5 Must-Do Things to do in Japan with kids

This is an updated version of a post I originally contributed for YummyMummyClub.

I grew up in a small town in Japan. It’s been almost 20 years since we moved to Canada, so my children were pretty much raised as Canadians. We try to go back to Japan as often as possible, and it’s great to see my kids get so fascinated with my home country. Here are 5 Must-Do Things in Japan with your children.

1. Visit a Family Restaurant

Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki
Photo credit: Osamu Iwasaki

Family restaurants(FAMIRESU for short) are everywhere in Japan. They are reasonably priced and kid friendly. For some reason, Kids Meals are called “OKOSAMA(Child) LUNCH” And yes, they are served all day, not just at lunch time. It usually consists of little bit of everything (spaghetti, meatballs, etc.) and a little mountain of rice with a flag on top. When my son first saw it, he thought that was the greatest thing! Make sure you take a photo.

2. Visit a Shrine or Temple

Zojo-ji temple in the rain
Zojo-ji temple in the rain

3. Check Out a Festival or Two


Some festivals are huge and happen annually, so be sure to check the local event schedule of where you are headed. But if you are lucky, you might just come across a small fair near the shrine. Unlike North American fairs, there won’t be any rides, but usually a strip is lined with all kinds of different vendors selling snacks (candy apple, cotton candy, OKONOMIYAKI savory pancakes, etc.), toys and masks, or have a game booth. My favourite is KINGYO SUKUI -“scoop the goldfish” game!

4. Character Goods Store


If you have a daughter, (no, scratch that, boys will love it too) you must go to “Character Goods Store”—such as Sanrio and Kiddy Land. You’ll be overwhelmed by the number of character goods (most famous of all is Hello Kitty). From underwear, handkerchief, hair clips, note books, bento boxes,stationery,stuffed animals to chopsticks, you can find all kinds of wacky fun things with your favourite character on it. There are plenty of fun things for boys as well (my son loved Cup Noodle shaped erasers), and these tiny things make great souvenirs for friends back home.

My favourite, Rilakkuma

5. Ride on a Bullet Train


A New Moon Over Tohoku


Yesterday, I attended a screening of a documentary film, A New Moon Over Tohoku by Japanese Canadian Filmmaker, Linda Ohama. Linda is a third generation (Sansei) Japanese Canadian known for her film, Obachan’s Garden.

A New Moon Over Tohoku is about the people who suffered from the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, in the Tohoku area of Japan.

Linda said it all started because of her granddaughter. When they first found out about the earthquake and tsunami, the granddaughter, then 7 years-old, asked her what they could do for them. Eventually, Linda flew to Japan to volunteer in Tohoku area.

As she got to know the people in Tohoku, they asked her to create a film to tell their stories. Initially, she turned it down. This changed when she first visited the “No-Go” zone near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Seeing the traffic lights still working and changing the lights in a ghost town, she cried. Linda then decided to interview the people in Tohoku, specifically, in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Two and half years later, the film is being presented here in Canada. A New Moon Over Tohoku premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival late last month (September 2016).

Linda has brought guests from Japan for the Canadian tour. Inlcluding, Mrs. Kanako Sasaki, an acupuncturist who appears in the film and tells us her survival story. She was treating a patient when the earthquake hit. The film tells the story of how she got her patient out and then tried to locate her own family. Then the Tsunami hit her town of Otsuchi.

Kanako described the scene after she got scooped up in Tsunami “Hell”, as people, houses, and vehicles swam by her. She tells of how the tanks on boats exploded, floating by, and setting fires to homes with people still trapped inside. Kanako herself was swept up and carried by the rising waters flowing through the streets of her village. Finally, she was rescued by friends and neighbours. Once rescued, and despite being injured herself and still soaked in cold, wet clothes, she continued on through the night helping others. Her story is so powerful, it made my cry.

Soma Nomaoi Samurais
Soma Nomaoi Samurais

The film introduces the stories of many other people and places, such as the people who have homes and businesses in the “No-Go” zone. Included is a Samurai family who are determined to continue their tradition of Soma Nomaoi (Samurai festival with horses). Other powerful and movies stories include those of mothers concerned with radiation and how they feel guilty about letting their children be exposed to radiation, and how they feel oppressed for not being able to speak their mind honestly about their fear of radiation and at the same time not wanting to isolate themselves for speaking out… All the complexities, fears, and concerns of the people affected in the “No-Go” zone are expressed and examined.

I personally visited the Tohoku area back in 2013. All the places I went to were hard to visit, but Okawa Elementary School that had lost 70% of their children, was particularly heartbreaking. Yesterday at lunch before the screening, Linda told me about a father from Okawa area. This father had lost his only child, a 12 year old girl who was at Okawa Elementary School. Linda said, “He said he was so lucky.”

“I thought I misunderstood at first. He lost his only child. How can he be lucky? But he said he was so lucky he got to be a father.”

I couldn’t hold back my tears.

Linda says many people in Tohoku turned negatives into positives like this. I think they have no choice, in order to continue forward.

But it’s not all sad. The film also features brave, happy, and optimistic people.

The screening in Victoria was a success. It is an emotional film. There were not many dry eyes in the theatre, but I was particularly grateful for Kanako (with her daughter, Sera, who is also in the film) for coming all the way to Canada to share her story. Her wish was for this film to be seen by as many people as possible, not just in Canada and overseas, but also in Japan. She also asked us to remember to be grateful for what we have, as you never know when it might be gone.

As I said my goodbye to Kanako, I offered my help in any way I can. She said, “We have just only begun.” I am grateful for this new friendship.

There will be more screenings in Japan starting in December. If you want to book a screening for your community or organization, please check out the film website.

Living Brave


I just finished the Living Brave Semester with Brené Brown that started back in January.
This past 5 months, thousands of people around the world and myself learned together on what it means to live wholeheartedly. This was by far the best course I have ever taken.

The course covered key learnings from Brené’s books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.

We had new lessons open every Monday with lesson videos and exercises. Every few weeks we had breaks, (so that those of us behind can catch up), Live Q&A sessions (where my question got picked!), as well as weekly message videos from Brené.

It is impossible for me to go over everything I learned in the course, but I wanted to list a few things that made big impact on me.

1) Community and language

Watching Brené’s videos every week and doing the live Q&A really gave me the sense of community. One of the students called us “Living Bravesters” and it just stuck, and we all started calling ourselves that. Love it.

Another community was a Facebook group I created for us Japanese people who are interested in learning more about wholehearted living. I love that we started using the language from Brené’s books. One of the group member mentioned her son was talking an entrance exam for college and I called it his “arena”. Other friend was doing new things in her business and that put her in front of a large group of people – that was her arena. I really love that we started using the word “arena” as a place we are going to be brave, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, The Man in the Arena (The title Daring Greatly comes from this speech)

CW_ArenaQuote (1)

2) Values

One of the most memorable lessons in the course was one of the earliest one. Brené used the metaphor of lantern and called it “How values light the way”. Imagine a lantern. The flame in the lantern is your core values you hold. (We did exercises to find what our core values are – mine are Courage and Kindness) Your values will light your way. Without the lantern and the flame inside it, it will be dark and you will be lost. Or, even when you have the lantern and the flame, sometimes we leave it somewhere and stray from our values. This was such a visual example and made a lot of sense to me. When I catch myself acting outside my values – like being snappy at someone or being afraid – I picture the lantern and go back to my values.

3) People Are Doing The Best They Can

This is THE biggest learning for me from her book Rising Strong. In case you haven’t read the book, let me ask you a question.

“In general, do yo think people are doing the best they can?”

How did you answer the question?

My answer was NO.  I just turned 41, and most of my life, I thought people were slackers, and I was super judgey.

This comes from perfectionism. To get the proper context I highly recommend you read the book, but we learned that when we believe people are doing the best we can, our lives are better and I feel kinder towards others, which is important to me as one of my core values is kindness. Our best is all different.

This was such a huge learning moment for me, every time I think about it, I get shivers and get a little chocked up. What have I been doing? Every time I think of the chapter in the book, it makes me want to cover my face and sob…

4) It’s all practice

We learned all these great things to help us live more wholehearted life, but we are all human. We slip. 

When we’re tired, when we are afraid, when we feel threatened….we act out way outside our values.

I’ve learned to be kind to myself, and to remind myself this is a lifelong practice. I remember in on of the weekly update videos Brené said, if we catch ourselves slipping….to celebrate it. Because it at least means we know we are slipping. The important thing it to catch us when we slip, and try again without berating ourselves.

I feel bittersweet to have finished this amazing course. There is another Living Brave Semester next year, but meanwhile there are two shorter, exciting courses coming up.

Self-Compassion with Kristin Neff and Brené Brown


We are supposed to talk to ourselves like we talk to someone we love. But why is it so hard?

“The Self-Compassion workshop combines the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion to enhance our capacity for emotional wellbeing.”

This is a four-lesson online workshop that opens on May 16, 2016.

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting


“What would it mean for our families, our community, and even the world if a critical mass of parents raised children who knew their worth? Children who navigate the world believing, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” It doesn’t matter if your child is 4 years old, 14, or 44 – parenting is a lifetime commitment. “

Six-lesson course that begins September 26, 2016. The format sounds very much like Living Brave Semester with new lessons opening every week but mostly self-paced.

For both of these courses, I have a 30% off code so please let me know if you are signing up!

Thank you Brené, and thank you all Living Bravesters – it’s been a blast. See you in the next course 🙂


Journey to the wholehearted life


I realized I haven’t written anything here since the new year, so here’s my update on what I have been up to.

Although I haven’t published a single blog post here since January, I have been writing almost every day in Japanese. That has been my focus for a while – writing in Japanese. I have had a little identity crisis last year as to which language to focus on. Japanese is my first language, so it is 100 times easier to write in Japanese, but I find I can express myself better when I write in English. However, in English, I still need quite a lot of proofreading. So I decided to focus on writing in Japanese for a while.

There is this new,  very popular blogging platform called note. (https://note.mu/) It’s currently in Japanese only. It originally launched in 2014, but it became really popular in January 2016 when several big-name bloggers started using it. I like the simple design (although UI still needs a lot of improvements) and I started writing there almost every day. What makes note different from other platforms is, that you can charge readers per post basis. You can charge from 100 yen to 100,000 yen ($1-$100) per post. I’d say the majority of posts are $1-$3.  If you are approved by the site organizers, you can even charge readers on a monthly basis. So this naturally piqued a lot of “make-money-easily” types’ interest. (Remember Tsu?) I am not particularly interested in making money on note, and my posts there are usually free. I have written several “English tips” type posts and charged them 200 yen. Several of them are very well received and even went viral.

The reason I continue to write there is not to make money. Sure, I’d always like to make extra money (who doesn’t?), but in the case of note, they have a great community of people who love sharing part of their lives. It reminds me of the time when I first started blogging. All these people are from different part of the world (mostly Japan, but some living outside Japan) and they share photography, short stories, illustration (note has many great Manga artists sharing their pieces),  and texts. There’s a single mom writing about her daily struggle of raising small children. There’s a woman in her 20’s trying to experience as many different things as possible while working in Tokyo.  There are many people studying English. There’s a woman who is farming all by herself and sharing how her farm is growing.  There’s a bar owner who creates short stories based on his customers’ stories. There’s a mom who makes fantastic meals for her family every day and making everyone drool with her photos. There’s a young man suffering from depression. There’s a woman who used to be a man and sharing her struggles with her family.  And we all read, comment and interact. There’s a community. 

I have also started Brené Brown’s Living Brave Semester online course. I cannot say enough good things about it. New lesson becomes available every Monday, but you can do it in your own pace. We also had mini breaks and spring break so that you can catch up and reflect.  The course’s required readings are Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, two of my favourite books of all time. Brené guides us into living more wholehearted, authentic life, in a non-fluffy way…it is seriously full of practical, daily tips on how to live openhearted.

After reading her books and signing up for the course, I have decided that it is my life’s work to spread Brene’s teachings (I know this sounds like religion but it is not) to people in Japan. I know Brené Brown is a household name in North America, but she isn’t well known in Japan yet.  Her past several books are translated into Japanese but it hasn’t quite “taken off”. I would love to translate Rising Strong  but sounds like it might have already started. Not sure. I have also decided to write a book about wholehearted living and sort of a “Beginners guide to Brené Brown” type of book.  Yes, it’s scary to write this here, but that is part of the wholehearted living. I have started a Facebook group with Japanese friends who are interested in Wholehearted living, and it is growing!

Last month, something amazing happened. Someone from CourageWorks (Brene’s company that offers Living Brave Semester and other courses) contacted me and asked if I wanted to send Brené a question for her live Q&A.  I was thrilled!

Live Q&A are offered to all Living Brave Semester participants on CourageWorks website. The questions are picked ahead of time, but Brené answers them live. I exchanged emails with the lady from CourageWorks, and sent my photo. My question was this:

“I believe in saying yes and showing up for friends and for myself, but I struggle setting boundaries. How do you decide whether to be brave and say yes, or have self-control and say no?”


And I loved her answer…she said, “Sometimes, the bravest thing you can say is to say no. ”  She showed us her “Boundary ring” she was wearing with a spinner on it, and said she had a mantra she uses when she struggles with saying no. She’d spin the spinner on her ring and says this:

“Choose discomfort over resentment, Choose discomfort over resentment, Choose discomfort over resentment.”

This. This knocked me out.  You only need to feel uncomfortable for thirty seconds to save many resentments afterward.  Life saver.

I love this woman. One day I would love to work with her.

Going back to note, reading everyone’s posts I see so many, really, so many people struggle with either;

-Saying no

-Worrying about what others might say/think

-Comparing themselves with others

It’s crazy how universal these types of problems are, no matter where you live. However, I find it’s particularly bad in Japan. It’s almost an epidemic. SO MANY people were raised to be “just like others” and “stay inside the lines”. I know it’s a generational thing, and we are getting better as a society, but still many people are suffering.

I started sharing what Brene’s writing in her books on note. The importance of Daring Greatly and being in the arena. The importance of self-compassion (“Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love“). Talking about shame. Being vulnerable. Not worrying about what others think and living the life you love… And I got so many reactions and comments. Some even say they never thought of living the life they’d love.

In the era of social media, everyone else’s lives are right in front of you to see, and we are hardwired to compare ourselves to someone else’s highlight reel. But the important thing is to recognize that they are just that – highlight reel.  I try to live wholeheartedly and close to my values (Courage and Kindness)…but I’m human and I am “scrappy” like Brené, so I often fall off the “Wholeheartedness” wagon. But that’s OK. The important thing is to “Talk to myself like I talk to someone I love” and just climb up on the wagon and start practicing again.

I plan on keep writing and hope to share how it all unravels in the next few months. My journey has only just begun.