t go wrong with flowers”. Let me tell you, you can go completely wrong with flowers! So, a friend of mine (I must make it perfectly clear that it was not me**) brings his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers, selected because they are pretty, rather than what they mean. Yellow chrysanthemums look nice, right? WELL, it turns out, this genius gave his girl some funeral flowers! That was a nice conversation to have (not that I was there, of course). Whatever you decide to do during Valentine's and White day, remember to have fun. Make your lovey-dovey intentions clear and you will not be disappointed with the results. But what do I know. I`m still learning which flower is which. **I lied. It was me

My Favourite AFFORDABLE Plum-Wine

Drinking alcohol is very affordable in this country, as it is a lifestyle for many. My favourite drink of choice in Japan is most definitely Ume-shuu, aka Plum Wine. It packs a very sweet and thick flavour with a slight sourness that the fruit brings and it is one of the easiest drinks for people for those who aren't fond of the bitterness of alcohol. Out of all the ones I've tried from the supermarket, I have one that I purchase again and again.The Makkoi Umeshuu by Mercian is one of the richest and tastest ume-shuu I've ever tried. Mixing it with cold water, soda water, or my favourite, having it on rocks are all great options that doesn't take away any of its deliciousness. And the best part? The price. The 1000mL pack shown in the picture would cost you just around 600yen, and nowadays I store the 2L version at home, which is usually just under a 1000yen and it lasts me quite a good while.If you're looking to try an affordable ume-shuu or a delicious drink that's worth your buck, this is my recommendation and I don't think you'd be disappointed. Enjoy drinking (responsibly)! -----------------------------------------Follow for more everyday magic I encounter in Japan!

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