Parenting

Chickens for Christmas

It’s a funny thing to watch four men you have never met before slowly pick up and wrap everything you own, crate it, and drive it away for placement on an ocean barge. You sit idly as they place it all into boxes and document the contents. You watch as they individually wrap your family ornaments, your children’s baby books and footprints, and your album of wedding photos. And then just like that, you sign your name on the dotted line, and wave goodbye to every material possession you have ever collected.And then a few weeks later, you board a plane, and arrive to a brand new home with only enough clothing and underwear to last you the week until you can wash them and wear them over again- repeatedly- until your shipment finally arrives.

During our first move overseas, we had a total of 80-some days without sitting on any of our own furniture, or seeing any of our personal belongings. It’s crazy to see what you can live without for several months, and makes you wonder what you can live without indefinitely, to be honest.

It especially makes you reevaluate your feelings about your possessions when you are moving overseas. LITERALLY meaning your items are going over the sea. On a ship. In boxes. 6,000 miles of travel. 6,000 miles of possibly having your items just… disappear. Sink, capsize, be rained on, get stolen. Those items change hands so many times from your moving company to the ship owner, to the moving company in the city you are waiting for them in, and you will read a thousand horror stories on Google if you let yourself search about the process. So many opportunities for your precious things to just vanish, never to be seen again.

I’m pretty confident you’d be lying if you said you didn’t think about all of your “stuff” possibly just not coming back when you sent them away with a moving truck. As for me, I nearly cried when the truck drove away that first time I ever packed up my house and sent it with somebody else. Living without all that stuff for those three-ish months made me realize how incredibly shallow and materialistic I am, and how little those items actually matter in the grand scheme.

When our doorbell rang in mid December, and movers arrived to unpack our shipment, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief. But, I hope that when our next “pack-out” date arrives, I don’t ache again at the thought of having to release the tight grip I have on all that I own.

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Everything we own, sitting in the back of a trailer, taken away by men we do not know during our very first move out of the state, which subsequently was a move out of the country.

When I first started writing this, Henry was around 18 months old. His first Christmas was the year before we PCSed, but the first Christmas that he was really interested in the traditions or the gift opening, happened to fall a few months after we sent away everything we owned.

We moved at the very end of October, and barely had time to breathe before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday were upon us. We ordered a few fleece blankets to survive the cold and snow of North Japan winters, but similar to the previous years, I failed to order the usual Black Friday haul and mostly just posted about the good deals I saw.

But there was one gift that we gave Henry that first year of his life that I had ordered almost two months before Christmas time even came. I ordered it before he even could remotely understand what such a gift meant. We will give him this same gift every year until he leaves our home, and have started the tradition with our sweet Ellie too. I was reminded today to order them, and it reminded me of this post that I wrote two years ago:


November 30, 2017, I wrote:
Today I stumbled upon an article written about orphanages in Japan. My heart ached deeply as I read the statistics on adoption, and how many children are still waiting for their forever homes- and in turn how many as children will never know a home outside of an orphanage. This article is from six years ago, though articles I read on the current statistics still echo these numbers.

“There were 36,450 children in the orphanage system in Japan in March, 2011. Only 12% or 4,373 were adopted or placed in foster care during the preceding 12 months.” – Japan Daily Press, “Japan’s Forgotten Children.”

Upon further reading, it seems much of the reasoning for the children remaining in understaffed or underfunded orphanages lies in the legal issues surrounding living parents that are unwilling to sign over their parental rights, yet still wish to keep children in the orphanage, and not offer them up for adoption. Because of this, many of these children remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Immediately, I was enraged at this. Why don’t they just sign over the rights so these poor kids can find a loving home? But the answer was almost as immediately whispered to me when I looked at Henry, who raised an eyebrow at me from the couch. Big dark brown eyes and a gap-toothed, ornery grin peered back at me, making me realize just how much I adore that little stinker. In that moment, and in every moment following, I could not imagine being unable to provide for my little boy in such a way that I was forced to make the decision: give him up for care at an orphanage, or watch him fail to thrive daily because I was not in a place to provide for him. I completely understand these parents’ desperation. If I had to give my little boy to someone else in order to feed him, I would still cling to any legal ties I had to him. I would want to still call him MY Henry.

Nevertheless, these orphanages (as are most in the world) are overrun, understaffed, and often desperate for help from the communities they reside in. We see so many toy drives, coat collections, and food bins this time of year in order for these institutions to provide what they can for the kids they house. So many still come up short. And this problem is absolutely not unique to Japan. Countries around the world, including the United States, have so many children waiting in the foster care system, in their orphanages, and in shelters, desperate for help and a home.


For me, this realization brings about a new view of the holiday season, as well as a new perspective on how I raise my Henry and my Ellie to look at their world and the world around them every day.

This brings us back to the Christmas before we moved to Japan.

I was sorting through catalogues that fall after having Henry, trying to decide the best gifts to get a 6 month old for his first Christmas. I thumbed through the Kohl’s catalogue for several minutes, flipped through the Target ad I had snagged earlier that day, and then proceeded to glance at the rest of the stack, hoping to find any other deals that fit our budget. I stumbled upon a gift catalogue from World Vision, and read about the lifesaving vaccines, emergency medicine, gifts of livestock, or clean water wells that I could purchase for a child, family, or community in need. I could even give these gifts in the name of someone else.

It wasn’t until a week later when I walked out of our pediatrician’s office after 4 month old Henry received his vaccines, free of charge through our insurance, that I realized what a blessing it is to have a baby who is not likely to contract life-threatening illnesses. While I am pro-vaccine, it really doesn’t matter what my stance on this is, nor does it matter what yours is. The debate doesn’t even matter here. The simple fact is that we have vaccines and medications, whether pharmaceutical or holistic or whatever you believe in, and this help is readily available and almost always affordable. So many in the world do not have this luxury of the choice to vaccinate- a concept that we so often bicker and fight about.

Later that day, I sat down and researched organizations that provide help to those in need, including World Vision and Compassion International. We settled on using Compassion, after reading that Compassion uses a much higher percentage of donations for the individual(s) in need, compared to other similar charities. Any time that we give, we ultimately make the decision of where to donate to based off of which program uses funds responsibly, and which program does good in the entire community- providing individuals with both a life-saving kind of support, but also a strong hope of independence in the future. That being said, there are thousands of charities that seek to help the impoverished, tons of which specifically target children who are in desperate need. If you choose to donate, pick which one fits best for the issue you are trying to help with, as well as what works with your financial situation.

After our appointment, I returned home, and purchased the desperately sought after vaccines and medicines for kiddos in countries that have no access to these medicines otherwise. I hit the order button, and cried long and hard as I watched my sweet, healthy boy rolling around on the floor, bandaid on his then chunky little legs. Pro-vaccine or not, I cried quietly watching my sweet boy sit up, roll over, and smack toys on the rug. What a blessing it is to have a healthy child. Seriously, what a blessing it is to have a healthy baby! I could say this six more times and never really convey how grateful I am for my two babes.
I made the donation in Henry’s name, and used the funds we had placed into our Christmas account for him.

I tell you this not to talk about our donation, but to talk about the values I hope this will instill in my babies as they grow. Every Christmas we will provide them with a card like this one, which we were emailed after we purchased a gift in Henry’s name that first year.

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I will say to my darling babies each year:

“Henry, Ellie: It’s Christmas time, which means we will spend lots of time with family. We will eat together, and we will give each other gifts. We are so blessed to be able to sit in a warm home with those that we love, and we celebrate that fact as we ultimately celebrate the birth of Jesus. But there are lots of other little boys and girls in this world who don’t have what we do. Some of them don’t have any toys, and some of them don’t even have mommies and daddies to spend Christmas with. Some of those children are really sad, and really lonely. So we took some of the Christmas money that we set aside for presents this year, and we bought them (fill in the blank) to show them the love of Jesus, and to show them that they are dearly cared about, even from the other side of the world. All people in this world are chosen, and dearly loved by the Jesus that loves you so much. We want you to know that other people matter, and we want you to always want to think of others, every day, not just at Christmas time.”

It’s never too late to instill a heart of giving into your children, and it’s never too late to instill in them the idea that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as we often believe it does. Little ones watch what we do, and believe me, I know how it is a constant daily struggle to put forth the actions that prove that this is truly our line of thinking.

By their fifth or sixth Christmas, I pray that Henry and Ellie will bring me a humanitarian aid gift catalogue, and excitedly ask me to help them pick out what they want to spend their Christmas money on. I pray that my babies go through their adolescent and teen years always aware of the needs of their classmates and friends. I pray that they recognize those that have less than them, and those that are hurting, and that they doesn’t hesitate or even think twice about giving them something of theirs when they see a need they can meet.

I hope that my babies ask hard questions without hesitation, and seek to be the answer to the injustices that they can change. And I hope that because of my son or daughter, a child their age in Zambia, or India, or Japan, or the United States, or a even a child in their own town… opens their eyes one morning to a beautiful world where someone noticed them and cared about them.

I hope that someday, my babies pack up their household to move, and wave goodbye to the truck. I hope that they don’t fret about their stuff like I do, and that they think of others far more often than I do.

Almost two years after originally writing this, I look at our sweet 3 year old Henry, and our 1 year old little Ellie, weeks before Christmas again, and I still feel the same after these years. I desperately want my babies to be better than me, and I desperately want them  to know that they are loved by the same God who loves the poor, the orphans, and the hurting. In their world, if that means I give them money so they can gift chickens to a village for Christmas, then I will buy them all the chickens in the world.

 

 

Parenting · Shop My Instagram

How Great is Our God + Giveaway

We recently received How Great is Our God by Louie Giglio to review from my sweet friends at FrontGate Media, and this book is absolutely a gem. While I received this book for review purposes, all opinions are my own, as always.

A sweet, small-enough-to-carry little book, filled with beautiful and exciting images about God, space, the human body, the environment, and the universe. We have been reading 1-2 devotionals per night to Henry, and even his 3 year old self asks questions about the stories.

The book is directed at 6-10 year olds, but Henry absolutely adores the book at age 3.5. We like to read him books that are a little bit above his age level , because it encourages him to ask questions and expand his thinking.

We read to our sweet babes often, and believe that there’s no such thing as too much curiosity when it comes to books and just learning in general. This book is an awesome way to teach your littles fun facts about things they are curious about in the world, and in a faith-based and intentional manner.

Be sure to enter this giveaway to win your own copy!

You can also purchase the book for yourself here! It hangs out right around $14 for the 100 devotionals.

Happy reading!

Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Blueberry Picking |Misawa, Aomori

Here are the basics:

• stroller friendly, though I would recommend wearing babies instead • I would not bring pets to this particular farm • awesome for even young kids- no thorns on the fruit plants, so even our 11 month old picked her own berries •

Hours: I will update the hours once I find my photo of the sign, sorry! We usually go around 2-3pm.
Usually berries are the ripest during the last week of July.
Directly from base, only about a 20 min drive.

40.783798, 141.363129

Our second year to visit this farm, and I am finally confident enough that y’all need to visit to release the pin. This may be a commonly visited farm, but we stumbled upon it without a pin, and I LOVE the owners. So kind, always so good to our kids, and their berries are amazing.

Entry fees are 500¥ per person, and both of our kids were free. To take out blueberries, you will pay 120¥/100 grams, which is DIRT CHEAP compared to ANY blueberry prices at local grocery stores. If I remember correctly, children under age 7 eat for free.

In total, we paid exactly 2000¥ for all-you-can-eat blueberries, and an additional gallon sized ziplock full of blueberries. The owners of this farm always encourage us to eat, eat, eat- especially towards the end of the season. They provide buckets to pick with, and even have small baskets for children.

This particular farm has always been extremely quiet, with lots of options as to areas that you can pick from. We have never even felt like we were picking around other people. 

Park directly in front of the greenhouse, when you drive in you will see the family’s house to the left, and the greenhouse to the right. There is a small parking area between the two.
As is often customary in Japan, this is both the family’s home, and their business. Make sure you are respectful, as this is where they live.

Blueberry and mud face

I would recommend wearing/bringing bug spray- the mosquitoes aren’t bad here, but the ants are. Honestly they weren’t pesky enough to pose a problem this year, but I remember they were THICK last year.

If you want to know what life with Henry is like right now, this is it. Constantly shaking a stick or toy at you saying “pew pew pew pew pew!”

This family is extremely gracious, and almost always gives us a “free gift” or knocks down the price a little bit. Last year at the end of the season, when the berries were ripe, ripe, ripe, we took home almost 4lbs of berries for around $9.90.

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Last year: This was the first bag we picked, we went home with around 4x this many berries.

If you’re new to Misawa, make sure you also check out my post on cherry picking. We are planning to hit the apple farms, strawberry farms, and maybe even pick some raspberries this year too.

Enjoy! The berries are delicious!

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Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hotokegaura Rock Formations |Shimokita Peninsula

This is a part of our Mutsu area trip, scroll to the bottom to check out my links & recommendations for the entire weekend trip.

Here are the basics:
• NOT stroller friendly • probably pet friendly • Good for kids* (see below) • FREE entry •

Hours: 24/7, from what I can gather
Boat tour leaves from the town of Sai
I recommend only going May 1-October 31-ish. These roads will be completely snowed in during the winter.
Directly from base, this is only about a 2 hr, 40 min drive. From the Gates of Hell, it was only around 1 hr, 30 mins.

41.311349, 140.809338

The above pin will take you directly to the parking area. You will make the trek down to the cove via the trail that begins right next to the “beware of bears” sign. Don’t worry, we took our children in and we all survived.


Edit-08718Edit-08837This is one of the most gorgeous places I have been to in Japan thus far, and I 100% recommend making the trek to see it too before you leave the country. That being said, this is a HIKE with kids. The trip down the side of the mountain was pretty much cake, other than the burning calves we both had at the end from each bearing the extra weight of a kiddo. The trip back up? Ahhhhh, not so much cake. We had been making fun of the “rest stop” benches at various places on the stairs on the way down… but alas, on the way back we ate our words and rested our butts on those same benches. Haha. Edit-08716Edit-08822

My face to the “BEWARE BEARS” sign and the massive trek back up the mountainside.

As mentioned, be aware that this is an area where bears reside- as you make your hike to and from the rock formations, make sure to frequently talk and vocalize. If you have never hiked in a bear inhabited area, this is the way that you consistently let them know where you are. If there’s one thing bears do not like, it’s being surprised by a human. If you are really concerned, you can buy a bear bell before going.joyfulcrew.com 8.jpgEdit-08722ALSO, be aware that there are apparently wild monkeys in this area too. I saw one cross the road behind us briefly and seriously almost started running, because I could not FATHOM what I had witnessed crossing the path in the manner that it did. It was only later in the day when we saw wild monkeys on the highway that I realized this was exactly what I saw.Edit-08843Edit-08839But anyway,

This. Area. Is. Beautiful.

The hike is somewhat brutal, but it is SO worth it, even when we had to carry two small kids up and down the side of the mountain. Again, I wore Ellie in my LilleBaby, and honestly, if we had a second carrier, Drew probably would have worn Henry too. It makes it SO much easier to just have the kids on your back if they are little.Edit-08731Edit-08734There is a ferry/boat that does tours of the cove- we chose to just explore it by foot, especially since we weren’t sure of the hours, and since we didn’t actually make it up to Sai. We figured it would be less stressful with the kids to see things from the actual coast, too. Totally don’t regret choosing the hike/coast route.Edit-08742The water is crystal clear, and Henry LOVED seeing the starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, and tiny fish swimming through the water below him. The rocks to the create tons of tide pools, and we got to see some pretty neat sea anemone too.Sea glass abounds on the shorelines, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a glass float here if you arrive early and before it has been picked over. The area is stunning, and I 100% would not have been upset to spend several hours just sitting on the beach listening to the quiet waves.Edit-08805Edit-08777Historically, this is called Buddha’s cove, and carries the same sort of ominous atmosphere as the Gates of Hell. The mysterious towering cliffs are formed by volcanic activity and the constant beating of the waves along the rocks, and they are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are mysterious and breathtaking, to say the least. Photos just do not do this area justice. The quiet, calm nature of the shoreline while we were there was something I could have just taken in all day.

Absolutely a must-see, and I highly recommend taking your families here too if they visit!

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Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Mutsu Area Weekend Road Trip- July 5 & 6

We had the BEST weekend, and I have like… 500 photos to prove it. I split this post into two separate posts- one for each of the main stops we made, simply because there is SO much information, and SO many photos from each one.Edit-08567Edit-08593We chose to make this a 2-day road trip, simply for the fact that it is honestly easier on us with our young kids. You could easily see everything you would like to in the Mutsu area on a regular weekend via car. We probably only spent around $30 on gas total.
If you woke up early in the day and got on the road, you could do this in one day, though I personally recommend taking a full two days, and adding the wild monkey observatory into your trip. We missed out on the wild horses too- we still need to check that off the bucket list.Edit-08718Edit-08750Edit-08734We left the house around 2pm on Saturday, and checked into our hotel around 5pm. We actually left the house and drove to Mutsu without any hotel reservations- we figured either we would find something that was available, or we would just drive back to base if luck wasn’t on our side. Turns out there were plenty of rooms in Mutsu, and the language barrier didn’t pose any issues at all. We walked down the street from the hotel to find dinner and then went to bed early to wake up and road trip the entire next day.Edit-08731If you’re new here on my blog, our kiddos are two (three this coming weekend… *sniff*) and 10 months old. They did awesome on the trip, but make sure you check out each individual post, because I definitely have my recommendations about bringing kiddos to the various places that we stopped. Our kids are pretty quiet, calm, and laid back (and they fall asleep anywhere and everywhere, clearly.) If you have rambunctious or restless littles, this may not be the best trip for you to take them on.img_6788We visited the Gates of Hell first, then road tripped through the mountains to visit the rock formations of the West coast of Mutsu Bay / the Sea of Japan. The mountain drive is BEAUTIFUL. Stop at any restrooms/rest stops that look pretty, because there are some real gems tucked away in this area. We traveled along 338 on the way back to find the wild monkeys (we didn’t stop at the sanctuary- they are THICK along the sides of the road, so we just saw them as we drove through) and had the weather been a little nicer towards the end of the day, we probably would have stopped to hunt a few beaches for glass floats.Edit-08675

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The mountain road itself is worth the drive.

We traveled from Misawa along the western coast road to our hotel, Plaza Hotel Mutsu. It was around 12000¥ for our night, but we each had a twin size bed, there was a pull-out couch, and the room was big enough for the kids to roam freely. Wifi was free. The bathroom was also one of the largest we have ever had during a Japanese hotel stay, so overall I would highly recommend this hotel. Lawson’s, McDonald’s, KFC/Pizza Hut, and a yakiniku place that we did not get a chance to try were all within walking distance, and parking was free.

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We pushed the couch to the end of the two twin sized beds in order to make Ellie a makeshift play pen. We pulled an extra quilt flat across the floor, and she slept safely there. (Safe sleep always, y’all!)
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The view that they gave us from our hotel was gorgeous from the 6th floor- overlooking the Bay.

Here are individual links to my posts on each place we visited. These are the two places in the Mutsu area that I 110% recommend visiting before you leave Japan.

Gates of Hell | Mount Osoresan

Hotokegaura Rock Formations |Shimokita Peninsula

And then, here are a couple more pins that we DID NOT visit yet, but that I’ve seen recommended for this area. We plan to visit these, just didn’t have time in the two days we devoted to driving up in the area, especially since we left late in the day on Saturday. I will update this guide when we have visited each.

Wakinosawa Village Wild Monkey Park- 41.167784, 140.804523
Hours: 0900-1630, open all 7 days per Google
We chose to simply drive highway 338 on the way home from the rock formations, because it drives directly past this, and the park was already closed. Drive carefully, you will almost certainly see several wild monkeys along the road as you drive.

Shiriyazaki Lighthouse & Wild Horses- 41.429507, 141.461434
Hours: 0800-1545, check Google- the hours change slightly based on the seasons

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Highway 253

As mentioned, we drove up the coast of Mutsu Bay on the way to our hotel. From the hotel, we went straight to the Gates of Hell. From here, we took the mountain road (highway 253) to the west coast to see the rock formations. From the rock formations, we took highway 338 on the way home to make sure that we at least drove past the monkeys. Essentially, we made a HUGE loop. There wasn’t an ugly road that we saw the entire trip.
I HIGHLY recommend it, the entire trip is BEAUTIFUL. I really can’t say that enough. Parts of the trip looked like Arkansas and Tennessee, parts looked like the Smokies. Parts were reminiscent of Yellowstone. Parts had white sand beaches and crystal clear blue water. It is one of the most diverse areas I have ever been to. We filled up on gas before leaving base, and upon pulling into our driveway at the end of the trip, we had only used a little over 1/4 of our little Toyota Raum’s tank. Cheap, easy, and so much fun.

Edit-08794100% worth the gas and the hotel stay- I wish we would have taken our parents/families on this trip while they were visiting!

Make sure to shoot any questions you have to me via DM on Instagram! I answer there best, usually. I’m always happy to answer anything you have to ask, and I am passionate about families LOVING Misawa like we do. Coming from a gal who cried big, ugly tears when she found out this was her family’s assignment, that is saying something.

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Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

“Gates of Hell” | Mount Osore- Osoresan Bodai-ji Temple

This is a part of our Mutsu area trip, scroll to the bottom to check out my links & recommendations for the entire weekend trip.

Here are the basics:
• NOT stroller friendly • NOT pet friendly • Good for kids • Entry fee (yen only) •

Hours: 0600-1800
Only open May 1-October 31

41.326247, 141.090895

The above pin will take you directly to the parking area.

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We had NO idea what to expect when we arrived here. We had heard mixed reviews on this temple from various individuals who have visited before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We knew there would be some walking, and we knew the place would STINK.

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We are still working on the peace sign haha.

Here’s what I gathered from our own trip:

  • It smells like eggs.
  • It is VERY quiet. 
  • It is VERY beautiful.
  • It is FULL of amazing Japanese culture.
    Seriously, read my little history excerpt before you go, or research the history for yourself. Knowing the background of the area makes it that much more incredible, and it also gives you a newfound respect for the Japanese that are actively worshipping or praying here.

Edit-08616Let me preface ALL of this by saying, this is one of the three most holy places in Japan. If you read the history on the temple, you will appreciate the entire area culturally so much more. Do not bring dogs, in my opinion If you have loud or rambunctious kiddos, I would make this a date-day trip and leave the kids with a sitter. The area is NOT stroller friendly, though I wore my daughter in our LilleBaby carrier without any trouble whatsoever.

Girlfriend just couldn’t hang. The entire area is so quiet and ominous. Who knew that is apparently the perfect lullaby for a 10 month old? Ha

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The bottom quarter of the largest set of steps, Henry sat on Drew’s shoulders the entire time. The view from the top where the shrine lies is beautiful. You can see every bit of the grounds, and the surrounding lake.

Drew and I are pretty active, and we weren’t bothered by the stairs here- but I can definitely see how that many stairs would pose an issue to those with kids. There is only one part of the loop with lots of stairs- the rest of the walk is pretty flat, unpaved walkways.

Edit-08600The area is open May 1st to October 31st, and for good reason. The roads to this area will be 100% snowed in if for some reason the snowy season starts before the closing date of the temple, so do keep this in mind if you go in the late fall.

There is an entry fee of 500¥ per adult, and 200¥ per child age 15 and under. Our kids (2 & 0) were free.

They will provide you a brochure that is written in English- be sure to look at the map before entering. It shows you the flow of traffic through the shrines.joyfulcrew.com 4Okay, now that all of the basics are out of the way, I 100% think this is a place that everyone should visit before leaving Japan. I was unaware of the cultural significance of this location prior to entering and exploring (read the brochure, Emily… come on, right?) and so I did not realize that a few places within the shrine area are completely off limits for photos. In addition, both your shoes AND any hats should be removed before entering any of these buildings. I will explain the significance of this area to the Japanese in just a bit.

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Inside of this particular building, photos are NOT allowed.

Actually, lots of shrines are supposed to be photo-free in Japan, particularly those that are enclosed by a building, like the above- something I had NO idea about. This is something I learned from a quick Google search after being given the big “X” from a worker while trying to photograph Henry within a shrine building here. Oops. Lots of “gomen-nasai”s spoken from me this trip.Edit-08548Edit-08628

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The yellow ground kept catching Henry off guard.

Here is a little history, from what I learned from the brochure and a few sources online:

Around 1200 years ago, a Buddhist priest had a dream in which a holy monk appeared to him, stating that he was to embark on a 30-day walk in search of a sacred mountain, where he would propagate Buddhism from. Eventually, the priest stumbled upon this volcanic area, realizing quickly that it met all of the requirements told about in his dream, including many geographic numerical markers, matching very specific Buddhist symbols. The priest knew this was the area spoken about in his dream.

With his own hands, he carved a statue of bodhisattva Jizô, and subsequently added a building to house it.

Here is the except directly from the pamphlet that they handed us. This was the most impactful and interesting part to me personally.

As you can imagine, this is a pretty historically important and heavily important place to the Japanese, especially those actively practicing Buddhism, and it gives you a deeper respect for the quiet nature of the area once you know what the worship taking place is all about. Many Japanese come here to pray for their deceased loved ones, and while every Japanese individual we saw met us with “konnichiwa” and smiles at our babies, we absolutely remained quiet unless spoken to, in respect to the natives around us.

Edit-08622We happened to go on a cloudy, misty day, and while we were worried about the dreariness when we woke up, it turns out… it was PERFECT. Some of the reviews I have read since visiting actually state that the entire area blossoms with color under the dreary conditions, and that sunny days are much less saturated with the deep blues, greens, and yellows.
Because the entire area is already somewhat ominous due to the bubbling sulfur pits and burning areas, the dark and dreary day with a mist over the mountains made it that much more dramatic.Edit-08602joyfulcrew.com 1I HIGHLY recommend this being a place that you take your family/friends if they are visiting. It definitely IS kid-friendly, but as mentioned above, just please teach your kiddos that this is a place of reverence for the Japanese, and do your best to abide by that fact as a family while you are inside of the area. As a Christ-following family, we personally choose not to participate in any of the rituals, but we are 100% all about respecting those who do. The Japanese are actively worshipping/ praying- consider how you might have your kids act if they were in a church service.Edit-08593Edit-08502Here are some fun superstitions too that I gathered from a few posts online and on Misawa Asks, if you like that kind of thing.

  • If you pick up a rock in your shoes from the ground within the temple area, and take it home with you, you are said to be taking home a spirit with you
  • Odd numbers are considered good luck within this shrine, with even numbers being considered ominous/bad. You are supposed to visit in odd numbers, and if you visit the area once, do not return, or you will have to visit it again to make it an odd three times. Already messed that one up with our family of four… oops.

Edit-08619Make sure you check out my other two posts about our whole trip up to the Mutsu area, too! This has been one of my favorite trips so far, and I hope y’all love it as much too!

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Kohl’s Sale | July 2

Here are a few of my favorite picks from the Kohl’s 25% off sale. You can stack TWO 25% off coupons with all of these items if you have a Kohl’s Charge- making them dirt cheap!

Use code SUMMER25 and code WINWITH25 for the double percent stacking.

Hurry though, this sale ends tomorrow, July 3. 

Here is the page of everything included in the sale!

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And here are all my favorites from the sale, click on the photo for the direct product link.

Shorts are less than $15

 

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$11.24 with both coupons

 

 

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$11.24 with both coupons
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$11.24 with both coupons

 

Most tanks & tees are less than $5

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$5.61 with both coupons

 

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$4.49 with both coupons

 

 

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$5.61 with both coupons

Most dresses are $11-$18

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$18.55 with both coupons

Most sandals are $14 or less

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$14.05 with both coupons

Click on any of the photos above to browse, and make sure you check out the entire sale. I’m placing an order right now, and DYING over how cute some of these styles are!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Picking- June 29

Oh my goodness was this a short, fun little day trip. All you can eat fresh cherries for 40 minutes on a warm June day. Can you beat that? 

Here are the coordinates directly to the parking lot- it is a very small shop with a couple vending machines on the side. It is right on the corner of several streets. The owners were super friendly, despite our inability to understand how the process worked. Ha.

40.405600, 141.325477

Disclaimer: Like I said, we didn’t realize how this process worked, so we unfortunately did not realize that you are not supposed to bring a container inside the picking area with you. This is an all-you-can-eat-only kind of deal, then you can purchase cherries in boxes afterwards. When they didn’t hand us any baskets, we assumed we were just supposed to bring our own, and grabbed a Daiso basket from the car.

Thankfully Henry didn’t pick MANY cherries, but we still felt so bad bringing a bucket to the front when they didn’t charge us for them.

The Japanese hosts were so kind to us when we brought out a small container of cherries that Henry had picked, but we felt SO bad that we didn’t realize that we were only supposed to eat freely while in there. With our blueberry picking experience last year, you could pay for the weight of whatever you carried out, so we assumed we could do the same here.
Don’t be us. There are flats of cherries that you can buy afterwards- don’t carry any out on your own!Entry fee is 1000 yen per person for 40 minutes. It is somewhat unclear from the signs/what they charged us on exactly how much kiddos cost, but they are CHEAP either way. They were kind enough to allow our babes in for free.
During those 40 minutes, you may eat as many cherries as you would like.The cherries are THICK right now, as of the last week of June. You will leave that area with a stomach ache if you eat the entire time- I promise. And they are SO good. I took photos most of the time, and still ended up feeling full when it was time to leave. 

Let me say it again, the cherries are SO good. Like, can I say it 4 times? I was shocked to even see some dark, rich bing cherries on a few trees. Do y’all realize how much those babies cost at the grocery store in Japan?!
The branches hang LOW, so even a kiddo as little as around 1.5 years old could easily reach the branches.

AND… the best part?

It’s all COVERED by greenhouses! It started absolutely pouring while we were picking, and all of us stayed nice and dry.

If you look closely, you can see the pouring rain in the background. SO nice that the trees in the picking area were covered, so the kids stayed totally dry.

Basically NO bugs. Grass is very short. Seriously the easiest place for a fun day trip with even very young kiddos. Vending machines are also located to the side if you end up going on a hot day. I would highly recommend this for ANY age.The drive from base is about 57 minutes without tolls, but it is a BEAUTIFUL drive. I am not sure if a toll route would change this, but I HIGHLY recommend the route that Google Maps took us while avoiding tolls. 

The Japanese asked us to come back as we left today, only after taking photos of our kids and gifting us a small bag of cherries for free. We will absolutely return. I’m tempted to go back again tomorrow, honestly.Make sure you check them out too, you won’t be disappointed.

Japan Life · Travel Guides

14 Reasons Japan is the Best For Kids & Families

Looking for somewhere overseas to take a vacation with a toddler or baby? Moving to Japan soon? Just generally interested in one of the coolest countries on earth?
If you have kids, and especially if they are infants or toddlers, I am confident you will find Japan to be one of the easiest places to raise your little babes.

Don’t believe me?
Read on.

Why is Japan the best for kids?

1. Public nursery/breastfeeding locations

These are everywhere. The mall, the airport, train stations, airports. Anywhere that you might be caught needing to tend to a baby, there is likely a free-to-use nursery nearby.
These rooms boast: purified hot water access for preparing formula, privacy for breastfeeding, changing tables, and a ban on both smoking and electronic device use- making for a clean and quiet space for little ones.

In addition, these rooms are often sectioned off so that men can enter too! HOW COOL IS THAT?! One half of the space is for anyone caring for a baby, and one half for women only, so you can openly breastfeed here if you do not feel comfortable doing so in public.

Furthermore, Japan is incredibly accepting of breastfeeding in all the experiences I have had while feeding two babes over here, and while I choose to cover- I have never got a bad look if I chose to use the two-shirt method without my nursing cover.

2. Chaos does not exist

The Japanese people lined up at each train car, single-file and quietly waiting to board their train.

Everything has order.
Everything has an unspoken rule about waiting your turn.
Everything.
And when you have chaos holding on to each of your hands in the form of a small and loud child you are trying to drag onto public transit, more chaos is the last thing you need. We were terrified initially to use public transit with a language barrier, but it has proven to be one of the most stress-free things we have done since moving here.

When boarding a train that just entered your terminal, there is an unspoken rule that those exiting the train will do so before those boarding ever step foot on it. There is no pushing, no squeezing past somebody in the aisle- everything happens in order, everything runs on time, and it is glorious.

And finally, everyone is always willing to help you find your way. Whether they speak ANY English or not, they will do their best to help you. Chaos doesn’t happen here.

3. Kids meals are delivered first

Almost anywhere you go in Japan, children will be served first. Small plates, bowls, and spoons are also almost always brought to tables. Water is always offered to kids immediately. Japan seriously takes care of kiddos.

4. Kids meals are HUGE

Kids meals aren’t just one chicken strip and three soggy fries thrown in a cardboard box here. Seriously, everywhere you go- your kids will leave full.

Meals here almost always come with: a scoop of rice, a main dish, a side dish, some sort of juice or milk, and often even a toy or treat afterwards. If your kids love rice (which I guarantee they will after a few months in Japan) you can basically ALWAYS request a side of rice at a restaurant. This is our favorite trick with Henry, who is the pickiest eater in the world at times.

Best part? Most kids meals like this cost like $1.50-$3.50 max.

5. Baby Holders

Um, so, this is probably in my top 3 favorite things about Japan.
Who wants to poop while holding a child? Who wants to let their toddler crawl on the bathroom floor? Not you, eh? Need I say more?

6. Priority parking for pregnant mothers

Yep, Japan considers you handicapped while you are pregnant, and it’s the most genius thing I have ever seen. Most parking spots like these are DIRECTLY in front of an establishment. During the time that I was pregnant and had a toddler, this fact about Japan was 100% a lifesaver.

The Japanese will also refuse to let you carry ANYTHING heavy if they notice you are pregnant. I can’t tell you how many times a Japanese man carried a watermelon or even just a small bag of groceries to my car while I was pregnant.

7. Priority seating

Elderly? Pregnant? Injured? HAVE KIDS?

Yes? Then not only is there designated priority seating for you on public transit, but the Japanese people are ATTENTIVE to it. Last week on a train, an elderly man stood up for ME and said “please, please” gesturing to his seat so that I could sit with my 9 month old, who was already sleeping happily in my arms.

The Japanese are intentional, they notice, and they are SO kind.

8. The Japanese are so kind to children

At a ski resort, where the Japanese ski class had just let out. Henry collected candy piece after candy piece from these kiddos. One of them even bought him a hot chocolate from the vending machine behind them.

If you spend 10 minutes in the midst of the Japanese people and your child makes eye contact with somebody, chances are you will be coming home with some sort of treat or toy. We have had elderly couples walk us over to cookie/candy stores specifically to buy Henry a treat in front of us. We hear the term “kawaii” (cute) about our babies all the time, and it is our favorite to tell Japanese families that their babies are kawaii, too.

Children here also LOVE American kids. Because they often are learning English in school, you may even be stopped so they can practice their English with someone who is fluent. When you respond to their “hellos” you may be met with the sweetest giggles in the world.

One of my favorite things to do since moving to Japan is to take our kids to local playgrounds or play places. If there is anything that will teach you about inclusion, it is seeing toddlers of two different cultures, who don’t even speak the same language, playing flawlessly and happily together.

Henry, watching a Japanese show on this little girl’s phone while we ate yakiniku at the table next to them.

9. Arcades, parks, playgrounds GALORE

The entire country of Japan is basically one giant playground for kids and adults alike. You can’t enter a city without finding an accessible place for a kid of any age to play. There are 7 story arcades, huge playgrounds, massive activity centers… and the best part? We have yet to find somewhere that isn’t totally affordable for a day of fun.

And can we talk about how cute the entire country is? For goodness sake, the traffic cones are made to look like cute little animals here!

Any time Henry passes a booth that is giving away some sort of balloon animal, he ALWAYS ends up leaving with one for free.
All playground equipment is so intentionally constructed here, as well. This incredibly tall slide is fully enclosed at the top to keep kids from falling off.

10. Japan is CLEAN

I mean, you will see people picking weeds or cigarette droppings out of the cracks on their sidewalks. It is clean here, it is tidy here, and it is orderly here.
We never buy train tickets for our toddler and infant (mainly because kids under 6 are free,) but also because we feel comfortable letting them sit at our feet on the train. That’s how clean everything in this country is.

You will never find dirty tables, dirty floors, and it is incredibly rare to find a dirty restroom. This would probably make you think that they are uptight about kiddos making messes- but again, Japan will shock you on that. I always try to crawl under tables to clean up the messes our kids make- and the servers always gesture for me to not worry about it.
Poor Henry even had an accident in a booth once at a restaurant, and the kind waiter just nodded, smiled, and told me “Hai, hai, it okay, it okay!”

11. Shopping is EASY with kids

For instance, shopping carts with the little cars or characters on the front? FREE. You know? The ones that are usually like $5 to rent at malls in the states? Yep, totally free. They also have infant carts that recline perfectly for your baby to sleep when they are little.

This seems like a silly point, but my kids LOVE the mall because of this. Most shopping malls also host grocery stores- which makes this an even bigger point for our family personally. Happy kids while grocery shopping= happy mom all day.

In addition, refrigerated lockers are available at lots of malls and shopping centers, so if you purchase your groceries first but need to do other things, you have a cold place to store them so you don’t have to lug them around with you.

12. Restrooms are catered to children & families

This was one of my favorite things to find upon entering a restroom in Japan for the first time. There will almost always be a tiny toilet sitting next to the regular sized toilet in the family/handicapped stall. Toilets here are ultra interesting to kids, with all their buttons and strange sounds, so potty training is usually a little more interesting if you are out and about in Japan.

Changing tables are available everywhere, including in men’s rooms, and even on the Shinkansen train, which has airport sized bathrooms. Everywhere you go, you will find a family restroom, equipped with a changing table, a baby holder, and often a small toilet or tiny urinal.

And might I also mention… TINY URINALS IN THE WOMEN’S RESTROOMS.
Uh… what?

Yeah, that was my reaction the first time I walked into a women’s restroom in Japan and noticed the 1/2 size urinal on the ground before the stalls.

Why?
Well, because women have sons, and sometimes sons have to pee too.

Brilliant, no?!

13. It’s always easy to find food and snacks

Can you say, “the land of vending machines?”

Because they have EVERY kind here, and they are on every street. Hot drinks, cold drinks, soups, snacks, ramen, ice cream, full fledged meals… even cigarettes can be found in vending machines. They are at every building, on every floor, even on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. You will see residential homes with vending machines attached to the side of their garage if they reside on a main street. Your kids will NEVER go thirsty, because you are always 130¥ away from an apple or grape juice.

Red colors indicate hot drinks, blue indicate chilled ones.
You can guarantee that any time that ramen is sold from a vending machine, there will be a hot water dispenser nearby for free.

14. Japan is SAFE.

Let me just say this- I would take my two kids off base and explore just about anywhere in Japan without fear and without my husband, and I am a CAUTIOUS human. I can’t say that about many places in the world, to be honest- and definitely not about many places in America. Nearly every Japanese person you come in contact with is more than willing to help, and even with the language barrier, I feel the safest I have felt in my life since moving to this country.
The Japanese police rarely have to intervene with regular life, but when they do, they mean BUSINESS. Crime is not taken lightly here, and you never see crimes happen.

If you are looking for somewhere to raise kiddos where you can likely go without locking your door, Japan is your place.

I sincerely hope you find the same incredible pro-kid factors if you visit Japan someday, too. Was there anything I missed? Be sure to tell me below, or head over to my Instagram and be sure to use the hashtag #takeyourbabieseverywhere if you post photos of your adventures so I can see your kiddos loving Japan as much as we do.

Happy exploring with your babies!

 

DIY · Home · Japan Life · Rental Decorating

Tiny Pantry Renovation |Rental Friendly Decorating

We have had small pantries before, but man, this one in Japan takes the cake for BY FAR the smallest. We have tons of drawers that we can pile stuff in, but honestly it’s just so hard to find what we need when things aren’t sorted and organized.

I have found a bit of a love for open shelving, especially when items are displayed in beautiful jars and are so easily accessible. That being said, I also have a deep-seated hate for paying a lot for my home decor. (Hence my DIY hacks that are almost always under $20.)

So of course, I turned to my trusted Japanese Dollar stores for help.

 

So, I made a trip to both Daiso and Seria (the dollar stores here in Japan) and I got to work. In all reality, most dollar stores will have containers similar to the ones that I bought here. I decided to only stick with glass, simply because I knew it would probably withstand future moves better. (Fingers crossed for smart packers, right?)

I do recommend ONLY buying jars that are airtight for storing food, though. I purchased ones that were airtight, but also totally dishwasher safe.

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Daiso flowers displayed in a Daiso feed sack
All jars from Daiso. Top jars were 250 yen each, and the bottom ones were 100 yen each.
The hooks installed on my wall are also from Seria, and are the same hooks I used to make my DIY coat rack. I have not yet gone over the screws with my iron paint to make them not a super glaring silver- oops. 😉 The two small grey baskets can be found at Daiso, and come with the lids. They are also stackable! Jars with the white handle lids come from Seria. These are the BEST with our toddler, because he picks up what he wants and carries it to us.

First, I removed the doors and hardware from the main pantry cabinet in our house. Read below for some tips on successfully removing hardware in rentals.

My white bowls are from Target YEARS ago, unfortunately they no longer carry them, but I am waiting to find some similar to link for you. The regular mason sized jars on the bottom come from Daiso.

Next, I removed the hardware and doors from above the sink, just to give an accent cabinet to the room.

300 yen jars from Daiso- these hold our entire supply of rice, pasta, and several boxes of our cereal. Get rid of ugly boxes, and you can see EXACTLY how much you have. Win-win.

Tips:

Take off hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy.

I mentioned this in my past post about how to convert a small closet to a mudroom, but here is the information again!
So, yes. Take off all of the hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy. Or, simply leave it attached to the doors! We take all the screws and pieces that don’t remain attached to the doors, and store them in a plastic baggy, then tape it with painter’s tape to the door. This way the tape doesn’t damage the door, but we are able to know for SURE that the hardware stays put with the door. When moving out, we just place the door with the taped hardware beside the closet for our housing inspection. (Or if you are required to replace the doors where you live, all the hardware is right there, and you don’t have to go searching for it!)

Store your doors under a couch or bed.

This way kids, pets, or adults don’t damage them in any way, and they are totally out of the way! We store ours underneath our king size bed, so they are totally hidden under there. (Thanks to our sweet friend Sierra, for the idea of storing things under couches or beds. This works so well for us.)

The largest 300 yen storage containers.
These are 100 yen containers that I believe that have BOTH at Seria and Daiso. If I remember correctly, these came from Daiso. It was just big enough to hold our bag of granola and our bag of quinoa.
All of the above are from Daiso. The cross hatch storage baskets are my FAVORITES too. I have these in our closet upstairs, and you can also purchase lids that allow them to be fully stackable.
I keep my non-refridgerated pantry items in small crates from Daiso (100 yen) that allow air to flow through them.
Very top containers are from Seria, and 100 yen each. I use these for my granola and overnight oats. The beige containers are from Daiso (100¥ each!) Unfortunately my flour and sugar jars (the four across with the pattern) are SUPER old and from Target. I will link some if I find them!

Happy hunting for those dollar store bargains, and be sure to share your pantries on Pinterest with me! (Here is a link to the board this is pinned to.) If you redo yours, I would LOVE to see the results on the “try it” section of my pin!

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