Encountering the Edo Period and Hobnobbing with Owls


This week our family headed to Tokyo for the day to renew the kids’ passports and spend some fun family time.  After an uneventful experience at the embassy and a scrumptious lunch of Indian curry, we trekked over to the Edo-Tokyo Museum to dive into learning about the Japanese Edo and Meiji periods.  
The Edo period lasted from 1603 to 1868 and was the time when samurai were plentiful and Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa Shogunate.  During this time, Japan was closed off to the rest of the world and many of the cultural traditions that we think of as distinctly Japanese came into existence.

The Meiji Period lasted from 1868, when the reign of the Tokugawa family ended and Emperor Meiji took power, to 1912 when Emperor Taisho became the new leader.  This was a period of modernization and westernization for Japan.

The fifth floor of the Edo-Tokyo museum where the permanent exhibits are located is divided into two halves – one with displays about the Edo Period (during which the capital city was called Edo) and and the other with information and interactive zones that teach about the Meiji Era (when Edo became known as Tokyo).

When we entered the museum, we were greeted by a volunteer tour guide who sweetly and skillfully guided us throughout many of the displays, giving us tons of background information and access to a behind the scenes area where we could try out instruments that were used for making sound effects for kabuki performances.  She gave us the option for having our tour in English or Japanese and we decided to go with the Japanese version for listening and speaking practice.  

Highlights for us were the kabuki instruments, a life-size model of the old wooden Nihonbashi bridge, a Meiji Era house we could enter and explore, and a display of samurai swords and armor.  

We are big fans if Indian curry and naan bread!

It’s probably a good thing this isn’t our usual family car!



Learning from our tour guide about kabuki theater and how they made different sound effects during the Edo Period.


This is what the front of the kabuki theater looked like.


Photo op on a Meiji Era bicycle.

We could have spent more time at this fascinating spot, but left after a couple hours so we could zip over to our other touristy activity for the day — an owl cafe!

Tokyo is a city full of themed cafes and new styles are always being added.  Animal cafes are quite popular right now, with different ones offering customers the chance to relax while communing with dogs, cats, birds, and even monkeys or owls.  

After paying an entrance fee, we were provided with a soft drink of our choice and given an hour to hang with the 60 different owls who reside at the cafe.  The decor of Owl Forest Cafe was very eclectic and not really my favorite, but the staff were kind and the many types of owls were cute and allowed us to gently pet them on their backs and heads.  I don’t think we would go back to that particular cafe, but it was a fun family experience, especially for our animal-loving kids.


We’d had a unique and fun-filled day in our favorite big city, but we still weren’t finished with our family adventure.  The final stop was dinner in the home our dear friends who live in Saitama, about an hour away from where we were.

Our sweet friend Echan welcomed us into her lovely apartment and we had a super fun time eating, laughing, and fellowshipping with her family and another close friend, Saki-Chan.  



As we drove home that night we all agreed that the necessity of renewing our passports had provided us with a chance to build some great family memories!  

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Time Travel to the Jomon Period of Japanese History

Learning about history has become a lot more interesting to me since needing to teach it to my kids in our homeschool.  Actually, more than me teaching my kids it’s a lot more like us learning together.  This year we are taking a tour of world history through Sonlight Curriculum’s “Core W” course.  One of the textbooks we are using is 12,000 Years of World History, a fascinating Internet-linked book filled with tons of detailed hand-drawn pictures and oodles of interesting facts about ancient times through the 21st century.  We particularly love getting online after reading in our book and finding videos that give us more insight into the period and cultures we have been learning about.  For example, after reading about the China’s Qin Dynasty, we went to History.com and YouTube to find videos about how the Great Wall of China was built and to watch a short documentary on the Terracotta Soldiers in Xian.  

Recently we have been learning about Japan’s Jomon period, which took place between 10,500 BC and 300 BC.  We enjoyed watching some videos about life and art during that period of history, but since we live here we decided to also get hands on and go visit a local historical ruin from that time period that happens to be only about 20 minutes from our house.  

So, today after we had finished up our other subjects for the day, we hopped into the car and let Google Maps guide us to Utsunomiya’s Historical Ruins Park (宇都宮遺跡広場).

This historical site was accidentally discovered by a construction survey crew and unearthed between 1982-1987.  The archaeologists involved in the project found the remains of a 5000 – 6000 year old village with special burial sites in the middle of the village.  When we visited today we were able to browse through a small museum of artifacts (such as pottery and stone tools) from the Jomon period.  We also walked around outside to see reconstructions of thatched-roof buildings that once stood there and and places where ancient people had buried their dead.  We even got to go inside a couple of the buildings.  It definitely felt like we were walking back in time.  

Here are some photos from our visit:

Outside the Visitors Center

The park had a raised platform we could climb on top of to get a good view of the overall site.


Reconstruction of an ancient long house. This one was open for us to go inside.


Inside the Longhouse


This is what the entrance to an ancient burial chamber looked like.


Inside the mini museum.


Pottery artifacts



This sweet elderly gentleman works as grounds keeper at the museum and took our picture for us. He wasn’t a seasoned iPhone user so he accidentally took this picture of himself. He told us lots of interesting information about the buildings and time period.


Trying to look “Jomonian” (without much success!)


And a final picture of us just looking cute! 😁

Bursting with Butterflies

Rainbow colors fluttering through the air, feathery antennas brushing our skin, the scent of juicy nectar and pungent flowers — these are the sights, sounds, and aromas that filled our senses when the kids and I visited Igashira Park’s  butterfly house last month.  The butterfly house was one section of a bird, flower, and butterfly exhibit on the grounds of the huge park.  We all entered the butterfly sanctuary expecting to immediately be pounced upon by friendly creatures who wanted to land on our heads, hands, and feet, but we soon discovered that getting to that experience would take quite a bit of patience and a little bit of creativity.

Austin seemed to be the most attractive to the insects flapping their wings all around us, but soon the rest of us were able to get some of them to stop and spend a few seconds resting on our fingers.  We found that staying super still, putting drops of nectar from the butterfly feeders on our hands, and even (oddly enough) carrying a coke bottle made us more attractive to the colorful creatures.

In addition to butterflies, the exhibit housed a couple of toucans, a few other small birds, some turtles, and a plethora of plants, including a tropical banana tree, which was our favorite.

All that communing with nature left us hungry, so we popped over to the cafeteria next door and feasted on some delicious ice cream cones before heading home for the day.

Igashira Park is in Moka City, about 40 minutes from our house, so we don’t go there super often, but with bicycles to rent, a “10,000 person sized pool”, an obstacle course, and other attractions it’s a fun place to spend a pleasant afternoon as a family.  We will definitely be back!

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Katie’s last year of Single Digits

This month Katie turned 9 years old!  In the past we have invited a big group of friends to celebrate with us, but this time Katie decided just to have a small group over.  The theme she chose for her party was Adventure in Odyssey (an American kids’ radio show of which she is an avid fan).  Since Adventures in Odyssey would be hard to explain to Japanese friends who have never heard of it, Katie just invited two American families to join the party this year.  She worked hard with the friends she invited to create a “pin the mustache on Mr. Whittaker” game and a cute table cloth with Adventures in Odyssey designs on it.  She also prepared weeks ahead by printing out and building mini 3D models of various characters from the show and used them for decorations. Katie had strong opinions about the party menu as well.  She only wanted items that made appearances in episodes of the radio show so we ended up eating chili with corn chips, brownies with walnuts, and “Wod Fam Choc Sod” (an abbreviation for World Famous Chocolate Soda that appears on the menu at Whit’s End, the  ice cream shop that is central to many of the Adventures in Odyssey episodes).

The party took place at dinner time, so during the day we went with two other moms and their kids to Igashira Park in Moka city, about 45 minutes away from our house.  The kids had a ball tackling a huge obstacle course with thirty different stations.  Some of the stations were quite challenging, but everyone persevered to the end and had a lot of fun.

We are so thankful for the wonderful friends God has blessed us with in Japan and are thankful that we could celebrate Katie’s day with some of our best buddies.

Here are some photos from our obstacle course adventures:

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Rosie was a trooper on the obstacle course.

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Jin joined the kids on the obstacle course.

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Scaling the castle!

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Pre-birthday party ice cream

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Tunnel of ropes

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Even the drive was fun!

 

And here are some highlights from Katie’s party. (Click on the thumbnails to see them more closely).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hands-On Fun at Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts

Today the kids and I had an open Saturday afternoon so we decided to use our free passes to the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts where a dear friend works.  We pedaled our bicycles through the blustery weather to the museum, which is only about ten minutes from our house.  After the kids goofed around a bit outside with the sculptures that decorate the grounds, we headed inside for a little art viewing.  Our good friend, Yumi, happened to be working that day so we got to ask her questions and hear her explanations about some of the art. Katie is the biggest art enthusiast of the family.  It was fun to see her looking closely at the art and even taking notes on which paintings she liked and why she liked them.

Highlights of the visit included seeing a painting by famous British artist J.M.W. Turner and getting to participate in some hands-on activities that helped the kids pay closer attention to works that are currently on display.  And it was fun to see our friend Yumi in action as well!  Then on the way home we stopped by the local convenience store for a little snack.  It was the perfect ending to an enjoyable day.

Here are some photos.  You can click on individual images to see them more clearly.

 

 

Our Journey Through the Human Body

A slimy cow’s eye, a wrinkly sheep’s brain, a tough pig’s heart, x-rays, and more.  These are the tools we used last school year in our study of anatomy.  We took a nice leisurely trip through the systems of the human body and greatly enjoyed the journey!  As the base for our studies we used Sonlight curriculum’s Science F, but replaced a book of  worksheets with The Body Book, a super cool text that has you build a paper model of the human body step-by-step as you learn about each body system.  The kids really enjoyed creating paper models of themselves!  The book also contained several other paper models as well, such as a model of human skin, a model of the eye, and a model of the ear.

In addition to the Body Book, we made a few purchases on Amazon.com to add more hands-on activities.  I found an inexpensive otoscope and we took turns looking into each other’s ears to find the eardrum. Amazon also had a cool flannel graph set of very realistic drawings of the body systems.  The set came with a fun book giving interesting facts about the various organs and their functions.

I also found a great source for inexpensive dissection kits.  We ordered them on Amazon and then Bryan brought them back to Japan when he returned from a business trip.  Since my kids are huge animal lovers, I decided not to order any kits that involved dissecting whole animals (such as a frog) because I thought it would be too traumatic.  I decided to go with a sheep’s brain, a pig’s heart, and a cow’s eye, which we dissected at different times during the year, but in that order.  Somehow, the sheep’s brain seemed the least intimidating so we started with that.  We saved the cow’s eye for last since that one seemed the most creepy to me and we invited our fun-loving friend Len to join us for that dissection so we could laugh while doing it.  It was so interesting to actually feel the difference between gray matter and white matter for ourselves, learn that hearts actually have heart strings (and see them!) and touch the parts of an actual eyeball!  The kits came with instruction booklets for how to do the dissection and what to look for, but we also used Youtube to find some very helpful videos that took us step by step through the dissections and gave interesting information about the part of the body we were dissecting.

In addition, I ordered a set of x-rays for building a two-dimensional human skeleton.  The kids followed the instructions for assembling it and we hung it up on our homeschool window so the light would shine through and we could see it better.

The textbooks that came with our science curriculum were very interesting and fun to read, but the hands-on activities we added definitely made our science studies come alive!  This was a science unit that we will all remember for a long time!

Digging Up Fun at the Oya Ishi Museum

The rough, porous, grey or tan-colored rock can be seen all over Utsunomiya.  It’s called Oya Ishi and it is used by builders and artisans to make garden walls, storage sheds, and yard decorations, among other things.  Oya Ishi is a volcanic rock that is native to our area.  I have known for many years that there was an Oya Ishi mining museum in our city, but have just never gotten around to going.  The kids and I decided that it was time to go check it out so we recently visited and had a fun and informative family field trip together. 

The museum has two parts.  One is a small room with artifacts showing tools and other objects used by miners of the past.  This area also had samples of various types of Oya Ishi for visitors to touch and look closely at to see how the types differ from one another.  The other area of the museum was the most fascinating.  You walk downstairs under the museum into a huge underground area that has been carved out of Oya rock.  The underground cavern is 20,000 square meters and is big enough for a baseball field to fit inside of it.  It is also quite cold.  The day we went, it was about 50 degrees Farenheit (11 degrees Celsius), but it’s average temperature is 45 degrees (7 degrees Celsius).  Over the years, this underground area has been used as a site for activities such as concerts, weddings, and the filming of TV dramas and movies.  The kids and I found it fascinating to wander around and soak up the unusual atmosphere.

After touring the museum, we decided to take a short walk to see a 27 meter (88 foot) Buddhist “peace statue” made  out of Oya Stone.  On our way to the statue, we came across a cute little park with a gargantuan Oya Ishi rock in the middle of the grass.  The kids had a super fun time climbing the rock together.  The Buddhist statue itself was quite impressive as well.  We enjoyed walking up stairs to the top of the statue and looking out over the surrounding area.  It was a great view!

Once our touring was over, we all noticed that our stomachs were growling.  So, we hopped in our car and headed to Masashi Gyoza, one of the most famous shops in Utsunomiya that specializes in Chinese dumplings.  The tiny restaurant was crowded with people and even had a line out the door so we decided to get the dumplings to go and then took off for a park where we could gobble our gyoza at a picnic table.

All in all, it was an enjoyable day filled with family fun.  I love going on “field trips” with the kids and I am looking forward to whatever excitement the next one may bring!

Outside the Oya Ishi Museum Outside the Oya Ishi Museum

Goofing around in front of an old mining truck

Learning about mining tools at the small above ground portion of the museum


  Scaling huge Oya Ishi rocks at a park near the museum

The 27 meter Buddhist “Peace Statue”