Thanksgiving in Japan

A coupon for Black Friday at an Aeon Mall

Suffice it to say, there is no Thanksgiving in Japan. Not many here know when it even is, and that makes sense to me . Japan already has two opportunities in the year to get together with relatives – in August during the Obon season where you remember the departed, and then over the New Year, where you bring in the New Year surrounded by loved ones. I don’t think Japan is looking for more holidays to get together with family.

However, there is Black Friday. Much like Japan seems to have taken Christmas and turned it into a mixture of commercialism and Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving has turned into an opportunity for sales.

Most amusing to me, I think, is that Black Friday starts anytime in mid-November here, well before Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if many here even know why it’s called Black Friday or why it’s happening in November.

The sales are nice, but I feel rather alone pressing on with trying to keep the tradition of getting together with family and eating a nice meal alive when everyone else is just going about their day. (I personally am not a fan of Thanksgiving’s history, but I do like the idea of having an excuse to get together with family, eat a lot and talk about what you’re thankful for.)

Turkey simply can’t be found in Japan, as far as I’ve ever looked. Even if I could find a whole turkey to cook, the thing wouldn’t fit into my microwave oven. I’m not a huge fan of dried-out turkey anyway. Thus, I’m going to make a chicken dish. I made homemade apple cider since they don’t sell that in Japan either, and I made a pumpkin pie using Japan’s fantastic kabocha squash. I’m also hoping to make some coleslaw at some point today.

I’m hoping we can eat a nice, fake Thanksgiving dinner while talking about what we’re thankful for. Maybe I can mail some of the leftover pumpkin pie to some relatives who live relatively nearby.

Surviving bonsai

I’m ridiculously new to trying to keep a bonsai alive, but I now have three of the poor trees under my care.

I’m in love with maple trees, especially when they change color in autumn, so I have three of those at the moment. If I could just have a nice garden where I could grow things in the ground, I’d have three nice massive ones, but since I can only have plants in pots, here we are at bonsai.

I’ve been researching bonsai care like crazy, and I joined a few communities on Facebook for newbie bonsai care, and I feel like I’m at a level where I’m not terrified of utterly ruining my bonsai thanks to my inept pruning abilities.

I think it helped seeing this guy, my bonsai go-to person, whack away at maple bonsai as if he were trimming some hedges:

This guy is a legend to me.

Thus, I decided that today is the day I would prune the worst-off maple bonsai.

What my bonsai looked like before I trimmed it.

Parts of it are dying for unknown reasons (yay I’m doing such a good job), but there were a few branches having the time of their lives.

I just bought special pruning shears and started snipping away at the poor thing, keeping in mind which I thought of as the “Front” of the bonsai. I’m really unhappy parts of it are just dying, and I realize that forest-like arrangements like this are supposed to be a triangle in shape, but I pruned how I wanted it.

How it looks now

I’m happy with it, for now. I’m mostly just happy I’m slowly becoming more confident in at least attempting things like this. I know this bonsai also needs to be repotted, so I’m trying to gather up courage to repot it in February or March.

Visiting Japan without breaking the bank

For whenever Japan finally allows tourists from abroad back into the nation again, I thought I’d put a few tips I’ve accumulated for how to survive in this nation without losing all of your money in the process.

Avoid convenience stores, if you can

They’re convenient, clean and in so many ways everything convenience stores in America are not, but you pay for all of that. Drinks, snacks and all the other little things are so much more expensive here than in other places.

That being said, I know there are probably going to be late nights when you just really need a drink or you realize you are in desperate need for a tissue box and nothing else is open. Convivence stores love to take advantage of the fact most stores in Japan are not 24/7.

Shop at grocery stores

If you can, find the nearest grocery store from wherever you’re staying and buy all of your food there. They sell drinks, snacks, bread and even obteno boxed lunches – everything you find at convenience stores but for a lot cheaper. A lot of grocery stores also have microwaves where you can heat up everything.

The best time to get cheap obento is just before the store closes, which is when someone from the store goes from obento to obento and puts stickers on marking things half off or more, sometimes.

A lot of Aeon grocery stores are open 24/7 so if you can find one of those near you, your life should be set for your stay.

Pick what souvenirs you want before you go

If you can, take a look around online and see what kinds of things you absolutely want to spend a ton of money on so you can focus on those when you’re here and not get distracted by other stuff, like I sometimes do when I’m on vacation.

For souvenirs for co-workers and such, 100-yen shops have you covered. I have heard many people from abroad also adore Japanese snacks, so the grocery store snack aisles are a great place for that, too.

If you don’t care about luxury staying, here are a few options

Almost every major train station has a host of business hotels near them. They’re like sleeping in a closet, but if you only care about using it as a place to sleep, then you can save a ton of money on accommodation costs.

Japan also has the Air B&B option, but it’s not taking off here quite so much, so I personally recommend business hotels for staying here cheaply.

Word of warning: Don’t mistake a love hotel for a business hotel. A business hotel looks really boring and standard, with windows that actually look out. A love hotel looks really tacky most of the time and with windows that are covered so you can’t look into the rooms whatsoever.

Capsule hotels are also an option mostly in Tokyo, and of course everyone loves to say they survived one of these coffin adventures. I had a friend stay in one who said it was quite the experience, and they’re noted for being pretty cheap, so if you’re feeling adventurous and want to save money, go for it.

Hostels are also a great option if you can find them. If you want to stay in places farther away from touristy areas, then don’t expect to find them too much.

Can’t find a place to stay but you desperately need one?

You actually have a few options if everything I mentioned above is booked solid for some reason or the town just doesn’t have one.

  1. Internet Cafes – They’re still a thing here. Live the life of an otaku or someone who just got kicked out of their house (I’m super generalizing here) and book an overnight stay at an internet cafe. Some of them actually come with showers and complimentary toothbrushes, so that’s exciting.
  2. Large onsen hot springs – Some of them offer overnight tickets, but they have to be a pretty big franchise for this like Oedo Onsen Monogatari, which is near Tokyo Disney Resorts. There used to be one in Odaiba, but it closed in September, apparently.
  3. Family restaurants – A last resort can be family restaurants, which are generally open 24/7. They obviously frown upon you just taking up space in the restaurant with all of your luggage and such for the night, but if you’re desperate enough, at least it’s a place to stay for a few hours.
  4. You can also try asking someone at the nearest train station (if it’s still open) if there are any places still open where you can stay.

Want cool and cheap Japanese clothing?

The best place, in my personal opinion, is a store called Shimamura, which is generally written in hiragana on its store signs: しまむら. They sell a ton of bad English shirts, and you sometimes come across shirts with Japanese on them, too.

UNIQLO will also help you with some cool shirts. They had a whole Japan section at their store near Tokyo Skytree, but I haven’t visited in a while so it might not be there anymore.

For your kids, try finding a store called Nishi-Matsuya (西松屋) which has a white bunny on its sign holding a kind of flower that I want to say is a dandelion. Their clothes are really cheap but still have Japanese anime characters and such on them sometimes.

Bad English

They obviously meant to say “Caffeine free” but I like the idea of tea offering you free caffeine.

Over the over 12 years I’ve spent in Japan, I’ve realized a few points about bad English that you can find here:

  1. You won’t find it on many big-name company products. Disney Resort products are especially careful with their English. UNIQLO is also really good with their English since becoming a more global brand. That means, if you want bad English on a shirt, look to stores selling cheap clothing. The store “Shimamura” comes to mind. Cheap, and the phrases on their shirts are priceless.

2. You stop caring after a while. When I first came to Japan, bad English was a huge novelty that amused me to no end. I collected shirts of truly bizarre English and proudly wore them. Now, however, I’ve grown so accustomed to bad English that nothing but truly, truly genius mistakes will grab my attention.

3. I still remember a news segment I watched a while ago that showed the process of people in fashion companies choosing English that goes on their shirts. It is beyond haphazard. Apparently the employees care more about how a word looks on the shirt, in the font they want, than what it means. They don’t focus on how the words come together to form sentences; it’s all about how the shape of the words look on the shirt.

4. My absolute biggest pet-peeve for bad English in Japan is all of the signs stating “Close” when a store is closed. I think in the 12 years I’ve been here, I’ve only spotted maybe 5 stores that have put “Closed” instead of “Close.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to restrain myself from grabbing a permanent marker and sticking a “d” to the end of the sign.