“Thanksgiving” in Japan.

It is Thanksgiving week back in the US, but here in Japan, it is just another work week.

In the United States, Thanksgiving is considered to be the start of the holiday season… that holiday where we traditionally celebrate the bounty of the fall harvest, and express gratitude for all that we have. In our modern times, it has somewhat morphed into a food fest/football fest/chance-to-gather-together-with-friends-and-family time. And in general, a holiday to cook and eat (and eat, and eat, and eat…) and overindulge in the things we enjoy. (Black Friday shopping anyone?)

Until this morning, I hadn’t really given this Thanksgiving much thought. After all, this is our fourth Thanksgiving living in Japan, and we are used to not having our usual Thanksgiving celebration. But today, we woke to cloudy gray weather, and cold damp wind… I made a pot of chai spice tea, and suddenly our small apartment was filled with the fragrance of fall, and… of Thanksgiving! Suddenly I was thinking of pumpkin pie, and roasting turkey, and mashed potatoes and gravy.

Sadly… we have no oven in which to cook that turkey.

Over the past four years, I have gotten used to cooking without an oven. Japanese food is wonderful, and we have enjoyed learning about the different ingredients and cooking methods employed here. We love all the fish and fruits and vegetables that we get at our local market, and we eat our — slightly Americanized — version of the Japanese cuisine.

We actually can get turkey here. My supermarket starts stocking frozen turkeys in October. Other traditional Thanksgiving ingredients — cranberries, canned pumpkin, orange sweet potatoes (our sweet potatoes here are purple on the outside and yellow on the inside… still delicious, but different), etc. are a bit harder to come by, and most certainly much more expensive here. I am fairly certain that the supermarkets in the expat areas of Tokyo probably stock many of the things that would be needed for a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, but that involves at the very least a long walk, or a train/bus ride carrying heavy bags of groceries.

Once back at my apartment, I would have little space to store the supplies I have purchased, and then really no way to cook many of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. And… speaking of “dishes”… We lead a somewhat spartan life here in Tokyo. Small apartment = small storage spaces = not much room to bring many dishes and small appliances from home. Our rental package gave us tableware — plates, cups, glasses, silverware — enough for four place settings. I have almost no serving pieces, and no tablecloths, napkins, etc. to set the “Thanksgiving table.”

I haven’t really missed all of that in these past four years. We have managed quite nicely, mostly because the holiday doesn’t exist here. My husband goes to work on that Thursday morning just like any other work day. There is no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the TV, no family gathering for dinner, and no football games or holiday movies to watch after dinner.

There are restaurants that offer an “American Thanksgiving” dinner… mostly in the expat areas of town… and there are other restaurants that will cook and package a dinner for you for carry-out to enjoy at home (usually very $$$$.) But for just the two of us, it just isn’t quite the same, and is not really worth the effort or expense. (Thanksgiving sushi, anyone?)

We DO miss gathering together with our family. This week three of our four children will be together on Thanksgiving. The rest of us will be scattered around the globe. We will all be in each other’s thoughts — if not gathered together around the same table — and that will have to suffice. And… there also might be a group video chat at some point (Ah… the wonders of technology! Lol!)

This international life has created so many wonderful opportunities and experiences for us. I don’t regret in any way our decision to come here! And it has also presented us with many difficulties and challenges. But despite the hard parts… we still don’t feel “ready” for this experience to end — and we still have half a year left! I know we will be sad to leave our home here in Tokyo, Japan.

We have so enjoyed our time here in Tokyo. But after our time here IS done, we will also look forward to reconnecting with all the things we have missed while we have been here.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Back to Back JET LAG!

We have been suffering from an extended bout of jet lag. In the past (almost) four years that we have been living abroad in Japan, we have done a fair amount of travel. And… if you consider geography, and the location of Japan, a lot of the travel we have done (for meetings etc.) has been at least 8 to 13 hours time difference from our home in Tokyo. That… translates into many days… weeks… suffering from “jet lag.”

Though we are nearly back to “normal” now after a few days home from our latest flight, it has been a pretty tough time. This “episode” of jet lag actually started for us over a month ago with a 10-day trip to London. My husband had a business meeting there, and we flew from Tokyo, via a connection in Shanghai. There is an 8-hour time difference between Tokyo and London. We slowly acclimated to the change, and by the time we left 10 days later, we were feeling pretty good again. Then after a week of more jet lag after our return flight to Tokyo, we left again for another meeting in Atlanta — and a brief visit “home” for a week. There is a time difference of 14 hours between Tokyo and Atlanta. After that, we returned to Tokyo — another almost 14 hour flight, and 14 hour time difference.

For us (and if you Google it, for many people) the worst jet lag results from traveling west to east. I know there is actually a scientific explanation of this, but it is very complicated. All I know, is that it takes longer to recover, and I feel much worse after a west to east flight, than an east to west flight. After our flight to ATL last week, our one week stay there was not nearly enough time to fully recover before our east to west return flight to Tokyo. The weirdest thing about our flights back to Atlanta, is that (because the time difference is about the same as the flight time) we end up arriving back in Atlanta at about the same time (in ATL) as we left Tokyo. It is an odd little bit of “time travel” for us… lol.

We normally travel in premium economy, which is a step up from regular economy with more leg room, but not like business class where you can fully stretch out for sleep. We have on rare occasions been in business class. Regardless of which class, however, I find it difficult to sleep much — or very effectively — on an airplane. And… though sleeping on the airplane can help with jet lag symptoms (at least the tiredness), it does not prevent jet lag. Once we get to our destination, we still experience days of jet lag.

Of course jet lag affects your sleep patterns — and especially for our 13 or 14 hour time difference when our days and nights are completely reversed. ***[During daylight savings time the time difference is only 13 hours.] But jet lag affects so much more! Almost all body functions are tied in some degree to that internal circadian clock, so when that body clock is totally flipped, everything is disrupted. It affects sleep, appetite, digestion… everything. And it takes days to get everything back to normal again. Most sources say to expect one day of recovery time for every time zone crossed. So… it is not at all surprising that after this last bit of travel, our bodies were completely mixed up. We didn’t have enough time to recover from one trip before we traveled again… and again… and again.

There seem to be many suggestions online about how to minimize jet lag, or recover faster, but nothing seems to work consistently. Some suggest that gradually adjusting your time schedule BEFORE a trip is the way to fix the problem, but doing that is in itself disruptive to our lives before we travel. We simply can’t change our daily schedule to accommodate our future travel… to the degree that would be necessary to flip our days and nights. Just not practical.

So… we deal with it. We deal with the sleepless nights and the sleepy days… the appetite changes, and the wonky digestion. It all works itself out eventually, and we get back to feeling better. These things are just one *minor* downside of travel, and I am willing to put up with them for the opportunity to see and do new things.

Now, I realize this blog post isn’t finished. But it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the jet lag is kicking innnn… againnn… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.