The Funniest & Muddiest Day of My Life

Let me just go ahead and say there’s no way I’m going to completely do justice to the day I had Monday, but I will give it the ole’ college try, nonetheless.

It all started several weeks ago when my friend Katherine sent me an email asking me if I wanted to attend the Warabi Naked Matsuri.  Honestly, I really didn’t need to click the link she sent ~ I mean, it’s some adventure in Japan and it had the word naked in it ~ how could I say no?!!!

Warabi Naked Matsuri is a Shinto Festival that has taken place in this town for more than 700 years.  It’s very official, with security and registration!


It begins up on a hill at the Shinto shrine with the “hardy men” dressed in loincloths and bright pink head cloths.  They each carry the babies born in the town in the past year, and the Shinto priests give them a blessing and a few stalks are placed in the head cloths of the men.


The men then walk the babies down the hill to a sacred muddy rice paddy and put a pinch of mud on the infants’ faces to protect the babies from harm.


They return up to the shrine and back to the mud paddy a total of three times.


After the babies are returned to their mothers, the Festival really gets started!

The men all ran down the hill, chanting prayers for a good harvest in the coming year.


And this is where I should pause to talk about the temperature.

It was really darn cold, folks.  Not cold-‘cuz-you’re-in-a-loincloth-kinda-cold, but rather cold like you’re standing around in freezing mud, tossing inch-thick sheets of ice out of the way cold.  That, my friends, is the very definition of a “hardy man!”


And then came the mud wrestling!  The men participate in wrestling battles, known as kibasen where teams of three men hold a fourth on their shoulders and they try to knock over the other teams.  And then it pretty much turns into a free for all!



The men then climb out of the rice paddy, run back up to the shrine, warm themselves by the bonfire, drink sake and apparently eat what seemed to be Big Macs.  I kid you not.


And repeat.  Over and over again.

After watching the rice paddy action twice, four of us decided to check out what was happening back up at the shrine at the top of the hill.


For starters, you should understand we were the only non-Japanese at this Festival.  We were greeted warmly and clearly a bit of a novelty as this wasn’t a particularly large festival as they tend to go, and we were a good hour outside of Tokyo.

 So every time the men ran back and forth, we got swipes of mud on our face {which we later learned was for good luck!}.  We found this absolutely hilarious.


And the more we laughed and the more sake the men had, the muddier and funnier it became.  We cheered them on each time they passed, and they started cheering each time they saw us.


At this point, I had mud being rubbed in my hair.  Clearly, I have been blessed with much luck for the coming year!

And the Japanese photographers couldn’t get enough of watching and shooting our interaction.  We joked that this was our “paparazzi moment” as we literally watched hundreds of people taking our pictures, just inches from our faces.  I’m not exaggerating.


It went on like this for an hour or more.  Us laughing so hard we forgot how cold we were, we didn’t care how dirty we were, and we completely forgot that no one had seen a bathroom for hours.

It’s good to be a grown up and still be completely silly for a day.

And I’m pretty sure my new standard for awesome is two festivals in one week!

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Gallery of the River!

It’s good to be an open book.

I’m not coy or secretive or shy.  As a result, my friends know my stuff.

Sometimes that really  works to my advantage.

Like when my friend Aimee finds out about a fairly obscure festival called Some No Komidi and invites Big Cutie and me to join her and her daughter for the day!

You know the story of my life in Japan: If there’s a crafting workshop, we will find it!

And so the four of us headed to the Nakai Ochiai neighborhood, which is known as the “City of the Dyed.”  Since the early Showa Period, Nakai has boasted more than 300 small dyeing factories and numerous artisans, specially skilled in the art of hand-painting kimono and noren.  The highlight of the weekend is the “Gallery of the River” where silk panels in the six design styles are stretched across the river like beautiful flags.

See if you can find all six designs in the photos:

Kata-zome: dyeing with hand-cut paper stencils

*Edo-komon: dyed with finely detailed paper stencil

*Bingata: Stencil dyeing, colored by hand {from Okinawa, originally)

*Yuzen: Painted free hand and dyed many colors

*Shibori: Tie-dyed style

*Kusaki: Dyeing with natural colors made from various plants







I’ve painted on silk before and it’s incredible difficult.  The stencil work in particular was amazing, from the minuscule to the bold.  I can’t decide which impressed me more ~ the crispness of print or the boldness of dye!


The noren were on display as a “Gallery of the Road” throughout the area.  Many were simply the artist’s vision, but a few were clearly designed with the venue in mind.

This one, for example, is in front of the local dry cleaning shop!


And these Lucky Cats were in front of a sweets shop.


Our last stop was the special “trial” of shibori cloth held at the local elementary school.  Big Cutie and I each chose to make ours in the most beautiful shade of indigo.  We plan to sew them to some white muslin and make throw pillows this summer.  Now that the dye has dried and set, the color is even more gorgeous and you can really see all the nuances to the “rings.”  Such a fun souvenir!


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Covered Bulletin Board

When I shared my little desk area in our new kitchen you may have spied my green zebra bulletin board over the desk.

It had very humble beginnings, but was a super easy project that requires absolutely no crafting ability, whatsoever!

I started with a basic bulletin board, some cotton batting and decorator-weight cotton {you’ll want something significant like this to hold up to the small holes that will be created by your thumbtacks}.  A staple gun would be best, but I didn’t have one on hand and there are no Home Depots in Tokyo for an easily bought cheap one, so my regular desk top one worked in a pinch.


I first ironed my fabric and placed it face down, and then put the batting on top of it and added the bulletin board on top of that.  When you cut down your batting and fabric, be sure to leave a generous amount of excess on all four sides.


I start with opposite sides at one time.  Pull the two layers of batting and fabric together and staple to the backside of the bulletin board.  It’s best to start with a quick staple in the center and each side and then turn your board around and do the same thing with the opposite side.  This will keep your fabric pulled evenly, which is especially important if you’re working with a graphic pattern that has any kind of direction so you do not end up with crooked fabric.


Corners are the trickiest part.  I folded them in like wrapping the ends of a present, but ultimately what you really care about is that it looks as flat and neat as possible on the outside edge.

cornerWhen you finish all your stapling, go back with sharp scissors and trim away the excess fabric from the back to reduce bulk {you won’t want to work with this project with the fabric this short at the beginning as it’s too hard to pull taut}.


At this point, your bulletin board looks like this.


It’s totally up to you if you wish to hang it like this or add some sort of embellishment.  There are many options that range from the more complex like a French bulletin board treatment or a Greek key trim to the simple like I ended up doing.

I bought coordinating twill trim and with my hot glue gun, attached it to the edge as a border {I felt alongside as I glued for the wooden edge to the bulletin board as my guide to keep a straight line}.  I folded the corners in on themselves and added a drop of glue to each layer.  I discovered it was easiest to start and end on one of the straightaways and not on the corners as that added too much bulk.


And here’s the finished product!


{Do you spy my holiday card from the First Family?  We’re super tight and all.  I bet the First Lady is constantly sitting at dinner telling the President all about that blog she reads of the family over in Tokyo doing crafty DIY projects! ;-) }

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My Favorite Room

I’ve mentioned there were a few things that made moving to a new apartment especially enticing for us, but the kitchen is far and away tops on the list.

In our old apartment I really didn’t have room to bake, which I love to do.  It was particularly dark from a lack of windows, and there was barely room to squeeze a little table and two stools.  I don’t mind that we live in less space overall here in Japan, but it was frustrating to cook a meal and run out of places to put all your pots and pans and still need space for a cutting board!

So imagine me going weak in the knees when I walked in and saw this beauty!


The light!  The counters!  The cabinet space!

I had to close my mouth and make sure I wasn’t drooling.  I’m quite certain it’s a better kitchen than we’ve had in many of the houses we’ve owned.

And it gets better ~ the cabinets continue past the microwave and include a wine fridge {which we’ve discovered seems to encourage us to drink wine much more than we used to ~ funny how that works out!}


But wait, there’s more {no, I’m not trying to sell you Ginzu knives}!

The island includes pull out drawers with fabulous deep storage for all my serving bowls and big casserole dishes.  Additionally, there are outlets at both ends of the island which is extra-exciting to us since our last kitchen had exactly one outlet in the entire room!


Here’s a closeup of how perfect my fish kashigata molds look up on the hood.  I love the contrast of the vintage wood with the sleek and modern!


Between the kitchen and the hallway back to our bedrooms sits our laundry room.  It’s a much less onerous location than next to my refrigerator, and I’m in heaven having full-sized machines again.


But the very best part?

That’s my little desk area.  I love having a place for my laptop, household binders, bulletin board, etc. that’s right in the heart of where our family lives.


And for the record, I’m pretty sure the rental furniture delivery guys hadn’t even made it out of the elevator before I’d fired up my Silhouette and created my vinyl monogram for the ghost chair!


Gotta run ~ I’m loving being in my kitchen so much I’m going to prep tomorrow night’s dinner tonight.  I’m trying Robert DeNiro’s miso black cod from Nobu.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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In the Mood for Love {or at Least a Good Sugar Buzz!}

I can never decide which is a tougher day for elementary school teachers: the day after Halloween or Valentine’s Day.  Both involve way too much sugar, but Valentine’s Day includes the added pressure of having to choose the *perfect* card for your classmates.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated here in Japan, but unfortunately there are no ready-made boxed cards available to buy.  This presented a bit of a crisis last year, so at the end of the summer, The Cuties and I scoured Pinterest for ideas so we could bring back the necessary supplies for something fun this year.

Little Cutie chose this fun idea from Thompson and Spring.  It was a piece of cake to set this up as a Word document and cut it with my paper-cutter.  I then cut slits on either side, and we slid the rulers through.  It holds the card stock firmly enough that it won’t slide off, but can easily be pulled off so the kids can use the rulers.


This is Big Cutie’s last year to pass out valentines to her class.  She sweet-talked me into letting her pass out candy for the first time when she fell in love with this idea from I Heart Nap Time.  We downloaded the printable, cut them out, and she signed each of them.  Add a few mini-Swedish fish in a clear bag, and a bow and they are ready to pass out tomorrow!


And me?  I only pass out valentines to The Cuties and my husband, so mine are all ready to go, too!  I’m very excited about what I found for each of the girls, and I’m thinking my guy will probably have a good idea of what’s in his bag since I’ve given him the same thing every single Valentine’s Day for 19 years now! ;-)


{did you catch that I found yet another use for washi tape?!}

And in case all that chocolate that will be passed out tomorrow isn’t enough sugar, I plan to contribute a little more and am sending in dozens of these to school tomorrow!


Hope you spend Valentine’s Day with people you love!

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A Place to Play!

I’ve always thought the most important thing in a living space isn’t the amount of your square footage, but rather the right space for your lifestyle.

That being said, our previous Japan apartment was spacious, but lacked an important feature for a family with two girls: a place to play.  In fact, this photo highlights the issue clearly ~ the only place The Cuties could spread out with legos, dolls or board games is behind the sofa, which just happens to be the first thing you saw when you walked into our apartment.  As a result, it wasn’t terribly conducive to three-day Monopoly tournaments or building a city out of construction paper for Squinkies.


In the new apartment we have a designated PLAYROOM!  I’m not sure who is more excited, me or The Cuties!  Our “futon” now lives there as a sofa to hang out on {I put futon in quotation marks since it’s an IKEA futon and not a true Japanese one}.


We moved a television in there and hooked up the Wii and a DVD player.  We also hung the felt Nerf target I made in a place where kids can have fun, but it’s no longer hanging in my hallway where everyone who enters can see it.


I moved all the toys out of The Cuties’ bedrooms and took the board games off the living room shelves and stashed them in the built-in shelves and cabinets.  The American Girl dolls had been stashed away in each of The Cuties’ closets for lack of anywhere else to store them.  Now that they are front and center on the shelves, they are back to being played with on a very regular basis.



I love that there’s room in this space for my two J.C. Phillips paintings.  She’s a friend of mine who is a fabulous artist and extraordinarily clever children’s book author.  If you haven’t read Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed or the sequel, Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Nap, you should run right out and buy them!  She also has a new book coming out in March that you can pre-order on Amazon, called Monkey Ono.  We will be sure to stop by the bookstore as soon as we land in America this summer to check it out!


There are frosted sliding doors to this room, so it can double as a guest room when we have visitors, as well.

But on a day to day basis, what those doors really mean are that I can close them when creative play is happening and The Cuties want to leave their games or inventions until the next day, and no one has to step over it or see it first thing!

How awesome is that.

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Big Cutie’s Room

There are no hidden cameras in my apartment.

I know this for a fact, because if there were, the footage of me repeatedly falling off the bed while attempting to re-hang the  Chihuly-esque collage in Big Cutie’s ceiling would have gone viral by now, and you’d be wiping away tears of laughter.

At me, not with me.

I felt like I was in a Three Stooges movie.  Climb up ladder.  Hang lantern.  Fall off ladder onto bed.  Have lantern fall on head.  Climb up ladder to re-hang lantern.  Fall off ladder again.  And repeat.  At some point you would think I might have realized my slippers were the issue.  Not so much, apparently.


In the end, they look good, Big Cutie is happy and no concussions were incurred.  Really, as a Mom, that’s all I’m hoping for at the end of each and every day.

We’re now going on about Year Seven with these monogrammed pillows, which is pretty impressive, if you ask me!  The boudoir-sized one came from L & M Monogramming when we lived in Charlotte {great inventory and terrific customer service ~ I highly recommend them!} and the bolster is from Pottery Barn Kids.  The two-tone bird pillow and bedding were last-minute purchases from Target when we packed to move to Japan and realized Big Cutie’s double bed would not fit, and we needed to find twin bedding that could work with all her lavender accessories from her old room.  Not bad, right?


We moved the ragamuffin garland she and I made together from The Nester above her bed {another safe decor item in an earthquake-prone country!}, and she organized a bulletin board of photos and mementos from the year for over her desk.


My favorite new find for the room are the bejeweled curtain tie-backs I found at Franc Franc, here in Tokyo.  Big Cutie pointed out the little smiley faces in the hardware to me. Do you spy them?


This weekend I hope to finish Little Cutie’s room.  Thankfully it requires no acrobatics, although if you follow me on Facebook, you may have read about my wish to hang a disco ball from the center of her ceiling.  Since I can’t screw a cup hook into a stud here in Japan and it’s too heavy for a 3M hook, I’m hoping for suggestions.  If there ever was a child who truly needed a sparkly disco ball hanging from her bedroom, its Little Cutie.

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