Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Yummy Japanese Desserts

mochiAfter reading Kerry’s post about sampling global treats at Epcot, my mouth started watering for all the delicious sweets I got to try in Japan. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Mochi ~ These little rice paste balls never really impressed me, until I had them freshly made. Check out the way they pound the mochi into these little balls, stuffed with red bean sweet goodness:

2. Printed Cookies ~ The Japanese don’t mess around when it comes to appearance. Everything is displayed so elegantly.

Printed Cookie

3. Shaved Ice ~ Such a great treat on a hot day. And they make them HUGE! Why don’t they do these more in the United States?

Want to read more to make your stomach growl? I have a post about Japanese fast food, but I’ve also written about sweets in posts from trips to other places. China has lots of strange flavor combos and foods that made me say yuck and yum. I also got to have some pretty special meals in Ukraine and cooking class in Turkey. Hungry yet?

Student Guest Post: A Taste of International Cuisine at Epcot

There are lots of ways to have international experiences without leaving the United States. Sixth grader Kerry got to experience global cuisine at Disney’s Epcot Park, where travelers can “visit” many countries all in a single day. Who else has been around the world at Epcot? If you’ve never been, you can get a taste of the experience by reading Kerry’s blog entry below. 

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Map of Epcot’s World Village

I didn’t travel internationally this summer, but I spent two weeks in Florida. I enjoyed Epcot and spent quite a bit of time at each country represented. While visiting, I searched for new foods I had never tried. I tried quite a few and enjoyed sharing with my family.

In the United Kingdom, I tried two types of candy bars and a type of cookie. I liked the Aero candy bar which had a mint airy center. My mom liked the Lion candy bar which had caramel and wafers. Nobody in my family liked the Jaffa Cakes. We all thought the orange filling tasted fake.

We moved onto France and went into the French bakery. It was hard to choose just one item to try as they all looked wonderful. I finally chose something called Tarte Aux Fraises. It was a mini pie with a custard filling and decorated with whip cream and strawberries on top. It was delicious and very filling even with sharing.Strawberry

Cola FlavorI was feeling full at this time so we decided to purchase foods we could take with us to try later. The next country I visited was Japan. I bought a drink that tasted like Coke. The bottle was interesting which is what got my attention in the store. I had to peel the label back and push a marble into the drink with the palm of my hand. Another item I bought in Japan was potato chips that had seaweed on them. I had never tried seaweed before but I liked the chips so much, I would like to try other items with seaweed.

While visiting each country, I was able to watch several performances of music and dance. I have been to Epcot many times before but doing this project really made me appreciate it more and be on the lookout for new experiences that in the past I would just walk by.

~Kerry M.

Student Guest Post: Dancing about Hindu Gods

Today’s guest post comes from soon-to-be sixth grader, Ishan. It reminds me of the story I saw performed in Bali, which was also a Hindu tale. Do you know other cultures that have stories as interesting as this one?

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This summer I went to a Bharata Natyam performance. It was about different forms of VIshnu, one of the Hindu gods.  It was made up of lots of different stories about the forms of Vishnu. Bharata NatyamThe forms are called avatars. My favorite story was the one where Vishnu turned into a person with the body of a human and the head of a lion. A demon-king was praying to Brahma, who is another one of the Hindu gods, that he could be not be killled by an animal or human, at day or at night, inside or outside, on earth or in heaven. His wish was granted and he went around wreaking havoc. His son kept on praying to Vishnu and that made the demon-king angry. His son one day said, “Vishnu is everywhere,” so the demon-king asked, “So Vishnu is in this pillar?” And his son said, “Yes.” So the demon-king punched the pillar, and out jumped the Man-Lion, and fought with him until twilight, and went to the doorstep with him, put him on his thigh, and then killed him.

Bharata Natyam is an ancient classical dance that uses movement of hands, eyes, face, and feet.  It comes from South India.  My sister was in the performance.  She was in another story.

10 weird things that I did not buy in Japan… but could have.

Shops in Japan sell everything under the sun… sometimes even items that made me laugh out loud. These were some of my favorites. And ok, some of them I wish I had bought.

10. Realistic Fake Food Bling

Want a cell phone covered with rice? Sushi earrings? One shop that I visited makes novelty items out of the plastic food items used in Japanese restaurant displays.

Plastic Food Bling9. Finger Sunglasses

I don’t think these offer a lot of sun protection.

Finger Glasses

8. “Will you be a cat?” Face Mask

Give yourself a facial at home with these fun masks. I guess you can also look like a cat while you are pampering yourself. Japanese convenience stores sold all kinds of face masks, with “flavors” like red ginseng, bee venom, apricot, avocado, and snail.

Will you be a cat?

7. Chocolate and Marshmallow Pizza

We passed this sign while not so hungry. Otherwise, I would have stopped. How can you go wrong here?

Chocolate Marshmellow Pizza

6. A Wooden Prayer Plaque Covered in Breasts

These wooden plaques are called “Ema.” Shinto worshippers buy one, write their wish on the wood, and hang it at the shrine. This particular shrine was made to honor women, and apparently the breasts symbolize a healthy childbirth. It was still a little funny to me to see a bunch of fabric breasts at a religious site.

5. Captain Santa Clothing

I never associated Santa Claus with boating, but I guess they make an interesting pairing!

Captain Santa

4. Really High Clogs

I’m not sure why I didn’t want to buy these 6 inch heels in American flag colors, but look! They were discounted from 20,000 yen to 2,000 yen (that’s around $16, on sale from $160). A bargain!

Giant Clogs

3. Trendy Toe Shoes

Speaking of shoes, I also got to check out these funky treads that bring a modern spin to an old Japanese style. That double toe thing is traditional footwear in various parts of Japan. I did get some Hello Kitty socks like this.

Trendy Toe Shoes

2. A Shirt with an Inspirational Tag

In case you can’t read it, it says, “I think fate cannot win the will of adamant. Therefore, I want to enjoy all the trial of life. Anything is possible if you can only change the negative into a positive thinking. And I want to live my life to its maximum where impossible will no longer be an impossible dream to accomplish. Because that is called happiness.” Deep, right? Too bad the shirt cost over $100 USD and it wasn’t that nice really.

Awesome Tag1. Tear of a Forest Girl

Last, but certainly not least, this costume item seems like a winner, right? It’s a “real fake tear.”

Tear of a Forest Girl

Would you have bought any of these things if you were in Japan? Maybe there’s something lost in translation on some of these. In any case, shopping in Japan is a blast even if you don’t buy anything.

Student Guest Post: Meat, Meat, Meat in Brazil

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming (posts from Ms. Krakauer’s trip to Japan) to give you… a guest entry from an incoming 5th grader! Who else can’t wait to hear more about Rebecca’s trip to Brazil?!

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Hi IACS! In June I went on my yearly trip to Brazil to visit my family. During the five-hour drive from the Rio de Janeiro Airport (Galeão Airport) to my grandfather’s house, we stopped by a Brazilian restaurant…

Vacaria ChurrascariaThe restaurant was called the “Vacaria Churrascaria”. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet in the center and waiters walking around with side dishes and big cuts of meat held by big skewers. The air smelled like meats, fish and sausages of all types. Beef sirloin, ribeye, salmon, pork ribs, everything!

MeatThe waiters would walk from table to table offering the food they were holding. If we said we wanted a certain cut of meat, they would cut part of the meat off with a big meat knife into our plates. If we said we wanted any of the delicious side dishes, the waiters would use two spoons as a grabber to transport the food from the bowl into our plates.

First place for me was the meat. But in second place was definitely the all-you-can-eat buffet. It was in the very center of the restaurant and it had the most delicious foods. It was packed with sushi, salads, risottos, ham, sauces and cheeses. Practically anything you wanted to eat with the delicious meat could be found at the buffet.

RebeccaThe restaurant had an indoor garden with a big fish tank at the entrance hall. With our stomachs full of delicious food, my brother Leo and I went to see the fish in the tank. But these weren’t regular goldfish; these were big, multicolored carp. They looked as if somebody had splattered white, black, orange and yellow paint into the fish tank. Leo was scaring away the fish while I was luring them back with my hand.

Overall, it was great to visit Brazil again. I hope I can go back to the Vacaria Restaurant next year and eat some of the good food. I think it was a great opportunity to have some traditional Brazilian food in a Brazilian churrascaria.

~Rebecca S.

A Million of Everything in Kyoto

Hot!For years, I had dreamed of visiting the famous city of Kyoto, which was once the capital of Japan. On this trip, I finally got that chance. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong time of year. It was really, really hot in Kyoto this August. It felt like a million degrees. At one point, it started getting dark, and it felt like it was cooling down a bit. I checked a weather app on my phone and it said “99 degrees Fahrenheit. Feels like 137 degrees.” No wonder we almost melted.

Despite the heat, I really enjoyed Kyoto. In particular, I loved seeing a million of each of these items below. (Ok, well, I didn’t count. But they seemed like a million!)

A Million Bamboo Trees: The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is like no other place I’ve been. I felt very small!

A Million Orange Shrines: At Fushimi Inari Shrine, visitors can walk through thousands of torii gates. These beautiful structures are used in the Shinto religion, and they follow a long trail up a mountain. I didn’t make it to the top (remember, it was a million degrees out), but still enjoyed a short hike.

A Million Paper Cranes: While visiting a little shrine just off a shopping street, I saw many paper cranes! This looks like a million, right?Paper Cranes


A Million Lights: I read online that it’s possible to visit the roof of the Kyoto Train Station. I didn’t know what to expect but followed the signs up escalator after escalator, until we saw this. A huge staircase lit up with images! We even went back the next night to walk the “sky walk.” It was very high up, and the view was impressive.

In the end, I know that I only saw a small fraction of the sights in Kyoto. My Japanese teacher friend, Omi Sensei, went there with her students on a class trip in June, and she brought our friends Tofu San and Flat Hawk. The students took them around and they get credit for all of these wonderful photos:

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So, now I know that I need to go back to Kyoto some day, right? Flat Hawk and Tofu San have been to more Kyoto sights than I have!

Before closing out this post, I want to share something special we saw on our last night in Kyoto. It reminded me of the dancing fountains we saw in Dubai, but these water droplets were lit up in a million colors. Or something like that :)

Wonders Viewed from a Plane

Aquarium at the Duty Free Shop

Aquarium at the Duty Free Shop

Yesterday I arrived home after a long day of travel, with over 20 hours of flight time! You’d think that I’d be an old hat at flying after visiting so many countries. I am used to it, but I still get nervous when we hit turbulence, even though air travel is very safe. I also get SO excited to look out the window, like that time I flew over Greenland. On this trip, I saw some pretty amazing sights from above:

1. The Great Barrier Reef — We had a short layover in Cairns, Australia between Bali and Tokyo, and we were able to see coral through the clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Great Barrier Reef

2. Skyscrapers Amidst Chinese Mountains — Flying home we stopped in Hong Kong, and I was surprised to see so many cities in mainland China surrounded by gorgeous mountains. I didn’t see landscapes like this when I visited Beijing and Shanghai! It looks beautiful!


3. Mount Fuji — I really wanted to climb Mount Fuji on this trip, but for a variety of reasons, we decided not to do it. Then, I hoped to see it from the train back to Tokyo, but it ended up getting too dark too soon. That meant that I was SO excited to literally fly over it when leaving Tokyo. We got an incredible view, which is only sort of clear in this photo:


4. The Arabian Desert — Flying into Dubai on the way to Bali, we got to see this vast desert of the Middle East.


5. Manhattan and Central Park — I live so close to New York City, so it’s not so foreign to me… but I have to admit that it’s pretty impressive to see Central Park and the island of Manhattan from above.

Central Park

Seeing so many of these wonders, it makes me even more in awe of this planet we live on! The journey home was tough, but worth it. I added it up, and I think the whole trip took about 43 hours:

  • 1.5 hours — Train to the airport
  • 2.5 hours — Hanging at Narita Airport near Tokyo
  • 5 hours — Flight to Hong Kong
  • 1.5 hours — Hanging at another airport
  • 16 hours — Flight to New York
  • 1.5 hours — Getting through customs, waiting for bags, finding the way to the rental car booth, etc.
  • 2 hours — Driving home before we realized that we were too tired to drive
  • 10 hours — Relaxing and sleeping at a random hotel in Connecticut, just off the highway
  • 2 hours — More driving
  • 1 hour — Dropping off the rental car at Logan Airport in Boston, and then taking a cab home.

SignSince we passed over lots of time zones between Boston and Tokyo, that 16 hour flight left at 4 pm and landed at 8 pm. Seems kind of magical, right?

We landed in New York City as the sun was setting, and it was truly a beautiful sight:

Sunset NY

Even though I’m home, there’s a lot more from this trip to share. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a bunch more stories, photos, and videos from this journey. Curious how I ended up staying in the same room where the Dalai Lama stayed? Or how I walked through the beams at the tippy top of Kyoto’s main train station? Check back soon for more posts. For now, this traveler has some jet lag to get over.

Instagram SignP.S. If you are a part of the Innovation Academy community and you have your own global adventure to share, please consider submitting a guest post! We’d love to hear from you.

Second Time’s a Charm in Tokyo

It’s very hot and humid in Tokyo. I can’t keep sunscreen on my body because it melts off with sweat. As I walk around outside, I’m always looking for cold treats and shady places to rest (at this spot, mist sprayed down on us from the canopy):

Even though August apparently isn’t the best time for a visit to Japan, I am so grateful to have made it back. Here are a few of the reasons why I love this country:

#1: Fabulous People

Last summer, I met the most generous and kind group of people. Our program, focused on ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) brought us together to talk about how to use classrooms to inspire our planet’s future leaders. Getting to see some of the amazing people I met last summer made the trip worth it already!Lunch

#2: Futuristic Experiences

Where else can you take a boat that looks like a spaceship? I kept thinking we would take off!

As we soared down the river on our mini Tokyo cruise, I loved seeing all the architecture that looks like we entered a time machine to the future. On the left, you can see the Tokyo Skytree, which is one of the tallest towers in the world.

SkyTree Etc.Even the subway stations are modern and funky.Mark City

#3: Food!

I want to order everything! In many restaurants, there are plastic models of all the dishes in the front, so it makes you even more hungry!

#4: Fun Everywhere

Sure, there are lots of busy businessmen and women in Tokyo, but there are also lots of places to have fun. Want to go to the beach? Go to an arcade with an entire floor of claw machines? Get your photo taken in the most trendy, hipster photobooth you can imagine? You can do all that in Tokyo.

#5: Finding Surprises Around Every Corner

It’s easy to get lost in Tokyo. We were lucky to stay in an Air BnB apartment that provided us with a “Pocket Wifi” device. Just stick it in your pocket and get wifi everywhere – very helpful for Google Maps! It’s so fun to explore, because you never know what you will find down any road.

You might even see the Statue of Liberty! A strange sight in Tokyo, but I’ve learned never to be surprised here.

Statue of Liberty

The best part of being back here is feeling how small our world really is. The sunset in Japan is just as beautiful as the sunset on the other side of the planet. SunsetAnd in this day and age, it’s possible to have friends all over the world. Here I am with some of my Japanese friends and three other travelers: Loki, Flat Hawk, and Tofu San. These little guys may seem like toys, but they’ve each traveled the world and served as a symbol for how connected we all really are.

ESD Friends

Kaiseki Cuisine — Small, Beautiful, and Delicious

OutsideWe have arrived in Tokyo and celebrated tonight with an amazing dinner thanks to my old friend Naoki. He and his wonderful wife took us to a traditional Japanese meal — Kaiseki, where there are many small courses, each arranged artistically on the plate. So many different tastes in each bite! It was truly a feast and a great way to kick off our time in Japan. Can you believe that these dishes were part of one meal?

KazuSo oishii (delicious)! This meal was extra special, because it was delivered with an adorable new friend. I am so happy to be here in Japan again. Like Kaiseki, it feels like everything here is thoughtfully done, from the way the subway runs to the way people greet one another on the street. I love exploring this beautiful culture.

Hiking Inside the Crater of Ijen Volcano to See Blue Fire

People say going to Bali is an adventure, but a few days ago, we went on a REAL adventure. We found out that it is possible to hike inside the crater of a volcano on the island of Java, and somehow we decided that this was a good idea. It’s become more popular since there was a National Geographic article that went viral, documenting the volcano’s rare and beautiful blue flames. I was terrified to do this, but it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, we paid one million rupiah per person (about $74) to get this all arranged. The journey was part of the experience, so let me give you a sense of what it was like.

Karoke and SmokeWe were picked up at our hotel at 11 PM, and learned that there would be 7 travelers in our midnight escapade — us, a Swiss family, and a Belgian couple. The driver took us to the ferry to go over to the island of Java, and he got us on the boat and sat with us. For the hour long ride, we were inside a strange room where we could watch a TV playing what appeared to be Indonesian Karaoke. And then we arrived in Java!Harbor in Java

While Java is also part of Indonesia, it is a big island and almost entirely Muslim, whereas Bali is a small tourist-centered island that is mostly Hindu. After getting off the boat, our drivers turned us over to our Javanese guides, Errol and Gede. Java MosqueWe got into two other taxi-ish cars to head to the base of the volcano. At first, we saw lots of billboards, mosques, and urban bustle, but then we were in the countryside, winding through the forest. Those curvy roads went up and up, until my ears popped. We turned off the AC because the air outside got crisper as we went into higher altitudes. When we finally arrived at the trailhead, we got out of the car and it was so so cold. I had only brought two thin long-sleeve shirts. StartI put on both and was shivering. Luckily, we found a little stand by the toilets and for $14 or so, I got a new American knock off hoodie. By 2:30 AM or so, we were ready to hike in the cold and dark. And so we set off.

NightThe hiking wasn’t hard at first, but pretty quickly it got steep. It was a pretty sandy road-like surface, but just a lot of incline. We took our time as we ascended. The Swiss family, who were used to mountains, raced ahead. We had head lamps and flashlights, but we almost didn’t need them, because the moon was full and pretty bright, and our eyes adjusted to the dark. In the distance, we could see the outline of other volcanos against the night sky.

And then we arrived at the top of the Ijen Volcano. In the dark, we couldn’t see everything, but the sight was still incredible. Down in the crater before us, we could see the lights of hundreds of other hikers all around the top and going down.Ridge Upon Arrival in Dark

DangerIt was truly unbelievable. As I peered into the crater, I could see the blue flames and smoke in the distance. All the HikersThe steep rocky trail down was intimidating, but at this point, I was just in so much awe at being in this spectacular place. It felt so powerful to see all the lights of all the other hikers from all over the world, doing this with us. Two of the members of our group decided to stay there, because the way down was rocky and the fumes strong, but the rest of us began the decent into the crater. Gas Mask and Head LampWe put on gas masks that were available for rent from salesmen on the volcano. The smell of sulphur was powerful, and it kind of has a rotten egg smell, in addition to being not great for your lungs. The mask worked pretty well though, and I was so happy to be there. I kept wanting to look up to see the blue flames ahead, the crater edge, and the moon, but I had to watch my feet as I hiked.

Sulfur MaterialsAs we hiked, occasionally we needed to move over for miners carrying giant baskets of sulphur up from the base of the crater. It looked extremely heavy. Our guides told us that they make 3,000 rupiah per kilo, and that they carry huge loads, like 65-80 kilos at a time. If I’m doing my math right, that means they make about $15 per load of 150 pounds. That’s not a lot of money. Sometimes they also sell little sulphur sculptures to tourists like me (I bought a little turtle made of sulphur from this guy):

Sara with Miner

Miner at WorkAt the bottom we could see lots of people, lots of smoke, and giant blue flames.  In addition to all the hikers, we could see the miners working, collecting the sulphur right next to that intense heat. Their job must be so difficult. We were told that say the blue color comes from the sulphur of the volcano burning at very high temperatures, over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine having that job! It was truly an amazing sight, and I couldn’t come close to capturing it on camera.

Here’s a little video of the dark hiking experience, but maybe you can sense my excitement:

Adrenaline flowing, the hike back up to the top of the crater was hard, but felt great, knowing what we had accomplished. And the sun was coming up, so the rewards at the top were huge! Ridge in the LightAs the sun filled the sky, the moon still visible, it was like a black and white picture turning into color. The world came alive, and we were in a stunning place. I could really fully see the crater now, and for the first time, realized that there was water in there! I couldn’t see it before because of all the smoke.

The views were truly beautiful:

Panorama Crater

I was so happy to be in this place, to see something like this that I never dreamed I would see.

Sadly, then it was time to make our descent back. Going down is harder on the knees, but now there was light, so we could look around and see the beautiful views. I had to keep stopping for photos. It just couldn’t believe my eyes.


The light from the sunrise on the other volcano in the distance was so nice, and just then, as we hiked down, we got to see an eruption! The puffs of ash got bigger as we hiked.

First PuffsWe also passed more miners carrying their sulphur down. Some thought it was funny to try to see the tourists attempt to lift their baskets, mostly unsuccessfully. Some guys also carried up carts to wheel the heavy rocks down. The sulphur is a bright yellow color when it’s not heated to ridiculously high temperatures.

By now, it was around 7 in the morning after a missed night of sleep, but the tiredness didn’t kick in until we got back to the car. Hiking down we were still in awe of what we had seen, and seeing the volcano erupting in the distance.

The ride back was sleepy, though our car struggled a bit, and needed to be pushed to get going, which didn’t instill too much confidence. But we made it back to the ferry, and then back to Bali safely.

Back in Bali

It was fun to watch the locals waiting to get off the boat:

And then our motley, tired crew made it off the boat as well, found our drivers, and headed back to our hotels to sleep. With only a short time left in Indonesia, it was then time for some Balinese relaxation. By some weird twist of fate, we managed to get two private villas with private swimming pools for our last two nights in Bali (without spending much money at all).

Since we then needed to travel 24 hours to get to Tokyo, sleep hasn’t been the highlight of this part of the vacation, but it’s been worth it.

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