Is Thanksgiving Really Two Weeks Away? 2

CIMG1550It’s been way too long since I wrote an entry and I have plenty excuses that I will not bore you with.  I seriously can’t believe Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday.  When we last left off, the girls and I had arrived home from Hawaii and the boys had won their first championship in 26 years.  We didn’t waste any time getting back into the groove after vacation and a few days after getting back I went on an all day hike up and down Mt. Mitake.  It took us a few hours, three trains and a funicular to get to the point on the mountain where we would begin our climb (actually descent).  We spent almost 45 minutes going down at least a thousand root-like steps but were rewarded with a magnificent rock garden path that wound around the mountain for at least another hour.  At the top, there is a beautiful shrine and small ryokans (japanese inns with onsen hot spring baths) that were initially built to house the Japanese who came to the shrine on a religious pilgrimage.  It seemed like a wonderful place to stay but we hiked back down and returned to Tokyo by 7:30 at night.  It was a perfect day.  The girls and I had an opportunity to make our own personal chopsticks out of old baseball bats used by professional players in the Japanese league.  First we were tested on our use of chopsticks (which we were all using incorrectly) and then we cut and sanded our wood and painted our designs.  The ohashi as they are called were taken back to the factory where they will be dipped in lacquer and then returned to us.  I am very excited to carry them around and impress the Japanese when I whip them out when we go for ramen and soba.  Halloween came to Tokyo in a big way in Minato-Ku (the gaigin ghetto and basically the only place to trick or treat) and the girls dressed up and went trick or treating with friends in the neighborhood.  Annie wanted to be an M&M and the costume didn’t exist in Tokyo so I made it from felt with velcro and I sewed the thing myself!  After four kids, it was the first costume I actually made myself.  Pathetic?  Maybe just a little.   Our friends Mona and Gordon threw an over the top Halloween party that caused the police to come twice.  The house was decorated like a movie set and the food was beyond good.  I dressed up as Amy Winehouse and won best costume.  I got a really cute blow up doll as my prize.  For Tom’s birthday I made reservations at the Hyatt Resort in Hakone for a quick overnight.  We left the kids in Tokyo (by themselves!) and took off.  Hakone is a hot springs area where you can see smoke rising around every curve of the mountainous region.  The hotel was what you would envision a Japanese hotel to look like; very zen, very beautiful and very simple (but it was luxurious too).  There was a large fire pit in the lobby with comfy chairs and we got to wear our yukata (robes) with an over yukata (not sure what these are called) in the lobby, at dinner, basically everywhere we went.  It was fabulous.  When we checked in, it was dark and we couldn’t see the view but in the morning we pulled the shades back and the mountains were in our bedroom.  The day was amazing.  We started at the open air museum (the picture above was taken there) and then went to the ropeway which took us to the top of the rim of a volcano where the views of Mt. Fuji and lake Ashi were stunning.  We made the mandatory shrine stop at Hakone Shrine  – there is a beautiful red torii gate in the lake and then had an excellent Italian lunch by the lake.  We made it back in time to have dinner with the kids.  They survived without us and we are going to make sure to do more overnight trips.  They are so invigorating.  The Friday night before the last home football game, my friend Libby and I cooked a ton of food and invited the entire Varsity Football Team over for pasta night.  We went through three huge lasagnas, 6 pounds of ziti, 55 meatballs, 6 garlic breads, 2 huge caesar salads, 60 cupcakes and at least as many oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  We were able to sit everyone around one big long table and it was a really fun night.  It was nice to finally meet the boys without their helmets on!  After the dinner, Tom referred many many boxing matches (of course Hayden has two sets of gloves he bought in Thailand) and the place got pretty rowdy as you can imagine but no one called the police so that was good.  I’ve been busy leading tours for the American club too.  The first tour I led was to the Mashiko Pottery festival about a 2.5 hour bus trip outside of Tokyo.  There were over 100 potters – totally cool, hip, Japanese women and men who would have been at home in a surf shop if they weren’t potting.  I bought a few treasures and thoroughly enjoyed the day.  The next trip was an overnight to Mikimoto Pearl Island, the wedded rocks and Ise Shrine.  This area is several hours away from Tokyo and is reached via bullet train and local train.  We went to the pearl island where Mikimoto started his cultured pearl business with the amah divers.  These are old women dressed in white linen dresses and hats who dive for pearls and collect them in wooden buckets that float on the water.  Its a pretty crazy thing to watch (check it out on youtube).  We then went to see the Wedded Rocks which are a pair of rocks located by the shore (one is large, the other small) that the Japanese believe represent husband and wife and were the birth of all the islands of Japan.  They are tied together with a thick rope and there is a shrine on land called the Frog Shrine.  We stayed at a Thalasso Therapy resort right on the ocean and had a fabulous french meal.  The next day we had a menu of treatments to choose from, all involving water in some way.  It was so relaxing.  A train ride away in Ise we visited Ise Shrine – the most sacred of all Shinto Shrines in Japan.  Every 20 years, they take down the old shrine and build an identical one right next to it.  People say it is to keep the skill set of the craftsman alive.  We came at a great time as the new one was almost finished and the old one was yet to be destroyed.  It was a lot of see and do in 36 hours but it was fantastic.  Last night I led a yakatabune tour (the japanese junk boat I rented last spring with my friends).  It was a great night – 65 and no wind in Tokyo on November 14th.  You can’t ask for better weather than that.  And then today, to finish off the blog, Tom and I spent the day at Meiji Shrine to watch the 3-5-7 festival.  Each year on this day, the Japanese dress up their children in formal kimono who have turned three, five and seven during the year and bring them to their local shrine to pray for a good life.  Meiji is a very famous shrine and it just happens to be very close to where we live.  We got some great photos and enjoyed another balmy 65 degree fall day.  We’ll be 24 in total for Thanksgiving on the 26th.  I am so happy to have my family all together this year.

Thanksgiving Tokyo Style 1

dsc02131The last time we lived in Tokyo, Thanksgiving was the hardest holiday for me to celebrate away from home.  I worked then, didn’t have the day off, and to the rest of Japan it was just another day of the week.  All I could think about was what everyone was doing at home.  I pictured my family getting up early to cook and watching the parade while drinking hot chocolate.  There were never any issues, everyone always got along and no one drank too much and said things no one really wanted to hear.   Basically, everyone was together and happy back home in the states and my small family and I were alone and miserable.  This time around, I started planning early hoping that the amount of effort put in would pay off in the end.   The first people I invited were Kyoko and Michael and their daughter Kyla – friends of ours from the last time we lived here.  Next on the list were Isa and Cliff, friends of my Mom and Mark (and now our friends).  And then i couldn’t figure out who to invite next.  So the list kind of stayed that way for at least a month.  Then, while researching an article I am writing about the 60th Anniversary of the Tokyo American Club Womens’ Group, I came across an article written in the 1970’s about American families living in Tokyo, hosting US soldiers stationed at the nearby base for Thanksgiving Dinner.  The light went on.  I would invite soldiers.  I called the President’s office at the club and inquired about the program.  “Oh yes, I remember, we used to do that a long time ago.  That was when there was a big USO presence in Tokyo but they really don’t exist anymore.  That program hasn’t been in place for years.”  Ok, a slight drawback but I was determined to find some soldiers who would enjoy my Thanksgiving Dinner.  Next, I decided to send an email to the Athletic Director of Hayden’s School (The American School in Japan).  Hayden had played football against 5 different bases and I thought he would have a few contacts.  I received the following email response “this is very generous of you. I have copied this e-mail to two colleagues at Yokota air base and Zama army base. I hope they can get back to you with any contact person at their base.”  I waited patiently but heard nothing.  And then, at least three weeks after I started my search, I received a phone call from the Tokyo American Club President’s secretary.  She excitedly explained that they had a call that day from a soldier from Camp Zama asking us if we still did the program where they connected American families with active duty soldiers to share Thanksgiving Dinner.  And that is how I came to find Captain Mark Gross and Sergeant-Major Rick Gonzales.  And as soon as they were added to the invite list, others kept coming until there were 18 of us (12 adults and 6 children).  And our table was full of all our American favorite foods and we laughed and drank and got to know each other better.  Hayden commented on how Captain Gross liked to take out his maps to show everyone where he was stationed and we got to hear the story about how he was wounded last year in Iraq in the neck by bullet fragments (we even got to see the scar)!  Tom made a beautiful toast before we ate about how no matter how anyone at the table feels about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have to support our troops who are fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others.  And how even though we are far from our friends and family, they are far away and in harms way.  One thing I noticed at the end of the evening was how we had 18 people for dinner and there were no issues!  And it wasn’t a fantasy either!!!