Ah - 2008 - a year to remember or a year to forget? Markets around the world in turmoil, a US presidential election that had the whole world watching-and talking, more media gaffs by Japan's politicians and public confidence in the government and the Prime Minister as levels below the freezing mark, gasoline prices like a yo-yo, and on & on.
Yet - we are still here - we are alive & well - and we are blessed with family and good friends. Being one who believes in positive thinking I am sure that 2009, the year of the Ox (in the Asian zodiac) will be a better year for all of us (officially, the year of the Ox starts with the Chinese New Year on Jan. 26, 2009 or the year 4707 in the Chinese calendar). According to the zodiac the Ox year is a conservative year - one of traditions and values - not a year to be outrageous. "Slow & Steady." This Ox year should bring stability and growth where patience and diligence pays off. This is a year of harvest - when we reap what we have sown. Take care of business this year, do not let things slide.
2008 started off with the wife-mate sidelined by a bad flu bug she picked up during our trip back to the USA. Good husband that I am (did I see wife-mate sneering over there??), I let her rest undisturbed (yep, I can make my own coffee, thank you!) and her recovery was fairly quick. She was up & about in time to make our annual trek to the neighborhood shrine known as Omiya Hachiman Jingu to get our "ato yaku" done (read more about the yaku barai in the January 2007 write-up - go to the archives if interested). Of course, we also got our fresh lucky arrow for 2008, which we'll return to be consumed in the sacred fire of the shrine when we make our way over there a few days into the new year - and get our new arrow, naturally!
With the wife well enough to get out & about, and a fine warm day, we joined our friends - the Shorts - on a "pilgrimage" to 6 shrines to get our 7 lucky gods. You can read more about this pilgrimage, if interested, in the write-up in the Culture section of this blog (and the reason for the Showcase Baby!).
February through May sped by pretty quickly with work keeping me occupied - good candidates for great clients - the work of a headhunter! Of course, we did manage to get some domestic trips in and in April I took my first visit to Nikko. That's usually one of the major locations that many tourists to Japan want to see so I figured that after a total of 18 years of living in Japan I should get up there & have a look. We made the short drive (only a couple of hours) from Tokyo with our friends, the Hories, and after visiting the ancient shrine we spent a night in an excellent onsen (hot spring spa) on the river.
On the way back we visited the village of the Heike Clan where I found my long lost twin!
Come June we were ready for a trip that I've been thinking about for a long time - a driving trip down the west coast of the USA. Landing in Seattle we drove up to Vancouver where we took the ferry across to Victoria. There, we stayed in a great B&B for a couple of nights, and after taking in the sights of Victoria we took another ferry across to Washington. From there we drove to Olympic National Park where we stayed in the well preserved old lodge at Lake Quinault. I never knew there is a rain forest in the USA, but there definitely is - and we enjoyed hiking around in it for a couple of day, seeing the giants (trees) before making our way down to our first ever visit to Portland where we fortunate to
catch up with old friends, the Gerbers, who we hadn't seen for 38 years. Leaving Portland we made a couple of stops at the wineries for a tasting (and purchase, natch!) of some of Oregon's finest Pinot Noir. Fortunately, the wine made it to San Francisco intact, but for some odd reason it quickly evaporated once we opened the bottles & poured it into our wine glasses.
Heading on south we spent a night in Ashland, OR to see a play at the annual Shakespeare Festival. Up early the next day we made the longest leg of the trip, covering about 570 miles, driving down Highway 1 part of the way to see the redwood forests - oh yeah, those are some really BIG trees too! - before arriving in San Francisco, our "home away from home." After a few days of nice visits with the kids who live there we winged our way to Hawaii to spend a few days on Kaneohe Bay enjoying the hospitality of our friends, the Hories. Leaving wife-mate there I made my way on back to Tokyo while she stayed to enjoy the 4th of July fireworks display that the marine base puts on out on the bay each year.
Both back in Japan we made another trip up to Nikko (catching up on those lost years?) with our good friends the Khoo's, who were visiting from Singapore. We stayed in another great onsen that had once upon a time been an old schoolhouse. The "ookami" (the lady who runs it) had the old schoolhouse torn down, transported, and rebuilt on the river. Known as Honke Banyu, this is a great place to go if you're looking for a nice place to stay, with good food, and some sightseeing to be done. We were fortunate as during our stay there was a story-teller artiste who played the Biwa (Japanese lute) and told the story of "miminashi Hoichi," which you can read about at (Mimi Nashi Hoichi).
September brought a bit of sadness as the Takako's mother passed on at the glorious age of 88. We headed up to Hokkaido for the services and Takako was back there a few weeks later for the 49 day ceremony done in the Buddhist tradition. We'll go back up next year for the one year ceremony and a driving trip around the beautiful countryside of Hokkaido.
In November we were very happy to have our daughters & their families visit us to celebrate Thanksgiving as well as daughter 2's birthday and our granddaughter's birthday. Another onsen trip (did I mention we enjoy onsen?) to Hakone this time to stay in an inn that was built 125 years ago & has a claim to fame in that Sun Yat Sen stayed there many, many years ago.
December and Christmas was different in that it was the first one in many years that we have not spent back in the states with the children & their families. We stayed put in Tokyo this year & had old friends over for a very tasty Christmas turkey (wife-mate is a pretty darned good cook) and a few bottle of wine from the family cellar.
Oh - and lest I forget, I did become the Tokyo ambassador for InterNations. If you are interested in joining this group of internationally minded people let me know & I'll be happy to send you a personal invitation.
As we move on towards 2009 I want to wish you all a very Happy & Prosperous New Year!