Thanksgiving In Japan

This week as Americans across the country are preparing for their regular holiday food-fest of Turkey and all the trimmings, I am not.  Living in Japan has made the completely American holiday a total non-issue for expats.

On Thursday this week, everything will be business-as-usual.  There will be no holiday traffic, no top-of-the-lungs arguments with Aunt Sadie, no debates about canned or whole cranberry sauce, and not even a slap on the wrist as someone picks at the carcass of the bird before it’s served.  Are you seeing a controversial theme in my holiday memories here?

Lest you worry about me, this is not to say that all is lost.

In my little corner of the world, expats do Thanksgiving their own way.  First of all, since Thursday and Friday are both regular work/school days and a big dinner is inconvenient, we do Thanksgiving on Saturday.  One family will play host to five other families.

The food assignments are doled out in a similar fashion to any other family.  I’m bringing appetizers this year, but last year I brought pie.  Whoever is assigned to cranberry sauce gets to decide what type it will be!  The hostess gets the honor of procuring the bird, which is a hefty task.  Luckily there are international supermarkets nearby, because turkey is decidedly not a Japanese item and as such, is not available in Japanese markets.  We’ll have all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie, stuffing, gravy and anything else anyone can think of.  What is great is the mix of traditions.  Everyone tends to request to bring their favorite treasured memory all tied up in the making of the food item.  Most times the hostess acquiesces to the requests.

The family who has the honors this year actually has real, blood-related family visiting from the U.S. so the rest of us will go in and greet this visitor like a long-lost cousin about which we had forgotten.  You see, we have no choice but to be each other’s family.  We are all far from home; we are all far from our comfort zone.  Thanksgiving is not only about the food – but about the combination of food and family.  We are lucky to have each other at this time of year, which I find the hardest of all weeks to be outside of the U.S.

It’s going to be a grand and joyous table for my family this coming Saturday.  And by family, I mean a significant portion of my lovely family of friends, for whom I am grateful.  There is much for which to give thanks.

Happy holiday.


6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving In Japan

  1. What a beautiful post, Aimee… and it gives even more reason for all of us to be Thankful to even have this tradition. It’s bringing you together in solidarity with others across the globe, and those of us here should be thankful that we have the chance to give physical hugs and kisses – and even get into ridiculous arguments – with our loved ones. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Do you guys in your fancy-shmancy gaijin apartments/homes have ovens big enough to make that turkey that you get from Nat’l Azabu or Nissin? I never did — chicken all the way for a Japanese T-giving Aldrich style!!! 😉

  3. Howdy!! .!! Happy Thanksgiving!. !! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and every yr I like to get into the mood-extend the holiday, since it were-by reading “Thanksgiving novels.” Of course, all these stories are mostly about family, about coming together to heal old hurts and giving them thanks for the gift of love. . -=
    Think You’re Better Off These days Than You Were six Years Ago?

  4. Aimee:

    I am in Tokyo on business for a month – ending Dec 4 and missing Thanksgiving with my young family for the first time.

    I found your blog post from last year and it all sounded familiar.

    Back in 1991 and ’92, when I was single and working in Prague, I celebrated two of the most enjoyable Thanksgivings ever with ex-pats and locals pulling a meal of consequence together in the most unlikely of kitchens.

    Once we found the frozen turkey – and that took a little doing – we had to cook it down the street at Tim Byrne’s apartment because my really cool attic loft only had a burner – located in the tiniest of bathrooms – which also enabled us to store the untraditional side dishes in the bathtub as the 12 guests arrived.

    Tim, who had just arrived and was not allowed to have guests in his short term rental still played a critical role by reaching his mother in Kittery Maine to ask about a few key tricks he recalled from their large Thanksgiving Day meals with his six siblings and many hangers on. Back then, an international phone call was a big deal, so we knew we had lucked out when he reached her.

    Dinnertime – after sharing a few shots of homemade looking vodka brought by the Russian guests. We sat around a table gerry-rigged in some manner such that had anyone moved the wrong way at the wrong time, everything might have ended up on the floor.

    It was indeed a spirited gathering full of friendship, a new set of instant traditional foods (a ham and pea salad – Czech style, I recall) and, in the end, a pretty nicely cooked turkey, thanks to Ruth Byrne’s wise suggestions about using aluminum foil to keep the bird moist.

    Now I am 53, here in Tokyo (Sengen-jaya) for my sixth – and longest visit – doing training at a company – and wondering if you might know of any non-commercial gatherings tomorrow, or at least not the big hotel kind, open to a wayward, responsible stranger from Portland Oregon.



    • Hi David – welcome to Tokyo. I loved reading your story and I definitely relate to the ad-hoc adventure of it all. I wish I knew of a Thanksgiving day gathering for you. Good luck and enjoy your last days in Tokyo. You sure have had wonderful weather!

  5. Pingback: Do they celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan? « Mom's Basement

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