Another Thanksgiving has arrived and this year is the fourth turkey day I have celebrated in Japan. Due to COVID-19, Thanksgiving is very different this year with social distancing, masks, and family gatherings limited for safety. Our 2020 Thanksgiving feast consists of two: Melissa and me. As I sit here with Melissa full of turkey and all of the fixings, my mind wanders back to our first Thanksgiving in Japan. It was 1998 and we were living in Kurashiki just off the Seto Inland Sea. We arrived in August of that same year to teach English and found ourselves socializing with an international group of friends from Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States. This group of friends helped ease the pain of separation from family on holidays, especially Thanksgiving!
As the Japanese summer faded into autumn, the holidays were speeding toward us and we would soon be feeling the heightened pain of family separation. The first holiday we observed was Halloween. People around the globe love to celebrate Halloween, so we hosted a Halloween get-together at our little apartment complete with tacos, beer, and horror movies. I am still not sure how we fit fifteen to twenty people in that little two tatami room apartment, but we did and we had a blast! One holiday down and the very American holiday of Thanksgiving was next.
I’m not sure if the term “Friendsgiving” was used back in 1998, but the idea was certainly not foreign. Our fellow expats, led by our friend Andrew and his wife, organized and executed a Thanksgiving gathering of friends that still stands as the best one Melissa and I have had the pleasure of attending! Andrew lived in a fairly large, very cool Japanese house near Kurashiki and he invited the entire Kurashiki teaching crew to indulge in a Thanksgiving feast. We were all assigned food to bring and he supplied the turkey. Everyone brought food and Anna, our resident sweet treat baker, brought a fantastic cake and pie. The mashed potatoes were overflowing and the corn was sweet. Andrew’s traditional Japanese house was so full of people, food, and drink that he had to open the shoji sliding doors to accommodate the crowd! And when he did, the cool crisp air of Japanese fall wafted in on a view of the changing season. We talked of traditions, drank wine and beer, and played several games. My best friend Doug, myself, and a few others found ourselves near the water engaged in an air gun battle! Thankfully we all had on winter jackets to dull the sting! As Melissa probably stated, “What were you thinking? You could have shot someone’s eye out!”
The food was delicious and the company of friends extraordinary and they made Thanksgiving seem like it had always been an International holiday. There was so much food and laughter that we all forgot that we were far from home and our families. Our Kurashiki “Friendsgiving” was truly a gesture of friendship that I will always remember with a smile and a sense of melancholy of friends truly missed.
© 2020 Gregory Vessar. All Rights Reserved.