Novi Japan Festival (Michigan)

This year (2017) was our family’s first year going to the Novi Japan Festival. If you missed it this year, it’s usually held on the first Sunday in October from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Admission to the event is free, but some of the food and attractions are a small fee. You can tell a lot of work goes into making this event possible and enjoyable, and the folks who put forth the effort do a wonderful job!

Some of the events this year included wagashi making (Japanese sweets), origami, chopstick rubberband shooters, two types of tea ceremonies, Taiko drums and other traditional Japanese musical performances, a ball toss game (with candy for a prize) and my children’s favorite: wanage, which is a ring toss game where you get 3-4 rings for $1.00 and try to hit candy with your rings to win it. My kids scored a TON of great Japanese candy. Just be warned: the lines can be quite long at times for this one-but it’s well worth.

There were also a few beautiful kimono on display, which my daughter insisted having her picture next to. So cute! 🙂


There was a large number of Japanese speaking people, so this event is also a great time to try some Japanese speaking practice. And most of the signs had both English and Japanese, so you can put your reading skills to the test as well.

Overall, our family had a great time. The event was just the right length to keep the family entertained, but not burnt out. I was even able to catch up with some of the new friends I made during my Michigan-Shiga Sister State Goodwill trip.

A side note for mamas with special needs or sensory sensitive little ones: The main area was crowded most of the time, which may difficult for some children. The cafeteria area was less quiet and noisy, and a good place for taking a short sensory break.

LOCATION: Novi High School -24062 Taft Road Novi, MI 48375. There was plenty of room for parking (which is free) when we went, and everything was handicap accessible as well. As I mentioned, the event is a bit crowded at times, but everyone was incredibly courteous in the lines and what-not, so I’m sure folks would be accommodating to individuals with wheelchairs, etc.

COST: Admission is free, some of the games and activities were around $1.00, food at food court was between $6 – $7 and the drinks were between $1-$2 (takoyaki, yakisoba, ramune, sushi, water, tea). If your kids don’t Japanese food, you might want to eat before or after the event to avoid meltdowns or food drama. (click HERE for restaurants near Novi High School)


Perhaps we’ll see you at the Novi Japan Festival next year! If so, stop by and say, “konnichiwa!”  😉


Shiga Shar


Saginaw Asian Markets Mother’s Day Haul

Part of my treat for Mother’s Day weekend included a trip to the Asian grocery stores in Saginaw, Asian Market and Far East Market.  These are my happy places.

I like them both equally, so don’t make me pick a favorite. You’re not going to find a lot of English on packages, so sometimes you’ll have to buy things at your own risk. I may not know a lot of Japanese yet, but I know enough to recognize it on the packaging and get a decent idea of what the contents inside. The owners at both places don’t know much English, but seem happy to help if you have any questions.

asian marketFar East Market

In my experience, the folks in both stores are super friendly and helpful. The Far East Market is a bit small and crowded with merchandise, but it’s clean and relatively organized. You’ve really got to visit both stores if you visit. They do share some similar items, but I always find neat things to try (or just look at) at each of them.

On to the goods!

Anpan あんパン

Anpan is a baked sweet bread with sweetened red bean paste (あんこ anko). This popular Japanese treat even has a mascot with a picture book series and anime: Anpanman.


This anpan came shipped in from 168 Asian, which is the largest Asian market in Michigan, located in Madison Heights, MI (Detroit area). I’ve never been there (yet).  I scored this baby at the checkout area of Asian Market. It had no other label on it other than a plastic baked goods bag with 168 Asian written on it red letters. I only knew what it was from drooling over them on the Internet.

The bean paste is lightly sweetened and on the chunky side (which I like), and the bread was a super soft, fluffy dough with a nice sweet eggy flavor. It’s hard to tell from the image, but this baby was just about the size of a side salad plate. Delicious and filling.



Kit Kat  キットカット

I can’t eat American Kit Kat bars since they’ve added PGPR, which gives me migrane-like headaches. I scored the matcha flavor from Asian Mart and the Sakura/Milk Chocolate blend and the Butter Cookie at Far East Market. The Butter Cookie is actually the “bakeable” Kit Kat type, where you toast in the toaster over before eating it.




Bonito Flakes ぼにと

Bonito flakes are made from a dried and smoked type of tuna fish. I’ve never tried it yet, but can’t wait!!!! It’s a savory, smoky, umami packed addition with versatile uses in Japanese cooking.


Vegetables やさい

I bought purple sweet potatoes and baby bok choy. I plan on stir frying the baby bok choy with some tofu and other goodies. I’m thinking of some kind roasting the purple sweet potato with some kind of sweet miso flavored sauce.



Mochi Ice Cream もちアイス


Matcha Flavored Snack Sticks


Baked Rice Crackers


I mostly grabbed this last bag of treats because the packaging was adorable. What can I say, I’m a sucker for kawaii packaging.

If you ever get the chance, you should check out the Asian markets in Saginaw.

Thanks for reading!

Shiga Shar

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it on social media and consider donating a few bucks toward my 2017 Goodwill trip to Shiga through PayPal.

ありがとう // Arigatou // Thank you!




Drinking Beer & Learning Japanese with Nomitalk


I wouldn’t normally advise drinking while learning Japanese, but I think I’ll make an exception for Nomitalk, a new YouTube series for those who enjoy language and libations.

I love the natural feel of the Nomitalk videos, which feature ordinary conversation in ordinary settings with native Japanese speakers. The two videos I watched included a trip to a takoyaki bar and a walk through Yoyogi Park for Hanami. I’d never heard of a takoyaki before and didn’t realize people could sit and openly drink during Hanami. Interesting.

The Nomitalk videos are appropriate for all learning levels since they’re captioned in Japanese, romaji, and English. If you’re in the JLPT N5 learning range like myself, you’ll recognize a lot of the words, and actually be able to understand them since most of the speaking is slower, casual speech.  Perhaps that’s due in part to the alcohol. 🙂

alcohol aliens

If you’re looking for some high-quality edu-tainment, check out Nomitalk. You can find them on:




If you’d like to read more about alcohol and drinking culture in Japan, check out:

Drinking Alcohol in Japan by Tofugu

Drinking Culture in Japan

As for me, I’m not much of a drinker, but I do appreciate a nice craft beer or tasty cocktail once in a great while. I’m pretty curious to see what Japanese beer and alcohol tastes like, and hope to sample a few things during my visit in September.

japan beer


Thanks for reading!

Shiga Shar

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it on social media and consider donating a few bucks toward my 2017 Goodwill trip to Shiga through PayPal.

ありがとう // Arigatou // Thank you!







When an Herbalist Goes Overseas: First Aid Kit

Like any good herbalist, I have multiple kitchen cupboards filled with dried herbs, homemade tinctures, infused oils, and assorted encapsulated herbs for just about any kind of minor medical need you can imagine. Having never traveled much before, let alone outside of the country, I’ve never really thought about what I would take with me for an extended travel first kit using herbs/natural remedies.

My trip is less than 5 months away at this point, but I that the big day is going to be here before I know it. So this morning I sat down and put together my herbal first aid kit for my travels. I’m not sure how well tinctures will travel, so I only included easy to transport items. I have time to make changes if I need to, but I think this is a good kit.

*Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only. As an herbalist, I am not a doctor, nor do I diagnose or treat diseases. Okay? Okay. *

So here’s what I’ve packed (at least so far) and why:

Activated Charcoal: I use this for food poisoning, gastroenteritis, insect bites/stings, and/or other digestive disturbances.

White Willow Bark: An herbal alternative to aspirin: for headaches, minor pain relief, or topically as an astringent for minor injuries.

Papaya Enzymes: Digestive support aid for indigestion, upset stomach, overeating, nausea.

Adrenal Support: I’ll be taking this daily for immune system and nervous system support.

Goldenseal: Used for minor infections (both internally or topically), may also be used to support digestive and immune system health.

Allergy Relief Capsules: In the event of any minor indoor or outdoor allergic reactions.

Also packed: herbal cough drops, calendula salve (natural antibiotic/first aid ointment), bandages, gauze, cotton swabs, tweezers, a butterfly bandage, joint/muscle cream, an alcohol swab, spare lip balm, and a nail clippers.


Whew! I think that’s it. Oh, man. Having one more prepared for my trip feels so great! It’s really starting to sink in that I’m actually going to Japan. Ahhhh!!!!! I’m so excited!!!!!!

Until next time….


Thanks for reading!

Shiga Shar

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it on social media and consider donating a few bucks toward my 2017 Goodwill trip to Shiga through PayPal.

ありがとう // Arigatou // Thank you!





Half a Day on a Plane?! {Why I’m Not Worried about the Long Flight to Japan}

14 hour plane ride (1)

I’ll be 35 this September when I board the plan to Japan. It’s been almost 15 years since I stepped foot on a plane, and that trip was just a couple hour flight to Florida from Detroit, Michigan.

Not only have I not flown in over a decade, I’ve only traveled a few hours away from my small Michigan town a few dozen times throughout these years. And when I did, it was always a half-day or so trip with my husband and kids. Never alone.

But in roughly five months, I’ll be sitting on a 14-ish hour flight with people I don’t know, staying in foreign country for 11 days, four of them living with a Japanese family I’ve never met.

nervous meme


Naturally, I’m a bit nervous.

But mostly, I’m looking forward to it.



My entire life is pretty much devoted to my husband and kids. I honestly can’t remember the last time I got to read, eat, study Japanese, sleep, or just use the bathroom without someone needing something from me.



pantry mom
I feel your pain, Pantry Mom.


Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great life, but after spending the last 15 years nearly non-stop birthing, wiping, cleaning, feeding, teaching, and all the mothering and wife-ing duties in-between, I’m going to enjoy not having to cook, clean, or care for anybody but myself on that half-day flight (and the rest of my trip, for that matter).




I know being away from each other will be difficult, but I also know that opportunities like this don’t always happen a second time around. As nervous as I am, I’m thrilled and thankful to have a chance to pursue this awesome opportunity. The truth is,

There will never be a “convenient” time to pursue your passions or dreams, especially when you’re a mother. 

I know it sounds cliche, but I really think this is going to be a life-changing trip for me. And I hope it inspires my children to enjoy life, be open for new adventures, and embrace opportunities as they arise.


Thanks for reading!

Shiga Shar

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it on social media and consider donating a few bucks toward my 2017 Goodwill trip to Shiga through PayPal.

ありがとう // Arigatou // Thank you!










How to Afford a Trip to Japan When You’re Not Rich

Saving for Japan

I’m not wealthy. Not even a little bit. The main reason our family of seven survives on a modest single income and some babysitting or freelance writing income here and there is a combination of careful budgeting, simple living (cooking from scratch, thrift store shopping, self-sufficiency practices, etc.), and a bit of good luck.

I’m a firm believer that if you want something bad enough, you can and will make it happen. I really really REALLY REEEEEALLY want to go to Japan. Really bad. And I know that my family is not in the position to afford it without some serious planning and dedicated saving.

I understand that my savings ideas and plan may not be the right fight for you, but I thought I’d share my strategy to inspire other average-lower income folks to seek out creative and clever ways to save up for a big trip, vacation, or special thing you want to do this year. Life is short. Start living it!


There are two income tax returns before my Japan trip, and I’m hoping to be able to put aside a nice chunk of change from each one toward my trip. However, self-employment and income taxes can be a tricky thing. So *fingers crossed* for nice returns!


Solid meal planning not only saves money on groceries, it prevents the expense of unnecessary take-out or dining out trips. I’m guessing I can save around $100 each month with tighter meal planning. That’s approximately $1,000 in savings for the year I can put toward my trip.

Normally, I’m a pretty decent meal planner and smart grocery shopper, but I definitely slacked a bit over the last six months or so after losing my father to cancer this summer and losing our beloved family bulldog in the Fall after she got hit by a car. I truly hope this new year is much kinder to our family.

Pinterest is my favorite meal planning tool. I also keep a notebook with 30 tried and true meals (along with a side-dish list) where I pick about a couple weeks worth of meals at a time and shop accordingly.



I hate price matching in the busy check-out lane, so I use the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app (free). All I do is scan my receipt after every shopping trip, and I’m sent the difference in cost on any items offered for less by competitors in the area.

The image above is a screenshot of my account. I would have more total rewrads had I been more diligent about scanning my receipts last year. The $12.28 now available is my savings as of January 1st, though, so yay!!!

You can use coupons along with Savings Catcher program, too. In fact, Wal-Mart will price match coupon items based on their price before the coupons, saving you even more money.



Through random Internet searching for homeschool and personal writing projects, I earn free Amazon gift cards every month from Swagbucks. When I keep up with the daily earning tasks and bonus tasks, I can usually earn around $12 to $20 in Amazing gift cards each month, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up to nearly $200 a year in free easy money.

Swagbucks also has gift cards for Ebay, Walmart, and other places. I personally choose Amazon because I save them up to pay for vitamins, homeschool supplies, birthday gifts for the kids, etc.

Want to earn Swagbucks, too? Join for free and get 150 Swagbucks if you use my referral link:


If I bribe my kids with a cut of the money, I think I can get them to help me set up a yard sale this summer and earn a few hundred bucks. Everybody has stuff laying around they don’t want or need, and a yard sale is a great way to earn extra cash.


A few years ago we signed up for satellite after taking a nearly 3 year hiatus. The contract is up in a couple months, so we’ll be canceling it once again, saving us about $75 a month. I figure I can put aside at least $500 of the saved money toward my Japan trip. What “luxuries” could you cut out (even for just a short period of time) to get what you want?


Any other ideas you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below. 🙂

Shiga Shar

If you enjoyed this post or learned something new, please share it on social media and considering donating a few bucks toward my 2017 Goodwill trip to Shiga through PayPal.   ありがとう, Arigato, Thank you!