Dog Walking for Happy Tails

Back in the spring of this year, I set about looking for ways our kids could be involved in some volunteer work that was different from our ministry with college students. I wanted to give them the experience of giving of their time and energy for others. I also wanted it to be something they could really enjoy doing.

Not sure what kind of opportunities were available, I looked on the Utsunomiya city website and found some different options. The one that stood out to me the most was a private animal shelter called Happy Tails that was located close to Utsunomiya University. My kids all love animals, but we are not allowed to have any cats or dogs where we live. This shelter had need for dog walkers who could help rescued pets get exercise and also help them get used to people, thus making them potentially more adoptable. Volunteering at Happy Tails sounded like a great chance for us to serve the owner of the clinic and the cute, furry creatures she was dedicated to helping. So, I contacted her and set up a time to meet.

On our first time to volunteer, the owner of the center taught us how to walk the dogs and what course around the neighborhood to follow. At first she walked with us and assigned two of us to a dog. After we got used to the course and showed our trustworthiness with the animals, we graduated to each getting to walk a dog on our own. We go about once a month and it’s always a ton of fun, though we sometimes have to help each other problem-solve when we have a canine friend who refuses to walk or one who tries to run the whole way, pulling us helplessly behind him! All of the dogs we walk have been abandoned, neglected, or abused in some way, but all of them are adorable.

Here are a few pictures from some of our dog-walking expeditions.

Advertisements

Animal Encounters

This month our family broke out of our normal routine to enjoy some encounters with animals at well-known spots in Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

The first place we visited was the Aqua World Aquarium in Ooarai, which is about an hour away from us in Ibaraki Prefecture. For fifth grade science this year, Katie is studying marine biology with the Apologia science curriculum so we thought this would be a great chance to get up close and personal with some of the amazing creatures she would be studying about. 

Highlights here included watching penguins feed, dive, and swim around their enclosure, enjoying a truly amazing dolphin and whale show, and oohing and aahing over stumpy sun fish and smiling sea turtles.



Then later in the month, our family hopped in the car and headed an hour in a different direction to visit the Nasu Animal Kingdom with our good friends the Abarra Family.  Nasu is located in Tochigi Prefecture where we live, but this was our first time to explore the Animal Kingdom.  Wow, were we impressed!  
We were able to get very close to many of the animals and there was quite a variety of species: lazy sloths, napping bats, lounging capybaras, some adorable red pandas, and fuzzy-antlered reindeer were just a few of our favorites.  The wild bird show was also a treat.  We had a fun, full day of being with dear friends and enjoying God’s creation.  It was great!  We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, whatever that may be!


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!  

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!

IMG_8411

IMG_8431

IMG_8418

 

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:

IMG_7023

Rosie was a trooper on the obstacle course.

IMG_7030

Jin joined the kids on the obstacle course.

IMG_7027

Scaling the castle!

IMG_7045

Pre-birthday party ice cream

IMG_7093

Tunnel of ropes

IMG_7091

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.