Japan Thanksgiving Survival Guide

November 22nd, 2010By Category: Uncategorized

What to do when faced with celebrating Thanksgiving abroad? It’s a quandary I’ve pondered on three occasions. The first was seamless. Flash back to November 1999, and imagine the snow-capped Alps surrounding Grenoble, France, glistening in the background as Turkey Day approached. I was in college, participating in the University of California’s study abroad program. Our UC hosts took care of everything, putting on a grand banquet with all the traditional food with a slightly French flair. When it comes time to celebrate a holiday dedicated to be, France isn’t a bad option.

Two years in Tokyo proved a bit more complex. The fourth Thursday in November is just another workday, virtually indistinguishable from any other Thursday of the year. Depending on the weather, you may not even want to venture away from the friendly confines of home. Depending on the fixtures in apartment, you may not even have the capacity to go all out.

I spent one Tokyo Thanksgiving with my Japanese girlfriend at TGI Friday’s in Shibuya. Looking back, I think it was merely coincidental that we ended up there on Thanksgiving. However, there were clearly groups of other Americans assembling there, content that hamburgers and club sandwiches would be sufficient substitutes. The next year I just skipped it all together.

If you are in Japan, despair not — options do abound. Most of the major international hotels will host some kind of Thanksgiving menu this week. Otherwise, poke around the American or international restaurants in your neighborhood to see what might be on offer.

But the best way to handle Thanksgiving abroad is to get creative. First, keep the true spirit of Thanksgiving in mind, which is essentially to be thankful for all your blessings in life, no matter how modest or extravagant they may be. To prepare your meal, I think there are basically to strategies to follow.

The first is to make an adventure out of recreating an American Thanksgiving. At what lengths will you have to go to procure a turkey and to put stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams, and more on your table? Does your place even have an oven capable of roasting a turkey for a few hours? Mine sure didn’t!

The other option, which could be equally fun, is to add a Japanese flair to your Thanksgiving table. Think about which elements of Japanese cuisine make sense to translate to Thanksgiving. For example, we Americans really only eat turkey twice a year — Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which Japanese dish out there is only served on ultra-special occasions?

Finally, if you’re looking for some inspiration, I suggest “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a 2009 The New Yorker article that recounts Jane Kramer’s efforts to cook Thanksgiving all around the world with all types of ingredients. Your plight won’t be nearly as difficult as what she’s faced.

Author of this article

Mark Hersberger

The “View from the West” column takes a light-hearted examination of all things Japanese through the prism of current events, pop culture, movies, books, and any other Japan-centric content Western audiences may come across. Mark Hersberger is an active Japan commentator and author of the mystery novel Tokyo Lives (see 'Website' link).

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  • along says:

    It is perfectly feasible to make a traditional thanksgiving dinner in Japan. We have done it for years.

  • This is my second year to celebrate Thanksgiving away from the US and from my family. I try to stay away from the tradition, instead a quiet dinner along with a little prayer makes up for everything. But once in a while, I do crave for a turkey. Happy Thanksgiving.