Now What?

June 16 was the last time I posted. That means that a ton of things have happened since that post, including my trip to Japan, which is what I’m going to focus on since that is what this poorly neglected blog is all about. 🙂

The first thing I can tell you is this…..

happiness japan


Have you ever felt like something was missing from your life but you couldn’t quite put your finger on what?

It’s not like I wasn’t happy before my trip, but there was this elusive longing in my heart for something else.

What bothered me most about this feeling was the thought that I might never discover the reason or remedy for this mysterious feeling. I always wondered if I’d just go the rest of my life having this sort of strange lingering insatiable void.

You guys, this is going to sound super cheesy, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it (although, I’m sure you’ve already figured it out by now):

the mystery void was a Japan-shaped hole in my heart.

japan heart



Now What?

“You can’t be in two places at the same time.” Chuck Brooks

I know you can’t be in two places at once, but half my heart is in Shiga, Japan, and the other half is here in Bad Axe, Michigan. It’s a strange feeling to say the least.

If my husband wasn’t in the midst of purchasing the business next door to us, we’d be scheming up how to move our family to Shiga. That’s the honest to goodness truth right there, too. Maybe one day. 🙂

Shiga Shar

The next best thing to being able to live in Shiga is sharing my love for all things Shiga and Japan with my family, friends, and community.

In addition to trying to blog more regularly here, I’m going to be opening up a shop next door to my home, where along with selling secondhand books and vinyl records, I’ll be selling Japanese and Asian-inspired items, hosting hangouts to learn more about Japanese food, arts & crafts, culture, and language.

I plan on posting a few more pics and stories about my time in Japan in upcoming weeks. Until then,

またね!(See you later!)

Shiga Shar



79 Days Until My Japan Trip

79 days left until my Japan trip.

The realty of the trip sank in a bit deeper about 10 days when when I received the itinerary and flight information for the trip in my inbox. The itinerary is incredible. Temples, a ninja village, a sake brewery, shopping, museums, and more.

This is pretty much how I looked after I read through the info.

steve martin cry

No joke.

Next week I’m applying for my passport, which I’m sure will also make me cry.

Part of me is scared something is going to happen and I won’t be able to go. It’s been an insane few weeks personally, and it appears the insanity won’t be ending any time before my trip. I hope that things get a bit more sorted out before I have to leave so my husband and kids will be okay without me for 10 days.

For now, I’m going to do my best to be positive and take one day at a 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!





I also write on this blog HERE.



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!

Dorayaki どら焼き (Sweet Red Bean Pancake Sandwich)

Dorayaki どら焼き

If you’ve ever watched the anime cartoon, Doraemon, you might recall Doraemon’s favorite treat “yummy beans,” which is actually dorayaki.


Dorayaki are sweetened pancakes with anko (a sweetened red bean paste made from adzuki beans) sandwiched between them.  The pancakes are squishy and a bit dense, similar texture to spongecake. And though you might not equate beans with sweet treats, anko tastes a bit like a lightly sweetened pudding or frosting (depending on how well you cook and mash your beans, of course).

In Japanese, dora means “gong,” which is likely how this treat got its name. And yaki in Japanese means “grill” or “to cook over heat.” In some regions of Japan, dorayaki is known as Mikasa, after Mt. Mikasa.

I think they look a bit like an Amish Whoopie Pie.

Amish Whoopie Pies by Thermo Vixens


As usual, my go-to recipe site for Japanese recipes is Just One Cookbook. So please visit Nami’s site to get the full recipe on how to make dorayaki. Her website is beautiful, easy to follow, and full of great Japanese foods.

Because I wasn’t sure where to get adzuki beans where I live in Michigan, I chose Michigan small red beans from our local grocery store. For any Japanese readers, my home region in Michigan is one of the largest produces of dry beans in the United States.


The results:

I LOVE DORAYAKI!!! If you don’t tell your kids that they’re eating beans, they’ll probably try and like it, too.

They’re fun to make and fun to eat, and tasty both warm or chilled in the fridge. Enjoy them with a warm cup of green tea, a cool glass of Royal milk tea, or a cup of coffee.

Before you take a bite, don’t forget to say, Itadakimasu いただきます, which essentially means, “I humbly receive” in Japanese. It’s sort of like saying a power grace before eating food.


Making dorayaki with my kids. A great cooking, math, and culture lesson.


Close up image of my finished dorayki. SO TASTY!

Thanks for reading and……

See you later! またね! (mata ne!)

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. Arigato/Thank you!

Royal Milk Tea ロイヤルミルクティー

Royal Milk Tea

Disclaimer: I’ve never actually had “official” royal milk tea, since Japan (and the surrounding countries) is one of the few places in the world you can drink and buy it. And since Uva tea leaves and Hokkaido milk are not exactly common grocery items here in the US, I’m doing my best to come up with an American-ized version of royal milk tea until I can go over and have the real thing. 🙂

So what is it?

Royal milk tea is the creation of Lipton Japan. It is a blend of tea, milk, and sweetener that is typically served cold, but can also be enjoyed warm. Vending machines and cafes all over Japan serve it, and one of the most popular brands is Tea KADEN Royal milk tea, which I’ve heard is absolutely oishii おいしい (delicious).

Royal Milk Tea ロイヤルミルクティー


3 cups boiling water

1.5 cups milk (whole)

2 T honey (or sugar, if you prefer)

2 Black tea bags (I use Newman’s Royal Black Organic)

2 Darjeeling tea bags


Bring 3 cups water to a boil. Turn off the water, but leave the pot and the burner, and steep the tea bags for six minutes. Remove tea bags and stir in honey and milk. Pour into large mason jar and chill fully before drinking (unless you’d like it warm).

The Verdict

We all really enjoyed the tea, and will definitely make it often. It’s good both warm and cold, but we all prefer it super chilled. It sort of reminds me of a tea-based iced coffee.

If you didn’t care for my version, Nami of Just One Cookbook has another version you can try.


See you later! またね! (mata ne!)

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. Arigato/Thank you!

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), Japan’s “Michigan” Paddleboat

michigan boat
The “Michigan” paddlebaot (image from the go.biwako webiste)


Shiga Prefecture is home to Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa (琵琶湖). The lake takes up about 1/6 of Shiga, Japan, and according to wikitravel, the lake most likely gets its name from the Japanese stringed instrument biwa, which the lake’s shape resembles.

Back when Michigan and Shiga agreed to their sister state relationship back in 1968, an American style paddleboat was given the name “Michigan” to commemorate the newly made ties. Visitors can take a “Michigan Cruise” on the paddleboat, where they can choose from a from 60, 90, or 150 minutes cruise with music, a variety of foods, and an unforgettable tour of Lake Biwa. There’s also a sky deck for the ultimate Lake Biwa viewing experience.

According to the Welcome to Kyoto website, the cost to ride the “Michigan” is 2,000 Yen, which is a little less than $20 USD.  I’m guessing the longer rides cost more than that, but since my Japanese is still poor, I had a difficult time finding that information.

You can click HERE to read about one visitor’s experience, including some nice photographs taken while on the boat.

Lake Biwa is also home to one of the greatest fireworks displays in Japan known as Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai or “the festival of great fireworks,” which happens in early August. Over 10,000 fireworks are shot off during this magnificent pyrotechnic display. You can read more about it HERE.

FYI, hanabi taikai (花火大会)  means fireworks, sometimes a contest involving fireworks.


See you later! またね! (mata ne!)

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. Arigato/Thank you!


Helpful Links: 

Travel Guide of Shiga, Prefecture, Japan:

Colorful Cruising on Japan’s Lake Biwa:

Lake Biwa

The Oldest Sister State Relationship in the U.S.

oldest sister state rltnshp

Last month we decided to start studying Japanese language and culture and as a part of our homeschooling. It only took a few days of practicing the language and exploring the culture for me to fall in madly love with all things Japanese.  I found myself staying up way past my bed-time practicing Japanese, watching tourist videos, and dreaming of one day visiting this far away land.

Since actually going to Japan seemed like a far-fetched desire (especially for a stay-at-home mom with five kids), I scoured the web for any kind of Japan themed trips here in Michigan to satisfy my wanderlust and double as a homeschool field trip.

One of the things I stumbled across during my search was the  Michigan-Shiga Sister State Program website. Up until this point, I had no idea our state had any kinds of connections with Japan. And I certainly didn’t realize that we’d been sister states with Shiga, Japan since 1968, making our partnership the oldest sister state relationship in the United States.

How cool is that?!

The best part of discovering the Michigan-Shiga Sister State Program was finding out about the Goodwill Mission to Shiga, Japan.  Every odd numbered year, residents of Michigan have the opportunity to spend 11 days in Shiga, Japan. Five of those days are spent living with a host family, fully immersed in Japanese culture.

Again, how cool is that?!

I don’t quite know how it’s going to happen just yet, but I’ve got to find a way to go on the next trip. The cost of the 2015 trip (which seems quite reasonable) was around $3,000, which should be about the same cost in 2107. That means I have about a year and a half to come up with a few grand and sharpen my Japanese skills if I want to go to Shiga in 2107.

This blog will serve two purposes:

1) To share my love of Shiga and Japan, including sharing facts, tasty recipes, language learning tips, and more to get you guys just as hooked on Shiga and Japan as I am.

2) To serve as a fundraising platform. For those of you who find this blog helpful and informative, it would be super awesome if you’d consider donating a few bucks (or more if you’re so inclined) toward helping me get to Shiga.


Sayonara  さようなら,

Shiga Shar