Celebrating American Thanksgiving … Japanese Style

As an American family living in Japan, we do our best to keep up the American traditions that are most important to our family.  For us that means celebrating Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, and Fourth of July, even when three of the four of those holidays are generally not on the Japanese radar screen.  Fortunately, though almost no regular grocery stores sell turkeys, cranberry sauce, bread cubes for stuffing, or American sweet potatoes, we are blessed to have a Costco a few hours away and a friend with a membership card!  For the items that even Costco doesn’t sell, we stock up ahead of time during our yearly trip to the States in September, and beg friends and family to send those occasional items we forget to add to our shopping list.

While most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family, we live so far away that our tradition is to celebrate with our “adopted family” here in Japan — co-workers and other close friends, both American and Japanese.  My amazing mom used to make every traditonal dish herself each year (until my brother and I were old enough to help with some of the items).  I honestly don’t know how she did that!  Every year the turkey and stuffing or a pie fall to me, but other than that all the guests contribute a food or drink item to the menu until we have a huge feast.  It is so wonderful not to have to make it all myself!  Sometimes we end up with unusual items that way, like the year some friends contributed “tako yaki” — fried balls of batter with octopus pieces inside of them,  but that’s just one more reason our celebration is uniquely American and Japanese at the same time.  This year everyone brought traditional items and as usual everything was extremely delicious!

In addition to feasting, our family prepared for Thanksgiving by reading a Children’s picture book depicting the Pilgrims’ journey to America on the Mayflower.  We also made a “Thanksgiving Tree” using a printable I found on Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience.  I saw there are quite a few different versions of the thanksgiving tree idea on the internet, but I really liked the design she used for the leaves on this one.  We printed out the leaves on white cardstock, cut them out, and then wrote things we were thankful for on the backs.  Then we hole-punched the leaves and hung them on branches the kids had picked up at the park next door and put everything in a super cute vase that our dear friend Megan made for us as a Thanksgiving gift a couple of years ago.  Oh, and of course our Thanksgiving celebration isn’ t complete without our  yearly game of “shoot the stuffed animal turkeys off the backs of dining room chairs with Nerf dart guns” game.  Your family does that too, right??

Bread Making at the “Romantic Forest”

This past weekend, the kids and I drove about twenty minutes to Romanchiku Mura (which means “Romantic Forest”).  It’s a huge park with several different forests and wide open natural areas for exploring and walking, an indoor pool, shops and restaurants, a kids’ play area, and a crane habitat.  I had been there long ago, but I’d never taken the kids.  I thought it would be a good chance for the kids to get some outdoor play time in a new environment.  We also decided to sign up for a one day bread baking class.  Apparently, they have these classes every Sunday in the morning and then again in the afternoon.

We love homemade bread, but always use a bread machine, so this was a first for us to make bread by hand.  The type of bread you can make in the class always changes, but this time is was “anpan” (bread with sweet bean paste in it) and “curry pan” (bread with curry sauce inside of it.  Since Ethan doesn’t really like either of those flavors, he decided to make his plain, and that ended up tasting great too. 🙂

I think we all were impressed by how much effort it took to knead the bread.  The class instructor had us throwing the bread down onto the table, rolling it up with one hand and then throwing it down again — over and over!  He was obviously used to doing this and we were wowed by his abilities.  We were a little bit pathetic, but with some help from the teacher here and there we finally got our dough into the consistency it needed to be.  After that, we put the sweet beans and the curry inside and we were ready to bake it.

We probably won’t be giving away our breade machine in favor of making everything by hand, but it was definitely a fun learning experience.  The kids enjoyed it so much they wanted me to take them again next week for another class!  I don’t think we’ll be able to go again that soon, but I promised we’d put it on the calendar again.  We can’t wait to find out what the next bread flavor will be!

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Homemade Jello Parfaits

In Japan, if you want a particular American food, you sometimes have to make it from scratch.  For example, it’s difficult to find “Jello” here, but you can easily buy plain unflavored gelatin.  So, the kids and I decided to make our own Jello using plain gelatin and Grape juice.  It was fun and didn’t have any added sugar, colors, or other chemicals so it was healthy too. 🙂  We layered the gelatin with fruit and whipped cream to make a super yummy Jello sundae that we will definitely make again!!  Here’s a photo of the kids proudly posing with their freshly made deserts. 🙂

Personalized Pizza Party

A few days ago, several students from the BEST Club gathered at our house for a “make your own pizza” party and Bible discussion.  Our kids had a great time joining in the fun and even got to create pizzas themselves.  Austin, who doesn’t like cheese very much, made the most original pizza of all: a cheese-less pizza featuring two Star Wars characters(made entirely from sliced sausages and canned corn kernals)  having a lightsaber battle.  I didn’t get to taste that one, but it looked pretty good!  Katie overdid it a little when shaking on the powdered garlic, but in the end hers actually tasted great!  Our kids love interacting with their BEST Club friends and they love eating pizza so this was definitely their kind of event! 🙂 

Here are a few photos of the party.  Don’t forget to click on the thumbnails to enlarge the photos.  If you click an enlarged photo again, you can zoom in and see pizza details. 🙂