The year 2004 is the year of the monkey. If you’re someone who doesn’t believe that all the people born in the same year have the same personalities, destiny and propensity for success, then phooey on you! You’ll have no fun in Asia, where much of life is believed to be ruled by factors that are, quite thankfully, beyond our control.
This way, we can accept that we have no control over fate, so we can just sit back, eat bananas, and wait for the powers that be to act. Because there’s no monkeying around with fate.
The first thing you need to do to usher in the new year is get rid of the herds of sheep you collected in 2003, the Year of the Sheep. If they’re live, you can butcher them and take part in various culinary traditions such as eating sheep heads (Iceland-style) and Western-style mutton with mint sauce.
If instead you collected herds of sheep figurines, just throw them into the “nabe” pot and eat them. They’re crunchy and taste like hell, but so does “namako” and it’s said to be good for you.
If you were born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, or are soon to be born in or after January 2004, this is your year. Even though the Chinese zodiac doesn’t technically start until the Chinese New Year, in Japan they just simplify and start it along with the Western calendar.
Those born in the year of the monkey are said to be witty, clever and sociable. They are adaptable and enthusiastic about everything and are highly successful.
If you were born in the year of the monkey but have been unsuccessful, don’t worry, “Even monkeys fall from trees.” The time of the Monkey is from 3:00 p.m. to 4:59 p.m. so perhaps this is the time to take care of any monkey business.
Some people will buy monkeys this year as a pet and I’m sure the pet stores are responding to the demand with their own versions of “Curious George.” While you’re at the pet store, you might also want to buy a horse, because monkeys are said to bring good health and cure diseases in horses.
In the Edo Period, traveling monkey shows visited samurai stables so the horses could watch the monkeys perform!
Since the monkey is part of the Chinese zodiac, he figures prominently in Japanese folktales such as “The Monkey and the Crab” and as a character in the story of the Peach Boy.
As far as what 2004 is going to be like, there are many predictions involving talk about the Pillars of Destiny, the Age of 8, and the Three Penalties, but in a nutshell, or banana peel, what this indicates is that there will be: more fires and explosions this year, more natural disasters, more traveling and travel accidents, and more liver-related diseases. It’s not a good year for wood, so be nice to your furniture.
To celebrate the New Year, you should surround yourself with monkeys. If you just want to see monkeys, 40,000 wild Japanese macaque can be found throughout Japan.
In Nagano at Jigoku-dani onsen you can watch them bathe in the outdoor hot springs. The best time to watch is early in the morning around 8:30. In Kansai, you can see them and even possibly get attacked by them while hiking the Hira-san range. Monkeys also exist on tropical Yakushima, south of Kyushu.
If you’re not up to traveling very far, then you can do what I did: Spend a lot of money at the post office sending packages abroad. They felt so guilty for charging me their outrageous overseas rates that they gave me a pile of post office merchandise such as a monkey figurine, calendar and other monkey memorabilia. I already have enough ingredients for next year’s nabe.