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!  


Fun with Snow and Igloos in Nikko

A few days ago, the kids and I hopped into the car with our good friend Yoshie and sped off for the mountains of Nikko to enjoy the Kamakura Matsuri. Matsuri means festival and kamakura are Japanese style igloos made out of packed snow. Two hours later, we were excitedly wading through knee-deep snow and the kids were “body sledding” down packed snow hills and enjoying every second of it. Even without the igloos to look at and climb inside of, Austin, Ethan and Katie were ecstatic just to be around so much snow and be able to play in it. In Utsunomiya it only snows a couple of times a year and even then it doesn’t get very deep — just a few centimeters, usually. It also melts quickly. So, the kids were jealous of peole who get to live in the mountains of Nikko with so much snow around them all winter. (I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t any grocery stores or other conveniences for miles around! I think I prefer just visiting…) The igloos were very cool, though, and some of them had tatami mats and a little barbeque stove inside them so you could eat a meal. We didn’t do any BBQ-ing, but we did buy warm “nikuman” (steamed bread with meat and spices inside) and ate those inside of an igloo so we could warm up a little. In addition to large igloos you could climb inside of, there was a huge area filled with mini igloos that had candles inside of them. Once it started to get dark, workers went out and lit all the candles. It was a beautiful sight!

Though it was a bit of a drive out there, we would definitely go again and would recommend the matsuri to anyone in the area, especially those with kids! If you go, be sure to bundle up! The night we were there it was minus 9 degrees Celsius — 7 degrees Farenheit. Burr!!

UICS Christmas Party

In addition to homeschooling, our kids go to Utsunomiya International Christian School (UICS) three days a week.  It’s a small, wonderful Christian school with loving teachers and a real family feel to it.  Our main reason for sending the kids there is to help them develop in their Japanese ability, but they also benefit greatly from the fun and educational  field trips, music lessons, and various yearly events put on by the school.  And, of course, they have been able to develop some great friendships with fellow students.

Last weekend was the annual UICS Christmas party.  Austin and Ethan joined the other lower elementary school kids in playing a Christmas song on an instrument called the “pianica” (a word meaning piano + harmonica).  The pianica is a little piano with a tube that you blow in to create sound.  After playing their song, the kids sang the Japanese words while another older student accompanied them on the piano.   Other kids in the school also performed songs on various instruments and we all sang Silent Night in Japanese while holding candles.

The event was pot-luck style, so we got to feast on lots of great food contributed by all the parents and teachers.  There was also a hilarious food tasting game where various groups of people were called up (first the preschool kids, then the elementary, Jr. High, and High school students, and finally all the dads) to taste food or drink  in front of everyone.  Almost all of the people had something normal to taste, but one person had someting strange or different from the rest.  After the tasting, the audience got to guess who had the odd food.  When the fathers came up, most people had a normal drink, but one dad had a cup of sauce for Japanese noodles!  With the younger kids, most had a vanilla cream puff, but one child got a cream puff  with a chocolate candy in the middle.  Austin lucked out and got the special chocolate one. 🙂

Here are some photos of the event.

Treasure Hunt Adventure

One side benefit of being involved in the BEST Club at Utsunomiya University is that our kids get to interact with all kinds of really nice college students and twenty-somethings (both American and Japanese) who play with our kids and show interest in them.  Two sophomores in BEST Club, Minami and Saki, recently started coming over to our house twice  a month to play with the kids for a few hours and speak Japanese with them.  This week, they came with a really creative way to play with our children.  They designed a clever treasure hunt for letter clues that spelled the location of a special treat they had brought for the kids to eat.  The treasure ended up being a long, skinny cake (that tasted great, by the way!)  Can you figure out where they hid it?  Take a look at the pictures to find out.