Happy Thanksgiving ( ハピーサンクスギビング )

—   Updated with new photos and a Kanji Lesson   —

Looking towards Shinnyo-do Temple. Kyoto. November 2009. My first Thanksgiving in Japan was in 1984. That tale’s told just below . . .

Thanksgiving’s coming up in the U.S.  Back in 1984, I and my friend Lori, from Mystic, Connecticut, took the Keihan Line from Hirakata-shi into Kyoto.  About a thirty-minute trip.  We walked over to Meidi-ya, near where San-jo intersects Kawaramachi.  Meidi-ya was the “international grocery store” nearest to us and where we went to stock-up on “exotic” American food for Thanksgiving:  canned green beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup for a green bean casserole; a whole chicken (turkeys were hard to find in Japan back then and, besides, the Nakamura’s, her homestay family’s, oven where we planned on doing the roasting cooking, was too small to handle a turkey); Idaho potatoes and gravy mix (we were not inclined to make it from scratch); dressing; cranberry sauce; and other odds and ends.

Harvesting rice in my neighborhood. Tsuda, Japan. Mid October 1984.

We brought the booty back to the Nakamura’s and over the next day or so prepared a very reasonable and respectable facsimile of a traditional American Thanksgiving Feast.  I think Lori made something like pumpkin pie, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me.  Being a Southerner, I made sweet tea.  With it being a special occasion, large bottles of Kirin beer and sake were on hand, too.  And rice.  Japanese rice, of course.  And as it was a special occasion, shoji were slid-back and three generations of Nakamuras and Lori and I ate seated around the low tables; my first (and so far only) Thanksgiving Dinner on the floor (a very comfortable tatami floor, mind you).

Meidi-ya Internation Grocery Store. Kyoto. November 10, 2009.

The Nakamura’s appeared genuinely touched and thought Thanksgiving was a very good and appropriate kind of holiday, worthy of celebration in Japan (no Pilgrim stories, but much to be thankful for with Japan and the Japanese going through good and awful times, sometimes owing to nature and sometimes owing to the choices of humans).  Lori and I had a blast, as 21-year-olds playing cook and hosts for Thanksgiving in Japan.

And Meidi-ya’s still there in Kyoto.  The same store in the same location.  And it still carries exotic Campbell’s soup.

Shinnyo-do Temple. Kyoto. Nov 2009.

Autumn Leaves,” from The Japan Times

A mosaic carpet of autumn foliage tinted in shades of green, yellow, orange, and red is currently rolling southward through the archipelago of Japan. 紅葉 (kōyō, crimson/leaves), the Japanese word for “autumn leaves,” only hints at the splendor of this multihued natural phenomenon.

Beeches, birches, persimmons, larches and ginkgos all produce beautiful colors, but the King of Kōyō “the tree to see,” is the Japanese maple (momiji; like kōyō, it is written with the kanji compound 紅葉). The crimson, lacy-leafed momiji — whether sunlit or artificially illuminated at night — is so impressive that the Japanese refer to autumn leaf-viewing in general as momijigari (紅葉狩り, Japanese maple/hunting).

The second kanji in 紅葉, 葉 (ha, yō), has the core meaning “leaf.” Mastering the shape of 葉 is a snap if you divide it into its three top-to-bottom components — 艹 (plant-life), 世 (generation) and 木 (tree) — and memorize the phrase, “Leaves are successive generations of plant life on a tree.” (Thirty years was the norm for a generation in ancient China, which explains why you can see three “10s” (十) in 世).

.         .         .

Looking down the Takase Canal. San-jo (Third Street) , Kyoto. 2009.  The Takase continues down to Shi-jo (Fourth Street).  Turn right where the Takase  passes under Shi-jo and walk just a few yards west until you’re at Meidi-ya.


Looking North Up Kawabata-dori. Kyoto, November 2009.


Autumn Colors along the Kamo River. Kyoto, November 2009.

For summertime scenes and colors along the Kamo River,see this post.

.          .          .

I’m going to take about a 2-week hiatus from LetsJapan.Wordpress.com  Back in early December.   I’ll continue to monitor comments, of course.  Happy Thanksgiving.  ハピーサンクスギビング

    • Betty Morrison
    • November 26th, 2009

    Richard….I love it that you have such a good memory….Betty

      • letsjapan
      • November 26th, 2009

      Dear Betty,

      That’s one of the things I remember. I wish I could remember all that I’ve forgotten. And, of course, there are a lot
      of things I remember that I wish I could forget.

      A Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.


    • Lois
    • November 27th, 2009

    Great little tale. Thank you.

      • letsjapan
      • November 27th, 2009

      Thanks. It remains a good memory.

      It’s funny about Kyoto – I have so many memories there since ’84 spanning so many little and large eras
      of my life. Can hardly turn a corner without some memory smacking me ‘side the head. Really, all of them
      good. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I love it there so much.


  1. Surely Japan has some comparable Harvest Festival?

      • letsjapan
      • December 3rd, 2009

      Many “Harvest Festivals” throughout. Each town’s or temple’s is its own, though.

      The greatest nation-wide equivalent would be O-bon (pron “Oh bone”) in August, which sort of
      combines Thanksgiving, Halloween and the 4th of July. Also, the year-end “enkais” (office parties
      and parties for organizations, institutions, clubs, groups, teams, etc.) are jolly celebrations for the
      preceding year’s good times (or, if not so good, to blow off steam and be thankful that a less-than-
      good year is done with).


    • michelle
    • November 14th, 2010


  2. Such a tender post. A friend and I were talking about Thanksgiving dinners tonight, remembering The Green Bean Casserole. Our midwestern variation included canned fried onion rings on top – a ghastly touch in some ways, but memorable. You prepared that dish in Japan. I prepared it in up-country Liberia. I know it’s been prepared in England and in Belaruse. It seems to me there might be a book in there – a photo essay, perhaps, with snippets of memoir.

    A yacht club where I work has a pair of Japanese maples. Whether they equal those in Japan I can’t say, but there’s no question they outshine anything else in east Texas when it comes to fall foliage. When they begin to shed, I’m hoping to get some perfect leaves and help a little friend seal them between sheets of waxed paper. Then, we’ll trim them and hang them in the window.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

      • RN
      • November 17th, 2012

      How kind of you. I wish I still had that snapshot of Lori’s Japanese grandmother — probably more than 20 years now having gone to her Reward — sitting at the end of the table flashing a peace sign and big grin at the camera.

      I have a Japanese maple in my back yard. It grows more beautiful with each passing autumn day. I so know what you mean. And, yes, green bean cassarole –name me something more American.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and to all. Oh, and that memoir’s in the works. Give me another 6-12 months…


    • Lyn
    • November 22nd, 2012

    Great story and images! Thank you.


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