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Baby's First Food: Japan Versus the West!

Baby food in Japan is quite different to what I am familiar with in Ireland. I was at home when my eldest (DS) had his first food and for the first few weeks of the spoon. I had just come back from Ireland with supplies to use in Japan for when my 2nd eldest (DD1) started on food. My third and fourth children were the only ones to have Japanese baby food for their first few weeks. I introduced my three daughters to the spoon at 5 and a half months in line with Japanese guidelines to wait until at least 5 months old. DS had the spoon at 17 weeks in line with Irish guidelines to wait until they are at least 4 months old. The World Health Organisation recommends waiting until they are 6 months old. Irish Baby Rice and Baby Food  Japanese baby rice  At home, baby rice is one of the first foods introduced. Rice is not readily available in Ireland and very few people have rice cookers, so rice for babies is usually bought. In Japan, you can get rice for babies in the store too. Or you can make your own. We tried and tested both. The baby rice you buy here though does not have as much fortification as the baby rice back home. I use Milupa rice cereal when in Europe and it has 33% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Iron, 29% RDA of Calcium and 64% RDA of Vitamin C. It also has Vitamins A, D3, E, K1, B1, B2, B6 and B12, as well as zinc, niacin, folic acid, biotin and pantothenic acid. I use Wakodo baby rice in Japan. It does not provide information on the percentages of RDA present and only lists ingredients rather than nutritional content other than the presence of protein, sodium and vitamin E. Does it just not list the nutritional information or does it just not have any extra nutrition? Your guess is as good as mine, as I cannot find any information online to support either theory! 5 mg sachets of rice and soup like powder sachets What I like about the baby rice in Japan is that it comes in sachets of 5 mg, which is convenient and helps keep the rice fresh. In Ireland the rice comes in a cereal box and aluminium packet of 125 grams and you spoon out the necessary quantity and try to seal the pack after each use to keep it fresh. Convenient pot for making baby rice in the microwave  A lot of people in Japan make their own baby rice from regular rice. We did this often. There are various ways you can do it. One of the easiest ways is to stand a bowl of raw rice with the recommended amount of water in the regular rice bowl of the rice cooker. You can also boil cooked rice until it's mushy. Or you can microwave cooked rice, which is what we did. For small babies just starting out the recommendation is to use 200 ml of water to 50 grams of cooked rice and cook it on strong for 4 minutes, then on weak for 12 minutes, then let is stand with the lid still on for a further 5 minutes. We have two handy bowls specifically for microwaving baby rice which we use, pictured above. The first one has the instructions on the front which is useful, but I preferred the smaller bowl as it had the water marker so I could easily add 200 ml of water without having to use a measuring jug. Bowl and bamboo stick masher aka mortar and pestle Other foods introduced in the early weeks seems to vary by country. In Ireland, banana is a popular first food for babies. The one and only baby food book I have in English, Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron, an American author and nutritionist, recommends avocado. Meanwhile here in Japan carrot is the 2nd most popular first food after rice. In Japan, people also use a lot of soup like powder sachets for extra nutrition (Third picture from the top with coloured sachets). You just add water and stir and you can add to rice for flavour. In Japan, it seems new foods are introduced more quickly than at home. Quite quickly a baby goes from just rice to a variation of fruits and vegetables ground and liquefied to make them easier to digest. I use a mortar and pestle to mash food, pictured above. I think in the initial few weeks of the spoon, the store-bought fortified baby foods at home are a lot more nutritious to here. However, fairly quickly babies in Japan get more variation and nutrition from regular fresh food added to baby rice by about the 4th week of solids. There are lots of foods readily available that can easily be added to baby rice to improve its nutritional content, such as hijiki (please see note below), tofu, sesame seed, dried whitefish or katukuchi anchovy as well as a wide selection of green and coloured vegetables and seasonal fruit. I'd just like to add on a personal note, given the situation of what happened in Fukushima six years ago, we have reduced the amount of Hijiki we use in our diet. Hijiki like all seaweed, but at a greater rate, absorbs not only the nutrition from the seabed, but the toxins as well. This is very well explained on the "World's Healthiest Foods" site; Radiation Protection and Diet. We are also being very careful with all seafood we purchase.

Forget popcorn, have some Pop-rice!

As you guys may know, I'm always look for snacks to munch on. (In fact, it's an addiction! Read about my snacks addiction)At the snack shop, one of my fav crunchy snacks to pick up is the ninjin-pop-rice.These little adorable carrot packages contain some incredible crispy (and extremely addictive) sweetened rice. For only 30yen a pack and the cute packaging, kids love them, and so do adults. The ingredients are also very simple too: rice, sugar, mizu-ame, and salt.My only "problem" with them is that each bags has only 13g of them, so they will be gone way before you realize it and you will be looking for more snacks. Regardless, this is a good snack to have at home, and one that kids can eat and still have dinner afterwards.As to why is it "carrot"? Sorry, that's a question I don't have the answer to.

My Favourite Karaoke Chain

I'm a karaoke addict. I used to go there every weekend by myself or with friends, and each session, solo or group, would often range between 6 hours to 10 hours at a time. My longest record of solo-karaoke is 9 hours, from the moment the shop opened to it closing. Having been to most of the karaoke chains in the country, there's one that I always go back to.Ban Ban karaoke tops of my chart of karaoke chains. Its extremely reasonable price is unbeatable. I went there with friends recently, and on a weekday, free time (we sang from 11am to 8pm) and drink bar included, we paid about 500yen per person with the help of the 20% coupon that's often in the local coupon magazines. The drink bar in also included, so there's no one-drink requirement BS.Granted, the ones I go to are in the suburbans. It would cost more if you're in the city, and Ban Ban is rarely in the center of the city. But Ban Ban is indeed nation-wide, and their machines are very updated too. If I have access to a Ban Ban, I rarely visit others. Look up if you have a Ban Ban near you!How often do you go to karaoke, and do you have a favourite chain?

Bring on the Hanami

Flowers are some of my favorite things on this planet. Along with food and good friends, ninety percent of the photos on my computer are comprised of these three simple things. And then a large chunk of these are all date stamped between the end of March and the beginning of April, hanami season. That time of year when the weather starts to shift from super cold and bitter winter winds to that light and gently warm breeze of spring. The days suddenly begin to stretch out and dusk becomes just late enough that you can finally enjoy yourself after work. It's this time of year when everyone begins to peek their heads out of their kotatsu and finally stretch their legs after the winter hibernation. After being holed up for a few months, it's finally time to see friends again, invite people out for drinks.  What better place than under the cherry trees. Now, in my experience there are two kinds of hanami. The more personal private one, where a couple of friends or just a couple  dating will get together and have bento and a drink or two. The romantic feel of the petals floating around while you share an intimate time enjoying each other's company.  Then there is the second larger style, where everyone gets together, brings food and or drinks to share, and each person seems to invite someone. The more the merrier right? More friends, more food, more booze.  So what happens if you get invited to a hanami and no one gives you the deets about what to bring and for how many? Well you can do the smart thing and just ask, or you can be more like me and just wing it.  A good and easy go to would be just about any snack food. No one will judge if you show up with just a bag of (insert favorite deep fried crunchy salty and or sweet item from a nearby convenience store) and an onigiri of your desired variety. This is just incase others were expecting you to bring your bento and you can just play it off as not being too terribly hungry. I've seen beer and a stick of chicken for lunch. This brings me to the next thing to be sure to bring. . If you don’t drink then just ignore this bit, but alcohol, particularly beer and chuhi(fizzy cocktails in a can) are the standard hanami fare. You will even find non-alcoholic beer being had by the non drinkers so that they can fit into the true hanami vibe. Or you know, just bring a bottle of water to cut the calories you are probably going to partake in with that bag of (delicious full fat, savory sweet and most likely too small to fill your tummy snack) and onigiri. Seriously, no one is judging. Except this guy. He thinks it’s blasphemy if your cup isn't full, even if you’ve never met before and are two picnic blanket parties over. He flagged a few of us down and invited us to a few rounds of beer and some mumble-y conversation. Very good fun! It wasn’t the first or only time that I’ve been invited to join other groups enjoying the blossoms. Just don’t forget to bring that bag to share with these guys and gals too. But maybe you are more of a foodie. You’d like to make something to bring and impress your friends and the locals you are bound to meet. Well, Japan loves its food, whether it's celebrities eating food, making food or just walking around a town explaining where all the food is, you will see it on almost every Japanese TV channel. So during hanami season, everything becomes picnic based. The recipes they show can almost always be used in bento for the small group hanami or made in larger quantities to be shared with the many friends and new acquaintances at the bigger parties.  Remember the above mentioned friendly drunk guy, this was his hanami spread. And of course it was shared just like the beer. . Often the ingredients are simple, but presentation has the most impact. No matter your cooking skills, if you put it in a pretty box that matches the season, and you have napkins to go with it, everyone will think you put so much effort into preparing such a wonderful meal, even if you just went to Daiso or some other local 100 yen shop. At the end of the day though, it's not what you bring, but enjoying the company you are with, and the natural beauty that Japan’s spring brings for such a short time each year. So stay out until the moon comes up, or much later, but do enjoy at least one hanami this year.

How to Create a Great Self Introduction

Self Introductions are a big deal in Japan. The first time you meet someone anywhere, you have to introduce yourself, but usually you are expected to give a slightly more elaborate self introduction to everyone when you start a new job in Japan. Introducing yourself in Japanese can be nerve wracking the first several times, but don’t let it cause any problems. If it’s really too hard, someone you work with can probably help or even translate for you at first. You’ll be able to do an introduction in Japanese with your eyes closed like it’s nothing after a good month in Japan, maybe less. The self introduction is something you’ll need to put a minute of effort into at first, but then you’ll have it prepared for all the other times you find out last minute you need it. Most of the time, you’ll be introducing yourself in English, if you’re teaching English at least. Here’s how to prepare an awesome self introduction. Use technology, but only if you’re confident with it and you know it’s available to you. In some schools, you’ll have a huge TV or ‘smartboard’ you can use with a tablet or laptop to show your photos or even video. Students absolutely love being able to see pictures about where you’re from and are more engaged that way. Keep the size of your audience in mind. If you make flashcards on A4 (close to 8 1/2 x 11) paper, it might be big enough for a class of 4o students, but maybe hard to see in back of a classroom. Visual aides are great, but small ones only work for very small groups. Think in terms of what they want to know about you. Name and country are the big ones, and keep it simple by telling students and staff a couple things you like about Japan – or the reason you ended up there. Make them laugh. It’s appropriate to make jokes, although no guarantees your audience will get them. Pay attention to your audience and if they are being silly (asking weird questions), then turn up the silliness by joking back. Get them to interact with you by asking them to guess where you’re from or what your favorite color is. Have a ‘super easy version’ memorized in English and in Japanese. You can add to this as you feel more confident and your students have more ability to understand. After introducing yourself (in English) to ten classrooms, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable with what your students can understand. Gesturing and speaking at a reasonable pace helps for lower level students. Allow questions from students (or coworkers) when you’re done. The point is they want to get to know you. You can get to know them by the questions they ask you. This series of articles is all about questions your students ask you.   Here’s a super easy Japanese profile template: Hello! (Good morning, etc.)                              おはようございます / こんにちわ / こんばんは My name is _________.                              (わたしは)____ です / ともうします。 I’m from ___________.                                  ________ からきました。 I like ___________. (food, color, etc.)             ________ がすきです。 Thank you. (I’m counting on you.)                 よろしくおねがいします。 After you fill in your information, you can use it to read and memorize your self introduction. Good luck and remember to have fun! Profile templates are available here in English (three levels) so you can use them for teaching English lessons and getting to know your students. Templates can be downloaded and printed out on A4 paper, then folded into an eight page zine (instructions included).

Eating An Extremely-Spicy Ramen

I usually complain about how "spicy" food in Japan are never spicy enough, but this experience changed my mind.At the local ramen shop, their latest "extremely spicy ramen" had a choice between 1-10, and with my arrogance, I went for level 5 on my first try, after they have warned me. I thought: "I know what spicy is in Japan and it is nothing!"What arrived at the table was a pool of redness. The rich thick spicy soup covered every single inch of every single ingredient in the bowl, and boy, eating it while it's hot will burn you in more ways than one.I'd like to say that it was delicious, but the truth be told, my tongue was more paralyzed by the hotness to know better. It definitely didn't taste bad, but I just couldn't tell anymore.By the time it cooled down, the noodles was much easier to consume, and eventually, I ate everything in the bowl and drank up a good portion of the red pool too.And the following day, I summoned a demon in the toilet.From that day on, if a ramen shop offers level 1-10, I'd go for 3, maybe 4 max if I know the shop, with the risk of summoning only a minor-demon the next morning.

Indoor Hanami event in Nihonbashi

Spring is almost here! Many people living or visiting Japan are expectant of hanami in this season. But don't you worry about the weather? For me, YES. Everytime I go out for some activity, it rains. I always bring rain to events..when watching professional baseball games, going to Disneyland, driving to the beach... We call such person as Ame-onna (雨女; ame means rain, onna means woman, if the person is male, Ame-otoko 雨男; otoko means man) . When it rained on the day of the event, I would cancel the it (or the event would be cancelled automatically), and wait for another chance, then find something different to do. But what if it rains on the day of hanami? The best season of hanami is too short as the flowers fall very soon, and you might have to wait for A YEAR for the next chance of hanami... If you are Ame-onna or Ame-otoko, and really worried about missing the opportunity, you can visit an "Indoor Hanami" event in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. Last week, I enjoyed hanami with my Ikebana friends."Flowers by NAKED" event is getting famous through social media with its beautiful pictures. NAKED is a group of creators holding many events highlighting projection mapping or other latest technologies. "Flowers by NAKED" is a collaboration of flowers and digital art. Not only visually, it appeals to our five senses using many cutting-edge technologies. (You can search on Instagram with hashtag "#flowersbynaked".)At the entrance, there is a Big book. This book is about three meters high and shows breathtaking beautiful pages of flowers with projection mapping. Also, you can smell the fragrance of the flowers. Don't forget to take pictures and breathe deeply here!Passing by the Big book, there is a wide screen displaying Mosaic of flowers. With the language of flowers, the flowers appear continuously, one after another. Find your favorite one.Then, you will find a ball-shaped object, Dandelion clock, surrounded by shade curtains. Something tricky will happen on this dandelion puffball when you do something... Do and see it for yourself!After the magical dandelion, you'll step into the world of Frozen flowers. They are not actually frozen, but look like they are in ice in some freezing area. The flowers used here are dried (or processed with chemicals) and delicately covered with thin glass. Blue and white lights make the area look really icy. Enjoy the winter before proceeding to the spring room.Then you will walk through Bamboo corridor. This passage is a work collaborated by our Ikebana school headmaster and NAKED, created from SO MANY bamboo trees. (More than 1,400 sheets of sliced bamboo!)  Bent, twisted and tangled bamboo work expresses blowing strong wind that brings us the spring. The huge work is illuminated with colorful lights and we can enjoy the reflections, too.After the spring storm corridor, we finally arrive at Hanami area full of cherry blossoms. Cherry blossom trees spread over our heads (actually they are artificial flowers, not real), and real trees are displayed in a large glass vases, and the thousands of flower petals made from papers are floating at the top, creating the very soft, calm, relaxed but brilliant and gorgeous space that gives us an illusion of being under the fully-bloomed cherry flowers.If you feel like having a sip of a cocktail for more hanami mood under the cherry blossoms, there's a bar featuring Sakura cocktails and sweets. (But remember that you can't sit on the ground as it is very crowded)While you enjoy the drinks, you can also enjoy the elegant dance show with sakura projection mapping. The performance in the storm of cherry petals is worth seeing and taking a video of .Beside the bar, a beautiful sakura-colored dress designed by famous Japanese fashion designer Keita Maruyama is on display.Now we are going to finish this hanami tour, but before the exit, we can leave the flowers which we bloom by ourselves. Stop at the wall on your left and touch the screen, then something happens....At the exit there is a mysterious labo, The secrets behind the garden, which creates this flower event. Honestly, I was not sure they are really related to the event, but some girls were absorbed in taking pictures.Outside the hall, you can enjoy shopping for many kinds of flower-designed goods such as confectioneries, aroma oil, apparel, stationary and ornaments.The weather in Tokyo is still unstable and cold. So should you miss the hanami opportunity, don't be depressed. Visit Nihonbashi for the "Flowers by NAKED" event!This event is held until March 20 (MON) in COREDO MUROMACHI 1, accessible from Mitsukoshimae-station on Tokyo Metro Hanzomon or Ginza line. The ticketing booth and entrance is on the 4th floor and the venue is on the 5th. Opening hours: 10:00 to 20:00 ( admission until 19:30) Ticket for adults: 1400yen, children: 900yen. For details, visit the official page. English available.


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