Friday, 31 August 2012

Talking to the animals

Summers here are always far too hot and humid for me, but this year has been particularly bad. The temperature has been in the mid-30s everyday for over a month, and our town has often popped up in the news as the hottest place in Japan. Hard to believe when you remember the snow we had last year!
So even though we can almost see the sea from our house, we haven't been to the beach at all this year. Not even once. It's just too hot there, even with a bit of sea breeze, not to mention the challenges of running around after 2 little monkeys, including one who would want to eat all the sand. Instead we've tried to have a few indoor days out. Last week we went to a temporary mini zoo set up at Yumeminato Tower, where in the past we've visited a sea life exhibition and a really cool light show.
Obviously there weren't any elephants, giraffes or lions to see, but there was a nice variety of small animals such as squirrel monkeys, a sloth, turtles, a collection of nocturnal animals, pelicans, parrots and lots more. Being that it was aimed at young children, even T was tall enough to look in the enclosures by himself. Most of the enclosures were reasonably sized, at least for a temporary exhibition, and the animals seemed happy. K enjoyed it all, but I think it was T who really had the best time. It was a completely new experience for him, at least since he has become big enough to take an active role. He rushed about, pointing out his favourites and declaring most things to be either 'cats' or 'ducks', with the occasional 'lion' thrown in for good measure.
Meeting a beaver...

...and a lizard.
The meerkats had a rather cool enclosure, raised off the ground and with little bubble viewing domes. It's rather hard to see in this picture, but T and I are inside the nearest bubble, K is in the other one and the ball of fluff in between is a meerkat. The boys spent ages playing here.

After we'd seen all the animals we went up the tower to enjoy the view across the bay, before going out for lunch and then heading home again in time to go out once more for K's swimming class. Busy days...

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Magic Mud

Have you ever tried making Magic Mud? It's just cornflour and water, but it's great fun. Technically, it's a non-Newtonian fluid; it acts like a liquid when it's being poured and like a solid when force is applied to it. In practise, it's just great fun to play with. If you're a QI fan like me, you may have seen Stephen Fry making it dance on top of a speaker!
To make enough for 2 little monkeys to play with, I started with a cup of cold water and gradually added just under 2 cups of cornflour, mixing first with a spoon and then with my hand. It tends to dry out if you leave it, but you can always just mix in a bit more water and you're away again.
The real beauty of this is that it's a lovely messy way to play but so easy to clear up. I stripped the boys off, but it really wasn't necessary, as it's completely washable. You can easily wipe up spills with a cloth, and if you leave it to dry you can simply brush it off. Next time I wouldn't even bother with the splash mat; it's easier just to wipe the table. You could add food colouring if you wanted pretty colours but as far as I'm concerned that just makes clean-up more of a hassle, as it tends to stain little fingers... Anyway, the boys loved it, plain white and all. T had had enough after about 20 minutes but K played with it for an hour. It would have been even longer if we didn't have to go out after that.
So if you're still on summer holiday, bring out the cornflour!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Trip to Tottori - Part 3

This is the last post on our little trip to Tottori, I promise! Once again, lots of photos...
So, after a morning at the Warabekan Toy Museum followed by a yummy lunch, we headed to the Prefectural Museum. As we parked the car, K spotted this and wanted to explore...
This building, called Jinpukaku, was built in 1907 to house the then Crown Prince on a visit to Tottori. It was the first building in the area to be electrified. By Japanese standards it's an old building, and its European design makes it a rarity around here. I visited it before, years ago, but it was nice to have a wander around again.
It stands at the foot of the castle hill; looking out of the window here you can see pretty much all that remains of Tottori castle now...

Later we walked over to the museum. Downstairs they have the permanent exhibition, mainly showing natural history exhibits related to the area. T liked the display of stuffed animals (and I don't mean teddy bears) and K was impressed by the giant squid.

The second floor houses temporary exhibitions. At the moment, the main temporary exhibition is on fungus... First we saw various mushrooms and toadstools encased in perspex blocks, but the second room was much more fun. The boys loved playing with these beautifully-made foam fungi, even if 'playing with' mainly meant 'knocking over'...

Every time I glance at this picture I think there's a girl in a lacy dress standing in front of K. There isn't. It's a toadstool.

They also had one of those Put Your Hand In The Box And Identify What You Feel things, with pictures offering you a choice of 4 mushrooms for each box. I always feel a bit nervous putting my hand in those things, half-expecting some kind of trick, and was relieved to discover a dried specimen in the first box. Same again in the second, and the third, which contained dried tree ears, a common cooking ingredient. I think both feet may have left the floor though when I put my hand in the 4th box and found reconstituted dried tree ears, all wet and slimy. I got all 4 right though :-)

Now, what do you think K is doing here? Oh, it's nothing to do with fungus by the way.

Well, obviously, he's re-enacting this painting:

Yes, the second temporary exhibition was a collection of works of art and props to re-create them! T was rather taken by this odd-looking turtle...

...based on this (rather hard to see) scroll...

...which led to this!

By now it was time to be heading home, but not before a quick (OK, not very quick at all actually) stop at the one shop which might tempt people from out of town - Toys R Us. And of course we couldn't leave empty-handed. As well as a couple of little things for the little ones (and a bag of mini Toblerones for the big ones), we bought a cheap and cheerful play kitchen. By the time we got home that night it was 10 o'clock and the boys were fast asleep, but the next morning we set it up and it's been a popular choice with both of them ever since.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Salt art

Last week was Obon, a time for Japanese people to visit their families and remember those who have passed away, as their spirits return to the land of the living for a few days. It's one of the busiest and most expensive times to travel, and it's also one of the hottest times of the year. Many people have time off from work, as well as it being the middle of the school holidays, so popular places can be very crowded.
So what did this mean for the Monkey Household? As there are no public holidays for Obon, H went to work everyday as usual. My 2 classes were both cancelled, as most of the students are older women who would be busy hosting their extended families, and there were none of the usual swimming or yoga classes. In short, my diary was completely empty for a week, but I was on full-time Mother Of Two duty. I didn't really fancy going out much, due to the heat and the expected crowds, so we tried to entertain ourselves at home as much as possible.
Which is all a very long-winded way to say: K did some salt art last week.
It's pretty straightforward: draw a design on black paper with white glue, sprinkle salt over it and shake off the excess (as you would with glitter). Then prepare some watered-down paint and just gently touch the tip of the brush onto the salt. Don't rub at it or press too hard. The colour will spread across the salt beautifully.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Trip to Tottori - Part Two

After a good night's sleep, T was up and raring to go (wearing Daddy's sandals and carrying K's bag)...

After breakfast we left the hotel and went to the toy museum. Downstairs they had an area set up as an old-fashioned school-room, and a display on traditional songs. A lot of popular children's songs were composed by people from Tottori, or at least have some kind of connection with the area.

There was also a room full of instruments for children to get their hands on...

Next we headed upstairs, to a large room filled with toys to play with. If we lived in Tottori city I think the boys would want to come everyday! There were lots of lovely wooden/educational toys and games, more musical things, an area for little ones and a workshop area for crafting.

There was also a very uncomfortable-looking ball pool!

K soon discovered a room with a huge collection of train tracks which he could play with. H and K stayed there for ages a while, but T and I returned to the main area to prevent Godzilla-esque railway destruction.

Finally we went up to the third floor, which houses an exhibition of toys through the ages, arranged thematically. H and I enjoyed spotting things from our childhood, and K found more trains!

After that it was time for lunch. H's brother lives in Tottori but unfortunately was busy that day. However, he did give us a great recommendation for a place to have lunch: a buffet-style restaurant where we most definitely got our money's worth :-)

In the afternoon our adventures continued - and that will be Part Three...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Trip to Tottori - Part One

We live in Tottori prefecture. It's not a well-known area, even within Japan, but one of its few claims to fame is its sand dunes, on the coast just outside Tottori city. Part of me wants to tell you how beautiful and impressive the dunes are; part of me wants to say 'you've seen sand, right?'...

Anyway, playing on the sand theme, there has been an exhibition of sand sculptures held near the dunes annually for several years now. We went to the first one in 2009, when K was the age T is now, and decided to go again this year. The first exhibition was held outdoors but since then they have built a big shed exhibition hall to house the sculptures. Previous themes for the sculptures have included 'Folk Tales' and 'Africa'; this year, taking into account the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics, the theme was the UK!

We drove over to Tottori and got to the dunes in the early afternoon (after a delayed start due to having to take T to the doctors for some terrible mosquito bites, poor little boy). There was a high walkway around 3 sides of the exhibition, allowing for a good overall view of the sculptures from above, before we went down to see them all close-up.

Windsor Castle - can you spot the skull in the trees?

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I

Celebrating Shakespeare

Darwin and Newton - K was pleased to see Jupiter

K's favourite sculpture of them all was of the Queen!
 After much admiring of the sculptures (all made of only sand and water, no kind of glue at all), we checked into a hotel and had an early dinner, much to T's delight:

Then it was out again, to the true destination of this trip: Saji Astro Park. Everything a planet-obsessed 4 year old could want!

We looked around the exhibits downstairs for a while, including meteorites to handle, moon dust to look at through a telescope, a big interactive Earth and (K's and my favourite) models of the planets suspended from the ceiling.

Then at 8pm we went up to the observatory to have a guided tour of the stars, using this huge telescope!

Actually it was a bit cloudy so we couldn't see as much as we might have, but we did see a few cool things. I'm not sure I could tell you exactly what they were though.... The star Vega, a doughnut-shaped (that was the technical term, honestly!) collection of stars (?) and some lovely sparkly thing, among others.

K was a bit scared when the huge telescope moved around, but overall he really enjoyed it. And T? He fell asleep in the car on the way there and stayed asleep the whole time, despite being moved into the pushchair and dragged up stairs. Before leaving we changed his nappy, brushed his teeth and put his pyjamas on, all with T in a half-asleep state, and then he slept again on the way back! K also got ready for bed before we left the observatory and then fell asleep in the car, so that all we had to do at the hotel was carry two sleeping little boys into bed.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The World's Smallest Paddling Pool

Everyone got a lot wetter after that...