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!  

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.



2009 Tokyo Motor Show

A couple of days ago, Bryan and the boys made the long 3 1/2 hour trek down to Tokyo to attend the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show.  The show only occurs every two years and the last time Bryan just took Austin because Ethan was too little to endure the long drive and walking involved.  Austin had such a great time on his adventure with Daddy two years ago, that he still frequently talks about the fun things they did, the cars and motorcycles they saw, and the food they ate along the way — including some rare pepperoni pizza at Costco Japan. 🙂  So, Bryan decided to go again this year and this time he took both boys.  Though the show was smaller this year due to the poor economy, both boys had a great time and really enjoyed trying out various new models of cars and motorcycles.  They also got to race mini remote controlled cars and see Tomica (the Japanese version of Hot Wheels) vehicles race around a track.  They came home with tired bodies, tummies full of treats Bryan had let them eat along the way, and minds full of fun memories they will undoubtedly remember until the next motor show rolls along.  Here are some photos of their adventure.

Visit to the San Diego Natural History Museum

Another highlight from our trip to San Diego was a visit to the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.  We were able to go with my dad and we had a great time together.  Here are some photos:

Wanpaku Park

The kids and I visited Wanpaku Park in Utsunomiya recently.  At the park there is a building called “Fushigi no Fune” which roughly translates to “Boat of Strange and Amazing Things”.  Inside the boat-like building there are different rooms where the kids can explore and experiment with things like mazes, mirrors, visual effects, and lasers.  After the Fushigi no Fune, we had fun playing outside and enjoying the beautiful summer day.

Here are a few photos of the day:

First Visit to an Art Museum

Today we went with our kids’ school (UICS) to the Utsunomiya Museum of Art.  It was my first time to attempt taking our kids to an art museum and I was a little concerned about how it would go, especially with 2 1/2 year old Katie.  Calm, quiet places filled with things that shouldn’t be touched don’t generally go well with exuberant toddlers.  On the negative side,  Ethan said it was “boring” and Katie accidentally stepped up on a three dimensional piece of art that looked like a stepping stone (the docent working in the museum was very nice about it, though I was horrified).  However, Austin said it was interesting and he found one painting that he really liked.  He even said it was the best picture he’s ever seen in his life.  The boys and I also had a chance to talk about different styles of painting as we went around the museum, so our experience wasn’t a total wash.  All in all, it was a decent first art museum experience and I am thankful Katie didn’t break the art work she accidentally walked on top of! 🙂 

All three of the kids really enjoyed playing in the grass outside the museum, hunting for bugs, and getting their hands wet in a small fountain near the museum’s entrance.  We couldn’t take any pictures inside the museum, but I took a few while the kids were outside playing.  Here they are: