Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cultural activities

So every so often we like to go out and do something cultural in this very cultural city. That said, we'd been here over a month before we even went to a single temple. One highlight so far has been the Moon viewing festivals for Jugoya. On the actual Jugoya we went to a local shrine- the Hirano Jinja to see the lanterns, look for the moon through the clouds and listen to some really nice koto music. The kids were pretty good and since it was an outdoor performance as long as they weren't too loud they could wander around while we listened. Our oldest said it was not quite happy music and not quite sad music, but that it made you think of long ago. I don't think I could have said it better myself. The shrine was really beautiful all lit up at night. We also went to the moon viewing in Daikakuji. This lasts for three days so we thought we could see two. It was a very long bike ride from our home to Arashiyama- longer than we expected. But even E was good natured about it. Once there the shrine was really nice and they had some food available in stalls on the grounds- we had some mochi treats. For a fee we could have ridden a boat on the pond while drinking tea. That would have been nice, but not really kid friendly. Again there was some nice music including some classical chamber music. On the way home we saw a film crew at a nearby lake filming a night-time flood scene. I wonder what that was about?
We have also tried Tenjin-san. This is the monthly flea market at Kitano Tenmangu. Getting there early is definitely advisable. The kids enjoyed the matsuri food in the stalls and looking at the interesting wares for sale. They were especially intrigued by the games where you can win toys.
This week there is the Zuiki matsuri (festival) at Kitano Tenmangu. E has been learning about it in school and has even been on a field trip to see them harvesting the zuiki (taro stalks) for the portable shrines. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kid friendly food in Kyoto

Okay, so what to do for food when you have three kids.
Well, you can see what you can make at home with the ingredients from a standard Japanese supermarket, but sometimes kids just want a comfort food from home. Our kids like cereal and while we can't easily get the standards from the west we make do with Japanese ones. The most common kids of cereal are the flake variety. Cisco flakes are available at most grocery stores: regular, frosted, chocolate and more rarely caramel. Look for the big blue box with a cartoon kid and sometimes a dog(and if it doesn't say "BIG" on it then its probably too small). Oatmeal is sometimes nice if your kids like that sort of thing. The best place to get it is the YWCA on Muromachi north of Marutamachi. They also have a small selection of other things like cheeses and whole wheat as well as free trade coffee. Some grocery stores even have Skippy peanut butter. They also have a peanut cream (probably more sugar than peanut, but it tastes good) available in most grocery store by the jams.
Import food stores include Meidi-ya (on Sanjo east of Kawaramachi- a little expensive) Jupiter on the east side of the underground mall below the Kyoto station and Yamaya (there is one on Karasuma just south of Oike- mostly alcohol but some food items and relatively economical). I have also seen one north on Kawaramachi just below Imadegawa, but I haven't been to that one. There is also the "Foreign Buyers Club" a great online ordering service. Here is the URL:

Here is a link to another blog with a bigger list:

and here is another post on deepkyoto about food:

What about going out to eat?
There are always the ubiquitous burger joints like Makudo (MacDonalds) and so forth, but one of our favorite kid treats is Shakeys Pizza, an all-you-can-eat Pizza place on Sanjo where Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping arcades meet. You pay up front and it is REALLY reasonable, especially for kids. You can also make requests- like just plain cheese. Some of the unusual Japanese style pizzas get a chuckle out of the kids, even if they won't try say ... corn squid mayo pizza. Some of the all you can eat Obanzai (Kyoto homestyle cooking) places are decently kid friendly and kids can choose what they want to eat. There is an expensive one underneath the station, but it is really good. A good bargain is the Obanzai place north west of the Oike Karasuma subway station. Go maybe two blocks west on Oike and head north for a block or two. It will be on the right. (It is a little hard to find though.) There is another one (Obanzai Hasegawa) on Sanjo between Teramachi and Karasuma on the south side of the street (to be more precise, between the Museum of Kyoto and the YMCA). We'll try to add more food stuff as we discover it. Please feel free to add anything you discover too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beating the summer heat

By now it seems that the record breaking summer is just about over- Thank goodness! But for those who might be in other nasty Kyoto summers here are some things we found that helped. Of course there are the ubiquitous vending machines, but we wanted something to do to get out of it. Going to the library was nice and air conditioned, there is a decent selection of English childrens books and a few young adult chapter books at the Central Library on Marutamachi just west of Senbon. There are also several "Jidokan" or childrens centers around the city. These offer indoor play areas for kids of all ages, though perhaps younger kids would find them most enjoyable. Look for the ones in your area. The best is the Kodomo miraikan, a block or two south of Marutamachi and a block or two east of Karasuma.
Here is a link and the url:

This is again mostly oriented toward younger kids, but great in both the heat and cold.
Now for the outdoors...
The first thing we did was played in the Kamogawa. This is nice, especially near Demachiyanagi where the river splits. We played a little south from there, but next time would choose to go to the Demachiyanagi area. Our best experience so far was to go play in the river at Kiyotaki. This is clearer and cooler than the Kamogawa and a lot of fun. Take the train- either JR or Randen (a fun experience for kids by itself) to Arashiyama and get on the bus for Kiyotaki just across the street from the Randen station. (The Randen is 200 y for adults and the bus is 220. Elementary kids are half and younger than that are free.) when you get off the bus at Kiyotaki go down the hill until you reach the bridge. Chances are there will be a lot of people playing- find a spot and have fun. This does require you to be close to your kids because it gets deep in places and the stream is pretty fast. The water though is clear and really cool. On the way back we walked downhill from Torii no moto (I think) through the backstreets and into Arashiyama for ice cream. One of the best Gelato places in the world is right there near the Togetsu bridge.
There were other things we wanted to do, but by the time J's thumb healed, most outdoor pools were closed. (Outdoor pools tend to close by the end of August.) There are good public pools in Kameoka and an especially good looking one in Fushimi Minato park. This is not a great site, but will give you an address.
Again, a link and the URL:

Here at least you can see pictures:

Now as I said, we did not visit either of these places, but wanted to. There are a few others too, but those stood out.

Hospitals- what to do

Well, we were only here about a week when we had to take advantage of Japan's nationalized health care. Thank goodness we signed up right away. As soon as we were in the system for the gaijin cards (or alien registration cards) I went back to get a health insurance card (basically the day after we submitted our paperwork). It costs money, but they bill you later so we did nothing up front. What I got was a little booklet with all of our names on it along with a health insurance number. As an added bonus, you can use the health insurance card as ID in many cases and can use it to get a cell phone if you pay your bill with a credit card. Much better than waiting a month for a gaijin card.
After getting the card (they make them while you wait) I went up to the third floor in the ward office and signed up for a special childrens program that will reimburse you if you spend over Y3000 a month in hospital fees and limits the cost per visit for children under 3 to only Y200.
Anyway, only a few days later J cut her finger with a knife as she tried to cut a grapefruit- she is so independent. So, what to do...barely here a week, still nowhere near settled. It wasn't quite enough to call an ambulance, but too much to ride bikes. I was lucky, I called a friend with a car, who called ahead to the nearest hospital. If you speak Japanese, it is nice to call ahead, but not necessary.
For others in this situation, call a cab. As soon as you have a place, memorize your address and how to explain where you are to a cab driver. Have cab numbers handy along with the other emergency numbers (110 and 119), your own phone number and address. Also figure out where the nearest hospitals are and which have emergency rooms. Several hospitals also have English speaking staff- look at the Kyoto International Center website for lists.
Once you are in a hospital you need to show your insurance card and fill out forms. They make a hospital card for you to use in subsequent visits. In our case we got a referral to another bigger hospital (in case there was nerve or tendon damage- thankfully there wasn't). There we had to fill out more paper work and she got about 10 stitches - not fun. When we went back to the hospital for a checkup, we had to make another card for the new hospital because we were there too late to make one the day before. Anyway, once we got the card we could go to the automatic check in machine to check in, go right to the waiting room for the doctor we needed and when we were done we took the paperwork to the checkout desk where we would wait for our number to appear on the screen at which point we would be able to pay at the automatic payment machines. Now this was the case both at the Prefectural Medical School hospital on Kawaramachi just south of Imadegawa and the Second Red Cross hospital near the prefectural office west of the Imperial Palace and just north from Marutamachi.
A word of warning, both of these hospitals will charge you extra if you go there without a referral. For the Prefectural Medical School hospital it is only about Y1500, but for the Red Cross hospital it was over Y5000!!! We did have great luck with an English speaking internal medicine specialist at the Red Cross hospital though. Also- NOTHING is in English, so if you don't speak Japanese go to the front desk and they will probably try to help you through the sometimes labyrinthine process. Anyway, I hope you, dear readers, will not need this information, but it is good to know just in case.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Finding a house

I speak Japanese and that made finding a place much easier in the end, but I looked at English language options first. I looked on Craigslist and Kansai Flea market as well as other classifieds, but most places are in Osaka and most are for smaller places. There were some guest houses as well, but I never considered them seriously. I ended up looking at a few there, but nothing I felt would work for our situation. We could have made some work, but it would have been less than ideal. I expanded my search to Japanese options. One option was the "monthly mansion." These are furnished places rented by the month. They are nice in that you don't need to buy anything, but they are expensive. In the end we decided it was cheaper to go with a regular place even with all the renting costs and buying furniture. Yahoo fudosanya was a good place to look for places to rent but you still need to go through an agent. I recommend that you do your research on agents. The Flat-A agency seemed good and they showed me several places, but a place I found on yahoo fudosanya was held by Choei, so I went to them. It turns out that I might have also been able to have Flat-A show me even something held by other agencies. Choei was helpful, but they charged a good deal more with their various fees. With all the fees it was much more expensive than I expected. I ended up needing about 450,000 yen to get started with the house. Still we are pleased with it and everything worked out in the end.

Kyoto with Kids- Tanjo!

We decided to start this blog because we were looking for something like it before we came and didn't find it. So here goes: We came to Kyoto from the US with three kids: E-9 yrs old, J-5 years old and S-almost 3. This blog will be to document our adventures and misadventures as well as to try to offer some useful information for people who want to do something similarly crazy. Since this is the first post, I'll focus on getting set up. (It'll get a little long.)

We found a house in north Kyoto by the Kitano shrine, signed up for foreigner registration cards, and then for national health insurance. We thought about what to do about school and decided on Japanese public school for the oldest. This was in part a financial decision, the costs of international school were prohibitive, but we also considered home school. Finally we thought that socialization would be best through public school, plus we hoped that he would pick up the language. The other two will be going to a part-time daycare: "ichi-ji hoiku." This should let them go three times a week in the morning. The only problem is that it is dependent on availability.

We furnished the place with stuff mostly from recycle shops. We did get a few things from sayonara sales, but ended finding that decent deals could be found at the recycle shops and they delivered for a reasonable rate. One of our first priorities was to get bikes for everyone. Mom got a decent 3 seater from Eirin, a used bike chain. It is good but has no gears, thinking back it might have been worth it to just spring for a new one with gears, but that would run about 4-50,000 yen. Dad only has one kid seat on a regular used bike also from Eirin- had to get the seat new though. We had hoped to find used kids bikes, but no luck. We ended up getting the two oldest new bikes at Conan, a hardware type store. Bikes gave us the mobility we needed though, as public transportation isn't that convenient in Kyoto. We have used taxis and the subways, but bikes are best. Anyway, that is it for today.