Thanksgiving is one of those holidays you’d expect to be an American only holiday. After all, according to our elementary school education it celebrates American pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to celebrate, eat, and give thanks. Why would a country like Japan, whose history starts 1,000 years before America, celebrate Thanksgiving?
Surprisingly, Japan does celebrate Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the official holiday, called Thanksgiving Labor Day, was started after the American Occupation in 1948. Thanksgiving in Japan is an opportunity for unions and other workers to celebrate their hard worked days of labor through parades, parties, and well an actual day off.
As an American living in Japan though it wasn’t easy to celebrate the holiday. Although the Japanese do have an official holiday to commemorate Thanksgiving, no traditional American “Thanksgiving” foods are served in people’s households. It’s also extremely difficult to find a prepared turkey, and only select foreign grocery stores in Tokyo carry them. Once you’ve found a turkey though, in my mind you basically have two options for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan:
The first way to celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan is to have an actual party at your house, a potluck of traditional thanksgiving foods. Don’t be surprised though if people show up with California rolls, seaweed salad, shrimp chips, and other traditional Japanese foods. It’s always fun in Japan to do a potluck because not only do the Japanese attend but its highly possible Australians, British, Singaporeans, Chinese, and other multicultural friends will all come to your Thanksgiving feast. The greatest part about having a multicultural thanksgiving is most people say “This is my first Thanksgiving,” so you feel like you’re almost experiencing it yourself for the first time.
The second option for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan (which in my opinion isn’t as fun as the first), is to go to your local American Club or other select restaurant that offers Thanksgiving dinner. Basically anywhere in Asia where American ex-pats live select restaurants will prepare a Thanksgiving feast. For anywhere from 30-100 or so dollars you can get a traditional Thanksgiving meal buffet style, just don’t be surprised if you have to order in Japanese.
Thanksgiving in Japan is a memorable experience, one that if you’re in Japan during Thanksgiving my recommendation is to host your own party or attend a local buffet. I’m sure there are other options for celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan, and please feel free to add commentary to this article about that or ask other questions.