International Book Giving Day – with a bilingual twist! And City Chuo Library Kawagoe

This is a lovely idea I came across, for bilingual families to receive minority language books, thanks to one of my favourite bloggers Free But Fun posting a link to the innovative idea. It is very timely too, as just today I was pondering how difficult it remains to buy English books for children in our part of Japan. For people like me that is, who refuse to buy online for fear of becoming addicted to it! Today, we ventured to a library we hadn’t been to before. It has a much better choice of English books than the library we frequent, but with this great idea from Journal of a Bilingual Family maybe we’ll be receiving more English books in the post! For details of this fun and original idea for International book giving day, please see the blog linked below. For more on City Chuo Library Kawagoe, please scroll down.

The International Book Giving Day – with a bilingual twist!.


City Chuo Library is situated in Sankubocho, Kawagoe, about a 20 minute walk from Kawagoe station. They have quite a good selection of English books for children, located on the ground floor. They have little tables with chairs for children to read at and “stadium seating” (3 rows! Pictured below) for storytime and kamishibai performances. You can borrow up to 10 books for 2 weeks upon securing membership. To become a member you need proof of your address in Japan in the form of an alien registration card or Japanese license. The card is valid for the 5 principal libraries in Kawagoe. Their system also allows you to return borrowed books to any of the 5 city libraries. These libraries include the one at the Kurasse building beside Kawagoe station and the large Nishi library, which also has a good selection of English children’s books. Like most of the libraries in Japan, the City Chuo Library has an online system where you can check availability of book and reserve them in advance. The system is currently only available in Japanese. If you wish to use the online facilities you need to create a 4 digit pin number when you apply for your membership. Membership is instant upon filling out a form.

The library has plenty of free parking, toilets, a baby changing area and a nursing room (pictured below). It is open 6 days a week, generally closing on Mondays. Tuesday to Friday it opens from 9.30am to 7pm. Saturday, Sunday and public holidays it opens from 9.30am to 6pm. The library will close for a computer system upgrade from the 12th of February to the 25th of February.


The play area and sakura at Miyoshino Shrine | KAWAGOE

Shinto shrines are plentiful in Japan, almost every village, town or city has one. There are usually amenities available at popular and / or large shrines, including toilets, baby feeding rooms, vending machines and eateries. However, even the smaller shrines usually come with at least one piece of playground equipment. A lot of them have free parking, but in tourist areas it is not uncommon to have to pay. Typically, weekdays it is easy to find a free parking spot, unless it is during a shinto festival time such as the 7-5-3.

Miyoshino Shrine

I really love bringing the children to play on the grounds of a shrine. The surroundings are always pleasant and the grounds are well maintained. The atmosphere is serene and majestic as you enter by a torii onto a stone pavement. The area is usually surrounded by trees, some of which are yorishiro (place inhabited by a kami‘s spirit). There are purification fonts to cleanse your hands, the komainu (lion-dogs) guard the inner shrine, wooden plaques hang with visitor’s prayers and wishes, there is usually at least one minature shrine often with a fox, the diety of rice supposedly. The playground is usually to the side or back of the shrines.

Miyoshino Shrine

Miyoshino Shrine in Kawagoe is one of my favourite shrines to bring toddlers. The playground there is relatively new and the equipment is really suited to children under four. Young kids love the equipment in the shape of a train with climbing and slides. For older children they have a climbing frame, a flying fox, a spring see saw and there is the hill beside the playground that kids love to climb.  There are also swings and a sand pit for children of all ages. The sand pit is enclosed which keeps out the cats and keeps the kids in!

During sakura season this park is ideal for hanami with small children. There are only a few sakura trees, but they are mature and really beautiful in full bloom. It is a popular spot to enjoy a picnic under the cherry blossoms for locals, so do arrive early to secure a spot under a tree. There is plenty of other space on the grounds if you don’t manage to get one of the prime locations. 🙂

Kawagoe Tourist bus passing Honmaru Goten

Miyoshino shrine has free parking (very busy on weekends), toilets, vending machines, a small shop, a pay phone and a yaki-soba counter. There is also a rent-a-bike station nearby. It is right next to the popular tourist attraction Kawagoe Honmaru Goten, the only surviving building of Kawagoe castle.

Address: 2 Chome−25, Kuruwamachi, Kawagoe City, 350-0053

Strawberry Picking in Yoshimi, Saitama



Winter / Spring strawberry picking is popular for family and school outings in Japan from February through May. However, some of the winter strawberry green houses open for picking as early as mid December. Our local greenhouses, with public strawberry picking, open officially from next week. We got in ahead of the crowd and enjoyed a half hour of all-you-can-eat, pick your own, strawberries today in Yoshimi Town.

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Ichigo no Sato in Yoshimi Town is one of the better known strawberry picking areas in Saitama. Ichigo no Sato is a “roadside station” (道の駅) on prefectural route 27. “Ichigo” is the japanese for strawberry and this rest area was so named due to the abundance of strawberry fields in the area. The rest area has a very nice playground, fruit and vegetable shops and stalls, an udon restaurant, an ice-cream van, a cafe & bakery, and facilities for people on long journeys such as restrooms and changing rooms. There is a strawberry picking greenhouse right beside the roadside station, but that does not open for business until later in the month. They provide maps in each of the shops to direct you to other strawberry picking facilities in the vicinity;
Ichigo no sato area yoshimi

The price varies greatly between each strawberry picking farm, not only within Yoshimi, but surrounding areas too. Note, the price for strawberry picking in greenhouses changes as the weather warms, with December through March being more expensive than April and May. Logical when you think of the extra expense of keeping a greenhouse at the right temperature during the cold months. Speaking of which, greenhouses can often be uncomfortably warm and humid, especially if you are wearing heavy winter clothes.


The greenhouse we chose, ①-1 on the map, offered 30 minutes all you can pick and eat strawberries for 600 yen for a child aged 3 and up to 6th grade elementary school and 1200 yen for anything older than that.  From April 1st, the prices come down to 500 yen for children and a 1000 yen for adults.  If you want to buy strawberries you’ve picked, but haven’t eaten it costs 100 yen per 100 gram.  30 minutes was plenty time with young children. The website is (Japanese only).  There is room for about 6 cars in front of the greenhouse and more were parallel parked on the road behind it. Their internet site says they have a toilet.

The prices, as well as contact details and webpages where applicable, of the strawberry farms on the above map can be seen in this photo below.

Ichigo no sato area farms and prices

Nearby Attractions include:

Playground at Ichigo no Sato | Yoshimi

100 Caves of Yoshimi, Saitama

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

There are strawberry picking areas in the neighbouring town of Kawajima too. Most of those farms are still closed for business, but there is one open called Strawberry Hunt. These greenhouses also often 30 minute all-you-can-eat, but at the more expensive price of 1,600 yen for adults and 1,100 yen for children from January through May.  The address is 1072 Mushizuka, Kawajima Town.

Other areas in Saitama known for strawberry picking include Chichibu City, Ranzan, Yokoze and Kawajima Towns. Our favourite is in Sakado and that one has a play area too:

Strawberry Picking with a play area | Sakado

If you can read Japanese, you can find links to strawberry picking farms on the Saitama prefectural website.  For an overview of the fruit picking seasons,  Japan Guide has a good summary here.


I did it; I followed a recipe.

It is not the first time I have said this publicly, and probably not the last, but I am super culinary challenged. Thankfully, my husband is a particularly good cook. Part of my struggle with cooking is that for the longest time I had no interest in it, the other part is for most of my adult life I enjoyed dining out. However, since having children, I have tried to learn and increase my repertoire of recipes. I find cooking healthily for children is easy, but I have yet to cross that over to more generic type cooking.

Meanwhile, my best friend is an amazing cook with an expansive collection of recipes suitable for all ages and tastes. So much so, she is frequently asked to do demos, participate in food events and teach classes, she’s even won an award. All resulting from the success of her wonderful blog Fiona’s Japanese cooking. Her most recent recipe grabbed my eye immediately as it is for mackerel, one of my favourite fish and my most favourite sushi. As always, Fiona presents the recipe in a very easy to follow manner, that even the likes of me can follow. To boot, the ingredients are easy to come by and the cooking time is short. So, with New Year pledges tolling in my ear, I decided this was one I had to try.

It got its test run today. It passed with flying colours. My son was at kindergarten, but my daughters and husband were here for lunch and they loved it. I have never seen my middle child enjoy fish so much. She couldn’t get enough of it. She is usually a slow eater, but she devoured her mackerel in minutes. Below a photo with the ingredients I used; sea salt and vegetable oil. I was delighted with myself that something so easy could taste so well and please so easily. It has definitely encouraged me to try out more of Fiona’s recipes on a regular basis.


For this particular recipe and lots of Japanese dishes explained easily, with tips on where to buy ingredients for people in Ireland, please see Fiona’s blog. This recipe and its original post for proper instructions and even better photos for this dish can be viewed by following this link;

Fiona’s Japanese Cooking.

How I survived flying solo longhaul with 3 babes

Narita to Schiphol

I recently flew from Japan to Ireland, via Amsterdam with my 4 year, 2 year old and 1 year old. I was dreading the flight, it’s a tough journey alone, I knew it would even more taxing with 3 children so young. This is how I “survived”!


We had an ordeal before we even departed Japan (see Unforeseen Passport Control problems at Narita Airport). I was a mess as we took off from Narita on the first leg of our journey, when the Chief Purser brought me a glass of champagne. It helped hugely; with every sip of bubbly, which I normally never drink, I felt my spirits lifting and my body relaxing. It was the only drink I had throughout our travel and I normally wouldn’t recommend drinking when flying, but it was the perfect timely antidote to get us off on the right foot.


I am no martyr, I ask for assistance when I need it. However, before I even had to ask on any of our flights or in the airport, people were volunteering to help in any way they could. The staff on the outward journey were among the best I’ve ever been blessed to have on a flight. They took turns coming to our seats to see if we needed anything and to ensure we were happy and comfortable. It so happened that on the outward flight there was little need for assistance, but on the return journey I was very grateful to my Mom who flew from Dublin to Amsterdam and waited with us until I boarded the last flight to Japan. Also, on the flight from Amsterdam to Narita, I was very accepting and grateful for the help that came from the family seated beside us. The couple, who had 2 young children of their own, helped with everything from setting up the inflight entertainment for my four year old and two year old, to bringing my son to the toilet when I was in the middle of feeding the baby.

Kindness & Praise.

It’s amazing how far a warm smile from a stranger can carry you. Even more amazing the kindness and respect people show you when they realise you are travelling solo with young children. I was so overwhelmed and surprised by the attention we received throughout our travels. I almost felt like a superstar as random people on the flight and in the airport stopped to complement me on travelling alone with 3 young children. On the plane I suppose it was obvious I had no other adult with me, but how people knew in the airport is beyond me. Maybe it was written on my face! And I certainly got a lift out of all the praise we received. I did not expect it as, until the journey, I had no idea that what I was doing was so unusual or impressive. The staff on the long flight (Narita to Schiphol) told me that I was their first with children so young. They made such a big deal of my “accomplishment” it gave me the added boost I needed to stay positive and relaxed throughout our travel.


Having 3 children in 3 years prepares you for the lack of sleep, as I didn’t get to sleep on any flight. On the way out the 3 children did sleep at the same time for an hour, but I used that time to go to the toilet and freshen up, rearrange hand luggage and wash the baby’s bottles, beaker and eating utensils. Other than that I had at least one child awake at all times. Also, having the right things with me went a long way in keeping myself and the children happy. Having adequate supplies of distractions and food for the kids made sure no-one got the grumps and made my job easier.

Asides from all that, the single most helpful thing was my mindset. I have a little mantra I use religiously for life in general to keep positive and sane; this too shall past. At the end of the day, I knew that time stands still for no man and before long the journey would be just a proud memory…and a WordPress post! 🙂

Unforeseen Passport Control problems at Narita Airport

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

My 3 kids and I had just said goodbye to my husband and I was trying to keep it together and keep the kids excited as we rocked up to Passport Control. I greeted the immigration staff member with a smile that I expected would last the day, until she asked me for my middle child’s alien registration card. I got that instant sinking feeling of foreboding.

My 2-year-old is the only one of my children that has an Irish passport. My daughter was only 6 weeks old when the great Kanto earthquake both literally and figuratively shook us up. We had not yet secured a passport for her when the news of the accident of Fukushima broke, but we wanted to flee. An emergency passport through the Irish embassy only took one day to apply and receive, it would have taken a week through the Japanese system. We left on that emergency passport and re-entered with no problems. I had rung the Irish embassy before this past trip to check out some other details and mentioned that 2-year-old didn’t hold a Japanese passport. The lady there told me that it should be no problem that she has an Irish passport as she was born in Japan and has dual Irish/Japanese citizenship. In fairness, she did suggest I ring immigration to confirm, but I chose not to.

As it turned out, without proof of her Japanese citizenship, she was considered a foreigner. A foreigner without a visa can only enter Japan for 3 months and anything beyond that on one trip is considered an over extended stay, punishable by law. We were sent to the passport control office for questioning. I explained everything and was naively optimistic that the verbal explanation would be good enough and off we go. It wasn’t. The head there told us that more than likely we would not be able to fly out today. Panic ensued, but being responsible for 3 eager young children kept me in check.

Meanwhile, a KLM representative arrived. When we were checking in, the attendant there explained to me that she needed to make a few phone calls to ensure that we could leave without any problems. I really didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation, but waited patiently while it took her half an hour to come back to say “its okay now”. Evidently, it wasn’t. The KLM representative at the passport office was only there to relay information to the airplane, which at that point was due to take off half an hour later. I pleaded with the head of passport control and he offered the solution that he would ring our local town office and if they could fax through a copy of our family register within the time frame we could board the plane.

THREE MINUTES before the plane was due to take off we got the green light. At this point there were 4 KLM staff on standby to help us board the plane. We ran all the way to the plane with one year old on my back, 2 year old in the buggy, four year old uncharacteristically co-operative and far too much hand luggage flailing all over the place. We strapped into our chairs as attendants shoved our hand luggage and coats into wherever they would fit and quite literally the plane took off just as I was catching my breath. My efforts to regain composure were aided by the Chief Purser, who brought me a glass of champagne just as the plane evened out, saying I deserved it for travelling solo with 3 young children and especially as we “almost didn’t get to go”.