Finishing up Thanksgiving in Japan

We’re coming to the end of Thanksgiving Weekend in Japan. Although it has been very different from what we were used to in the US, it has been a good weekend.P1060309

We started with a quiet Thanksgiving day. We miss the big dinners with all the family. Here, it was just the two of us spending a quiet day at home. No big turkey and dressing meal, either…but we did go to our favorite sushi restaurant, and had a very tasty Thanksgiving sushi dinner!

Black Friday was also uneventful. We did do some shopping, trying to replace a DVD player that we brought from the US that has now worn out. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to find a “region free” DVD player that will actually play our US DVDs. No luck, so we’ll have to buy one on the next trip to the US.

Saturday, we visited one of our favorite hiking spots, Mt. Takao, about an hour’s train ride from Tamachi station. An associate from work went with us to hike up the mountain. And, we found, a multitude of Japanese residents also had the same idea – the station at Takaosanguchi was packed with people.

Fortunately, most wanted to take the tram to the top of the mountain, and we found the hiking trail not so busy. It was a very nice hike, with a clear view of Mt. Fuji at the top.

Sunday we started the day with a 4-mile run. We intended to run over the Rainbow Bridge, but found when we got to the bridge that the path didn’t open for another hour. Undaunted, we changed our route and had a nice run through the neighborhood around our apartment. Later, we visited Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, a garden in the Bunkyo ward of Tokyo that we hadn’t visited before. Must have been a good choice, as the line to get in was rather long. However, after a few minutes wait, we found a beautiful garden.

Many Momiji trees – Japanese maples. Momiji viewing is a popular activity here in the fall. Vibrant colors this time of year. Also ducks, herons…a wonderful garden in the middle of the city.

Our afternoon ended with some craft beer, and ramen noodles at our favorite ramen shop in Shibuya.

All in all, it was a different kind of Thanksgiving weekend compared to what we would have done in the US. But it was one we found very rewarding.

Thanksgiving in Japan

It’s the “he” part of the blog team, and today we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan.

IMG_1797Well, sort of. Although it’s Thursday, November 23 here, we’re 14 hours ahead of the US…so, actually the US Thanksgiving holiday hasn’t yet begun. However, in Japan, November 23 is an annual national holiday — Labor Thanksgiving. It just so happens that this year, the calendar aligns both holidays on November 23.

Labor Thanksgiving has its roots in centuries-old tradition in Japan. As far back as 660 B.C., this was a celebration of the fall harvest – rituals were held, and people also used the event to reflect on the year’s work.

By 1948, Japan had evolved from an agrarian society to an industrial nation. The holiday shifted more toward recognition of laborers. The modern holiday is also linked to the new Japanese constitution after World War II, which provided a new level of protection for human rights of the workforce.

Today, many businesses are closed on Labor Thanksgiving Day, and it’s common for the Japanese people to gather for a meal with their family. Unlike in the US, the day isn’t focused on a large feast. Instead, people enjoy a normal meal with friends and family.

For us, Thanksgiving is one of those times when we find ourselves missing the United States. For most of our adult lives, Thanksgiving was time when the family gathered and enjoyed a great meal. I think back on all those years and the wonderful times we had…it’s hard not to feel a bit of nostalgic yearning for the good old days.

Although we’ll miss our family gathering for Thanksgiving, we look forward to a trip back to the US in December, to celebrate the holidays and be together with our family again. As for today, my wife and I will likely celebrate Labor Thanksgiving with a delicious meal…of sushi and sake.

Happy (Labor) Thanksgiving?

For the most part, I am really loving this expat life here in Tokyo… the adventure, the travel, and the new experiences. We have done a lot, seen a lot, and learned a lot in these past (almost) two years. This has been — and continues to be — one of the greatest experiences of our lives. But… it can have its difficulties.

This week is Thanksgiving week back home, and everyone there is in the midst of holiday preparations and planning for the family get-together on Thursday. I see photos of food and table decorations, I hear of travel plans and parties… and we will be missing all of that this year.

I am not asking for pity… I knew what I signed up for when we came here. It is a trade-off, and you have to take a bit of the bad with the good. We may not have our big Thanksgiving cooking/eating/food fest, and we won’t be physically together with our family, but we will have our virtual get-togethers via the internet. I can’t cook a turkey here… or even a pumpkin pie (no oven!), but we will manage, and will have a nice meal anyway (sushi, anyone???)

Japan has “Labor Thanksgiving Day” every year on November 23rd. This year, that holiday happens to coincide with the US Thanksgiving Day, so my husband will actually have a day off from work. Here, it is a national holiday commemorating labor and production, and giving thanks to workers.

The Japanese are interested in US holidays and customs, and there are many restaurants that advertise “traditional Thanksgiving dinners” with all the “fixings”, and other places that will prepare the holiday meal for take-out to serve at home with friends and family. Most of these places are in the areas that are more highly populated with US expats… Roppongi, Akasaka, and other areas around the US Embassy. The big chain restaurants from the US — like Hard Rock Cafe — will also have Thanksgiving menus that day.

It will be a nice holiday here, but not the same as at home — no blazing fireplace, no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or football games (!) on the TV. But, it will be nice none-the-less. We will think of our family and friends back home, and be… thankful! We will miss you all. But know that you are with us in our hearts and minds.

Oh… and, by the way… I know that the blog is titled “Two Years in Japan” and we are nearing the end of two years here, but we have been officially extended to three years. So… keep reading. More blogs to come…

International travel

It’s the “he” part of the blog team, and today I’m writing about international travel from Japan.

As often as possible, my wife joins me on international trips. On this trip to Mumbai, India, that wasn’t possible so I’m going solo.

I’ve learned that just about any trip from Japan is a long one – with the exception of  places like South Korea and China. My trip to Mumbai is about 10 hours. Trips to Europe and the US are at least as long, crossing multiple time zones.

Today, I started by walking from our apartment to Tamachi Station, then taking the subway to Shinagawa Station to catch the NEX – the Narita Express to Narita Airport. The NEX is a fast, comfortable, high-speed train. Nice comfortable seating, space for luggage. At 3900 yen, it’s more expensive than the subway – but it is a great way to go to Narita.


Except today, my train didn’t arrive.

For some reason, the 8:19 train I was scheduled for didn’t come. There were a number of announcements over the PA system, but all in Japanese and too much, too fast for me to recognize. So, ticket in hand, I went to the JR Rail office to see what had happened. Unfortunately, the staff there spoke little English – I got the idea that the train I was supposed to be on was cancelled, and it was possible for me to take a different train to another station, then transfer. But ultimately, I asked for rescheduling on the next NEX, which was to come at 8:49.

After some discussion, I was sent to another JR Railways ticket office to exchange my ticket. After waiting in line a few minutes, I found myself at the ticket window with a very friendly ticket agent. Between his marginal English and my little Japanese, I was able to get reassigned to the next NEX train. And, fortunately, this train arrived as scheduled.

However, things don’t always go as planned. It seems the seat I had been reassigned was already occupied. What to do? I decided rather than try to get my assigned seat, I would just take another seat that was empty across the aisle. Fortunately, that worked – on the next stop, several people got on the NEX, but none were assigned my adopted seat. I was safe for the remainder of the trip to Narita.

Once at Narita, check-in was smooth and easy. There was no line at the ANA ticket counter, and the friendly ticket agent checked me in and took my bag. She spoke a little English, and I did my best in Japanese. I was checked in, an on my way in just a few minutes.

suitcaseNarita is always a pleasure to go through. Security was smooth and efficient, and it took only a few minutes to go through Immigration. The Immigration person was very friendly, and I even recognized her question in Japanese about when I would return to Japan. Ju-hatchi. And with that, I was on my way to the gate.

The rest, as they say, is history. At the gate, they called my name to come to the ticket counter and verify my Indian visa. No problem there, and soon it was time to board. ANA – like other Japanese airlines – has a smooth and efficient boarding process. It’s so easy here. Hard to understand why boarding can sometimes be such an ordeal on US airlines.

ANA at airportMy trip to India is still ahead of me. India is a fascinating place, and this will be my third experience there. This time, I will go outside of Mumbai for the first time. I’m sure it will be an interesting trip.

Overall, I have found that travel from Japan is invariably long, and the trips are often tiring. But the Japanese do their best to make travel efficient and pleasant. From the friendly ticket agents at the check-in area, to the immigration officers, to the flight attendants, the Japanese are consistently efficient and friendly, and try to make travel as painless as possible. I greatly appreciate their efforts.