Thanksgiving is the first big family holiday to roll around since we’ve been in Japan. For the past few years, we’d hosted family at our house. We’d make too much food and everyone would bring their favorite treats. We’d squeeze ourselves around the dinner table and share what we were thankful for during the year. I figured this would be the first time I’d really miss home.
Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of in-your-face reminders that Thanksgiving was coming. The day sort of snuck up on us and, since we’re a day ahead of Cascadia, social media hadn’t quite lit up with family photos and sweet potato casserole selfies yet.
Japan celebrates Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日 / Kinrō Kansha no Hi) a few days before American Thanksgiving, but it’s a different beast. In the 5th century, it was a way to celebrate the hard work leading to the harvest of grains. After World War II ended, the current holiday was established to mark changes in the post-war constitution related to workers rights.
Still, Thanksgiving Day is an important American tradition and we celebrated as best we could. On the day of, Viktoria invited me to visit her classroom for their Thanksgiving party. The first half of the period was a regular class and it was cool to see her in action. The students were engaged and really connected with her. They didn’t know much about American Thanksgiving, but I didn’t know much about Japan’s Thanksgiving until I Wikipedia’d it five minutes ago.
The second half of the period was dedicated to partying! The class sizes are fairly small and groups of students move between teachers, so two of the classes shared by Viktoria and another teacher, Ramon, joined together for the party. Behind the group, you can see a sneak peek of the spread. It was very non-traditional Thanksgiving food, for sure! A lot of Japanese convenience treats mixed with the items brought by the Americans (apple cobbler, cheese, dinner rolls, macaroni salad…).
The students really seemed to enjoy themselves though. We brought a can of whipped cream for the cobbler, which ended up in nostrils, on the floor, in a dinner roll….
That evening, we had a slightly more traditional Thanksgiving. Vegetarian Thanksgiving doesn’t include turkey. In the past, we’d ask family to bring turkey or ham for everyone else and we’d slice into a Tofurky loaf. It’d become our own little tradition. Alas, those frozen vegetarian comfort foods aren’t readily available in Japan, but I think a new tradition may have been established this year.
The above photo is why I can’t be a food blogger. Staging be darned! It’s time to eat! I made the famous seitan roast from Post Punk Kitchen’s recipe blog. It’s texture comes from vital wheat gluten (the protein from wheat) and a shiitake mushroom and leek stuffing is a little surprise waiting inside. It turned out awesome and was even better the second day.
This year’s dinner was a far more scaled down version than years past, but still included Thanksgiving staples like mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, all made mostly from scratch. A little taste of home for the holidays.