A Japanese Thanksgiving

Well, I have lived through my first Thanksgiving in Japan! I really missed my family, of course. I have so many great memories of Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house: chatting with relatives during the before-dinner appetizers, my dad carving the huge, golden-brown turkey, my mom’s perfectly sweet and flaky pecan pie, the after-dinner walk down a quiet country road. Oh, and of course the turkey sandwiches for supper!

However, this year I was able to make some new memories, and I’m really grateful for the friends that I have here, which makes transitioning to a new country so much easier. This year, American Thanksgiving just so happened to fall on the exact same day as Japan’s Labor Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday. So we got the day off! “Labor Thanksgiving Day” here in Japan is not really the same as our Thanksgiving; you can read more about the similarities and differences here, if you want to.

In any case, we Americans decided to take advantage of our day off and create our own Thanksgiving celebration! We invited some of our Japanese friends, and all 20+ of us crowded into our team leader’s three-room apartment.

It was an eclectic dinner, to say the least. No turkey – because they’re not commonly sold here, and our teensy-weensy ovens aren’t very accommodating to roasting large birds. However, one of my teammates did bake a glazed ham that was quite tasty. We also bought Kentucky Fried Chicken from the local KFC joint. We did our best to replicate some American dishes with the ingredients available to us: green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole (almost as good as yours, Aunt Pat!), and stuffing muffins were all on the menu. Oh yes, and we did have cranberry sauce, lovingly transported from America by our training coordinator who was here on a visit! Dessert was apple crisp, cookies and squares, and peanut butter buckeyes, among other things. I definitely missed some of my favorite traditional Thanksgiving food, but I found plenty of delicious new items to satisfy my appetite.

Oh – and just when we thought we were full – one of our Japanese guests decided to pull out her takoyaki maker! She had brought the things to make takoyaki (a baked batter in a ball shape with chunks of octopus in it), but decided not to when she saw all the food. However, her preschool-aged son was upset because we didn’t have any takoyaki, so she decided to make it after all! I’m not a huge takoyaki fan myself, but after she and some of the other guests made the regular octopus balls they ended up making the same dough balls with marshmallow and chocolate instead of the octopus! Kind of like a Japanese s’more…it was delicious!

Here are some photos of the great feast. The star of the show (along with the ham, of course) was good old KFC:

One of our team member’s specialties: stuffing muffins, made with stuffing, dried cranberries, celery, and cheese.

Some sort of smiley sushi (or something), brought by one of our Japanese friends:

Takoyaki in the process of being made. I’d never seen it done before, so I was glad to have the chance to observe it. The batter is poured into the pan, which has special round indentations. One’s choice of fillings are put in as well. Once the batter has cooked on one side, each little ball of dough is flipped over using a thin stick.

My personal favorite – the chocolate and marshmallow balls! I shot a video of this one:

Well, that was my Thanksgiving – not quite like the ones at home, but still a pretty good one. I missed seeing my loved ones, but I am thankful for this new opportunity that God has given me, and for the many wonderful people that I’ve been able to get to know. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Giving Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to write about some things I’m thankful for in both countries that I’ve lived in. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to experience two different countries, I have a heightened appreciation for the things are that unique to each place. So here we go!

Things I’m thankful for in America:

1. Family. Top of the list, hands down. Because family can’t be replaced, no matter where you live!

2. Central heating.  Yes, I have a wall-mounted heater/air conditioner. And a kerosene space heater (which I haven’t pulled out yet because I really don’t like the fumes). But central heating is not as common over here as in the States. There are heaters in my office at work and in the classrooms, but no heat in the hallways. And let me tell you, when I’m washing the windows with a wet rag in an unheated building in the morning…my fingers get COLD.

3. Real ovens.  I had grand visions of baking wonderful American treats (like pies!) for Thanksgiving. But I gave up, partly due to lack of ingredients, and partly because trying to bake for a crowd in an oven the size of a large microwave is a little daunting. Yes, I can bake one pie at a time, but I’d be in the kitchen for a long time!

Things I’m thankful for in Japan:

1. Efficient public transportation. Having come from a state where there is very little public transportation – at least in the area I live – I really appreciate the fact that I can hop on a train to just about anywhere in Japan, and expect a safe, speedy ride that arrives on time.

2. Heated toilet seats. Because if your house can’t be warm, at least your bum can be.

Oh, and deep tubs. I hardly ever take a bath in America, but I actually do sometimes here, because the tubs are deep enough to take a proper bath in. Meaning that I can sit upright and still have the water come up to about chest level. They’ll make a good Japanese bather out of me yet!

3. Japanese food. I feel like I’m always talking about the food that I miss from America. And it’s true, there are several things I really miss, especially as we come upon Thanksgiving. But I’ve also discovered new favorites here that I know I’ll miss when I return to the States. Persimmons (my new favorite fruit!), plates of 100-yen sushi, and daifuku, a wonderful confection of filled mochi (chewy rice dough). Yum…

So, there you have it…a few of the things I’m thankful for this holiday season. What are YOU thankful for??

Don’t Say Kekkou… (Part 2)

Welcome back to part two of our trip to Nikko! After our morning explorations of the shrines and our hot noodle-bowl lunch, we made our way to my favorite part of the trip, the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. The “abyss” is a gorge with a stream flowing through it, and a path has been created beside the gorge so that people can walk along it and enjoy the scenery. It was quiet and peaceful, with very few tourists, and the beauty of the stream was amazing.

Before we got to the stream, there was a row of Jizo, which are a type of Buddhist statue. They are often dressed in red bibs.

We then made our way through the woods along the gorge. There was a gorgeous crystal-clear stream, and this small waterfall:

We explored some of the paths leading away from the gorge as well, and found a cemetery. Some of the monuments were overgrown with lichens:

Next, we visited the Shinkyo Bridge. I heard somewhere, although I don’t know how true it is, that it’s the most photographed bridge in Japan. So what did we do? Why, took pictures of it, of course!

And that’s why they say, “Don’t say kekkou…until you’ve been to Nikko.” (“Kekkou” in Japanese means “satisfied” or “wonderful.”) The ancient architecture, calming nature, and picturesque scenery in Nikko means you haven’t truly lived until you’ve been there. Or so say the people who are trying to persuade you to visit. 🙂 It’s true that it is a beloved tourist spot in Japan, and I saw many foreigners there from all over the world. It was definitely worth at least a day trip. And now, I can say that I’m satisfied!

We headed home in late afternoon, via a local train and then the shinkansen, or bullet train. While we were waiting for our own (not very fast) shinkansen, we saw a couple of the really fast ones go by. I had never actually seen one of the super speedy ones, and I was shocked at how fast they went.  I tried taking a video, and I still don’t think I was able to fully capture the speed. It was a take-your-breath-away type of speed.  Each time one went by, I just stared after it in a state of shock.

Well, that finishes the tale of our trip to Nikko. See you next week!

Don’t Say Kekkou… (Part 1)

Well, I’m finally getting around to posting about my trip to Nikko! One of my teammates and I went there on a day trip in September, but I’ve had so many other things to blog about that I haven’t had the chance to write about it. It’s one of the top tourist spots in Japan, so enjoy the pictures and come along on a virtual trip with me!

Our trip got off to a late start due to an earthquake the previous night. It wasn’t too bad, but apparently it was bad enough that it set the trains back. Our first train was delayed by at least forty minutes, and since we had three trains to take, that means we didn’t roll into Nikko until close to noon. Our first stop was at Toshogu Shrine, the place where Tokugawa Ieyasu (a very important person in Japanese history!) is entombed. This place is very famous, as it actually contains many different historic Shinto and Buddhist buildings tucked into Nikko’s beautiful forest. Here is the area leading up to the shrine:

Written prayers that people tie to branches:

Right outside the gate to the main shrine complex, something that appeared to be a stage was being built. I thought it was an odd place to see such a modern structure. I’m assuming it was temporary, but I have no idea why it was there!

My friend decided to go inside the main complex and have a look around at the famous buildings, which supposedly had some fabulous architecture. I didn’t feel like dishing out the entrance fee, so I decided to explore the surrounding area, which contained many other buildings and things to look at.

The path beside the main shrine complex was very picturesque. For some reason, people had placed many small rocks on a stump and on the stone lamps lining the walkway. I’m assuming it has some religious and/or superstitious significance, but I’m not sure what.

This circular arrangement was behind one of the shrine’s gates. From what I could determine, it appeared that people were supposed to go through and around it a certain number of times for good luck.

After spending a good chunk of time at Toshogu Shrine, we headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch – a noodle bowl containing Nikko’s specialty, dried tofu skins (the off-white stuff on the left-hand side of the dish in the picture below). It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I thought it was tasty.

And so ends today’s portion of our Nikko adventures…come back next week to read about the rest of our explorations in Nikko, as well as why you shouldn’t say “kekkou”!