Tag Archives: postaweek

Hina Matsuri Paper Cup Craft for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Photo and craft from happylilac.net

Hina Matsuri is the Doll’s festival celebrated annually for Girl’s Day on March the 3rd in Japan. Families display their Imperial dolls on tiered platforms or in a case from early February until Girl’s Day. Superstition has it, the longer the dolls are displayed past girl’s day, the longer it will take daughters to marry. You can find out more about Doll’s Festival in English on the following sites;

We have been enjoying Hina Matsuri crafts since chasing the demons away last Monday. Most of the activities I found online and in magazines are mainly paper craft and ideal for my scissors happy children.  The one I am blogging about today I found through Hiragana Mama’s unbelievably generous sharing of links and resources on her awesome blog.

This craft from Happylilac.net is easy and fun for preschool children. HappyLilac is a Japanese website, but even without reading Japanese a lot of their crafts are easy to follow from the visuals. This activity contains free printables of an Emperor and Empress; there is a coloured version and a blank version that you can use for colouring and then crafting. All you need with the printables is a paper cup, a scissor and either glue or tape.

The directions can be found at http://happylilac.net/hinaningyo-kamikoppu.html#tukurikata, they are also pictured below.

How to make the paper cup dolls

The materials can be printed out from the page linked above, or URL http://happylilac.net/hinaningyo-kamikoppu.html#tukurikata

dairi sama

My 4-year-old and 3-year-old are accustomed to using a scissors as is the culture here in Japan. They enjoyed cutting out the figures and their accessories and sticking them to the paper cup. The paper cups I had to hand were a little big, but they still worked out okay. We used tape instead of nori (glue) to stick the figures to the cup and to make the “dan” (platform or tier) for the paper cup hinasama.  I quite like how they turned out, even without the cut-outs being cut to perfection, the platform being askew and forgetting to stick the lanterns on.

Paper Cup Dairi SamaPaper cup Hina Sama

Looking for more Hina Matsuri activities?


Setsubun; Chasing the demon away

Bean scattering,mamemaki,katori jingu shrine,katori-city,japan
It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but this is just another fun custom in Japan, carried out on February 3rd annually. Today, is Setsubun, the day before Spring starts and in some ways a type of New Year in Japan. For Setsubun, households use the ritual of Mamemaki, bean throwing, to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at a Demon. Tonight, that demon was my husband!

In preparation for the festivities tonight, we made some Demon masks for today’s craft. We also made little baskets to hold the beans. When my husband got home from work he donned the mask and the kid’s threw their beans at him while shouting the mamemaki chant. My husband exited the room when he felt they had “defeated” him! After that my eldest son also threw beans out the door while shouting the chant and closed the door firmly. This is another way people practise Mamemaki and he wanted to be sure.

Setsubun Activity at a children's centre
Setsubun Activity at a children’s centre

In previous years we participated in group mamemaki activities, but it was actually too scary for them with being so little. When you attend a shrine or a jidokan (free children’s centre) young children often don’t realise that somebody is dressed up as the demon, which can frighten the bejesus out of them. In some temples and shrines, such as Senso-ji in Asakusa (Tokyo), the priests or invited guests throw money in envelopes and other prizes as well as the beans into a crowd. That’s one to try out when the kids are old enough for the pushing and shoving, for now, its beans all the way.

Tomorrow, we take out the hina matsuri dolls…


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

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.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Immigration_of_Narita_Turminal_2_200507.jpg?uselang=ja#file
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”.

Santa is back

The Wakaba Walk Santa statue is taking his pride of place in the main courtyard again this year.  By sitting on Santa’s lap the Christmas tree behind him lights up.

1-Dec 3 2013 (4)

Wakaba Walk is a mall in Sakado, a minutes walk from the Wakaba Station on the Tobu Tojo Line. It is a small mall, with 56 shops.  Well known stores include Yaoko, Daiso and Akachan Honpo.  There are a few restaurants, a food court, “Halos Garden” amusement / kids centre and a cinema.  Parking is free for the first two hours. You can get a ticket validated for a further free hour when you purchase more than 1000 yen in one shop. Cinema goers can enjoy free parking for up to 4 hours. The parking lot is open until 1am.

紅葉 Autumn leaves at Kawagoe Water Park

I love the way in Saitama there is no shortage of places to try out. I’ve known that the Kawagoe Water (/Aquatic) Park, 川越水上公園、is near my house for sometime, but today is the first time I ventured there. I thought the water park was only accessible to paying customers of their summer pools and water slides, but there is a large part of the park that is free to use all year round.

The free parking for the public park is just as you enter the facility under the banner arch. There are no lines to mark out parking spots and much to my surprise (and horror) its parallel parking. Parallel parking is not very common in Japan, especially at a public park. The playground is a bit of a walk, but the scenery is quite pleasant as you pass the lake. The lake has pedal boats and row boats. However, they are not available for hire during winter, from December 1st to March 1st. There are quite a lot of hungry ducks on the lake. Thankfully, I had bread in the baby’s bag, just in case. My kids enjoyed feeding them.

The play area is quite small, but there is enough to keep young children (preschoolers and infants) entertained. The playground equipment can be seen in the gallery, with the few autumn foliage photos I was able to get.

**The park is worth visiting for locals, but it is not worth making the trip from afar in my personal opinion**

Kawagoe Aquatic Park
Address: 880 Oaza-ikenobe, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama
Tel: 049 241 2241
Nearest station: Nishi-Kawagoe station on the Kawagoe Line (JR East)

Kawagoe Sports Park | KAWAGOE

Written in 2013, updated in 2017.

The first time I visited Kawagoe Sports park (川越運動公園)I wasn’t all that enamored with it.  From the point of view of a parent, there is little to entertain older children and it is most suited to a small child.  However, they have recently upgraded the playground and so I have upgraded the park from a 2 star rating to a 3 star rating! Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy this colourful playground.

The main combination unit of the playground has three slides. One is a tunnel windy one and two are bumpy ones.  There is also a climbing net, a climbing wall and stairs.  There is a smaller combination unit for toddlers. It has some small climbing activities and two colourful slides. There is a giraffe statue in the centre. There is climbing net activity for all ages beside it with fish statues on the top of the poles that support the nets. On the right of the playground is a flying fox type activity.  There is another play area right beside this playground, but they are separated by fencing. It is where the sandpit and spring rides are. There are also some fun audio aural play equipment in the sand pit area.

The park is officially a sports park. It is home to a sports hall with a number of facilities. There is also an athletic track in the park. There are plenty of benches and seats in the park and some picnic tables too. The park boasts a mini bell tower, a symbol of Kawagoe. There are some cherry blossom trees in the park. In the summer they have a very small wading river.

The official hours of the park are 9 am to 9 pm. Parking is free and abundant. However, when there is a big sports event on you may have to use one of the overflow car parks which are a bit of a walk away. There is a bus terminus there, one of the buses goes to Kawagoe station. There are toilets and vending machines.


Nearby Attractions


Cherry Blossoms at Isanuma Park | Kawagoe

Isanuma park in Kawagoe is a popular spot to enjoy Hanami for locals. There are cherry blossoms along the river at the playground as well as cherry blossoms lining the street that separates the lak…

Source: insaitama.com/cherry-blossoms-at-isanuma-park-kawagoe/


Play areas at Shinto Shrines

Shinto shrines are plentiful in Japan, almost every village, town or city has one. There are usually amenities available at popular shrines, including toilets, baby feeding rooms, vending machines …

Source: insaitama.com/play-areas-at-shinto-shrines/


Best of Saitama | Maruyama Park, AGEO

Maruyama park is frequently listed in Saitama’s top 3 list of parks. It is personally one of my favourites.  I love that although the park isn’t massive, there is so much to do and see …

Source: insaitama.com/maruyama-park-ageo-city/

New Ice-cream Shop at Enomoto Farm on Popular Cycle course

Enomoto Farm in Ageo is frequently mentioned in guide books to Saitama with small children, due to the selection of bikes and push along toys kids can play with for free.  In more recent years, it …

Source: insaitama.com/new-ice-cream-shop-at-enomoto-farm-on-popular-cycle-course/