Camp Mama: Japan

Crossposted from Cherry Blossoms The Blog.


Japan week was one of the first Camp Mama themes that came together in my planning sessions, so I was very excited when it finally arrived! Of course, as with every week, it didn’t go exactly according to plan. More than the others, however, it was a week of highs and lows.

Monday: July 4th – Independence Day
No Camp Mama today!

Tuesday: Sushi
This is the reason Camp Mama was later in the summer despite being one of the first I organized: I wanted the kids to feel confident in the kitchen before we learned to make sushi.

Kids with knives: serious business.
With all the fillings on a tray in the middle, having everyone make their own sushi was a breeze.

I needn’t have worried, it was incredibly easy and the kids were absolute pros. Why haven’t I been doing this all along?
Here’s what we did:
Lay out the sheet or nori smooth side down.
Cover all the way to the sides and 3/4 the way up with cooled sushi rice. (Dipping your fingers in water will help you spread the rice without it sticking too much to your hands.) Then place whatever filling you want. We had shredded carrots, slices of yellow pepper, cucumber, imitation crab legs, and avocado, and we piped cream cheese. Roll it up, keeping it tight, and slice the sushi roll. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, dip in soy sauce, and enjoy!

Pay no attention to the kiddie plate I used, the sushi is the focus and it was delicious! And so easy!

Wednesday: Daiso Store and Samurai Museum
While running errands that morning I took the kids to the Daiso store. If you’ve never been, it’s basically a dollar store (everything is $1.50, unless otherwise marked) full of Japanese treasures. We perused every aisle, marvelled at the kawaii-ness of everything, stocked up on origami paper and those puzzle erasers, and picked up a few snacks while I resisted the urge to add to my chopsticks collection.

Psst, baby, don't look now but I think we're being followed!
Psst, baby, don’t look now but I think we’re being followed!
Every single samurai was so unique, I had each boy pick out his favourite.
Every single samurai was so unique, I had each boy pick out his favourite.

Until about a month ago I had no idea that Dallas had a samurai museum (and that it is free!) Sure enough, the Samurai Collection is also called the Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum, it’s located in the St. Ann building in the Harwood District, and it is fabulous. It’s located on the second floor, above a restaurant, and it isn’t big, but it is extremely well organized and meticulously maintained. We spent much more time in there than we would have expected from the square footage and were talking about it for days afterward.

Thursday: so many projects so little time!
With a truncated week and two field trip days, Thursday was my catch-all day.
Activity 1: Origami. Armed with half a dozen instruction books from the library and all the fun origami paper we had purchased, I set all the kids to work at the dining table, making whatever their little hearts desired. We got a lot of ninja throwing stars but also animals and boxes and other treasures as well.

Some of the many, many creations. Samurai hat with candy paper? Metallic ladybug? I love it all.

Activity 2: Suminagashi. Suminagashi is the ancient art of Japanese marbeling (learn more here.)

Use the paintbrush to transfer the ink to the surface of the water. I just loved watching these two work, they were synchronized and so peaceful.

Using special marbeling ink (I purchased mine on Amazon) you delicately dip your paintbrush onto a dish of water, coloring the water. As you add more and more colors the marbelling pattern emerges in the water. When you have achieved the desired effect you place a piece of paper on top of the water and it will absorb the ink. (I watch the bubbles on the back of the paper, when there are lots of bubbles I remove the paper and let it dry.) Sometimes the kids wanted big blobs of color, sometimes they wanted many thin ripples of color. As with many other Japanese arts and crafts, this is a meditative and calm process that requires patience. I noticed an immediate calming effect in the kids who were getting frustrated with their origami when I pulled them aside to paint.

Every one is different, every one is beautiful.

Activity 3: Pentatonic Composition. The black notes on a piano keyboard form the pentatonic scale, a very common sound used by cultures all over the world, including those of East Asia. I encouraged the children to play around with only the black notes to see what sounds they could make. Some went for loud and brash, describing it as a fierce martial arts battle, while others went for whispy, ethereal notes that almost floated off the keyboard like cherry blossoms in the wind.

Can you taste the ginger? Can you taste the lemon? How does the steam feel on your face as you inhale?
Can you taste the ginger? Can you taste the lemon? How does the steam feel on your face as you inhale?

Activity 4: Tea Ceremony. One of the videos we had seen at the Samurai museum was that of a tea ceremony, so I brewed up a pot of lemon ginger and we sat out in the backyard while my friend led us in mindfulness. We took the time to observe the steam rising from the pot, and then from our cups. We smelled the tea and paid attention to the aroma. We listened to the birds, squirrels, and cicadas making music for us. We felt the tea trickle down our throats as we took small sips. As we continued to make our observations and drink our tea the conversation departed from true mindfulness but stayed in the moment and was full of much more peace and observation than is normal for our crew, especially so late in the day. It was beautiful.
Activity 5: Haikus. I love haikus, I really love haikus. So when the boys complained that they had had to do this in school I sweetly told them I didn’t care. My youngest haikued nonsense words and called it a tongue-twister that he made up, and my oldest made two, the first one rhyming and the second in the style of Apollo from Heroes of Olympus (in that the final line was classically, “I am so awesome.”)

My name is [NAME], yo
I play hockey like a pro

This is for my bro

Friday: Crow Collection of Asian Art
That was the plan. I love the Crow and it has been quite some time since the kids and I had gone, I was eager to return.

Art into cards, ready to mail.
Art into cards, ready to mail.

Unfortunately during the night a peaceful protest downtown was interrupted by gunfire and the night turned deadly. By morning the area surrounding the museum was clear but the city was wounded and our hearts were sore, any other museums nearby were closed or scheduled for a late opening. I had a discussion with my children about what had happened while they were sleeping, and left the day up to them. (I stumbled a little, where do you start? but in the end we had a good talk.) They decided it was too soon to venture downtown, while things were still getting cleaned up. We decided instead to turn our suminagashi paintings into cards and mail love to friends and family. What the day needed was love.

What did we eat?
Well sushi, obviously. We also snacked on seaweed — my kids just love that stuff — and rice crackers. We had ramen, we had mochi, huge perpetual hits with my kids. I hadn’t made it to the store to buy pot stickers, but I will plan better next time. I wanted to learn how to cook tempura, but again I didn’t do a good enough job planning ahead for that.

What didn’t we do?
In addition to skipping out on the Crow Collection, I had also thought that we could move our bodies with karate. We were going to watch some anime or Studio Gibli films, but fortunately never got around to watching tv. There were a couple of other ideas, too, but honestly the ambush in Dallas left us a little off-balance and I don’t remember the rest. I admit, I’m a bit lost right now. It’s been a rough week in national news, but when I think of it the national news has been rough for quite a while. I hope I’m doing enough with my own children to teach them kindness, tolerance, patience, and respect for all human life. Maybe our mindfulness activities and studies of other cultures will help.


Previous Camp Mama themes: Greek WeekFranceJunior Chef, and Economics.


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