Studying abroad means constantly learning. Not always by sitting in class or studying at the library, but in daily interactions. Every day is an opportunity for cultural exchange– embarrassing myself during conversations, listening to my obachan talk about etiquette, and answering every question my Japanese friends have about Canada. But out of all the times I’ve experienced cultural exchange this year, my favourite moment was throwing my Japanese host family’s first Canadian Thanksgiving!
Through the help of YouTube videos and Bon Appetit, my Thanksgiving meal looked like it was made by someone who knew what they were doing. In reality, I’d never cooked a Thanksgiving dish before coming to Japan! Back at home, with my Mom and Grandma around, my role, for the most part, is to ready the house for guests. Thus, my Japanese Thanksgiving preparations involved a whole month of gathering recipes and watching how-to videos. I wanted to show my host family how good Thanksgiving can be, and why I love it so much!
In addition to my lack of experience, cooking a traditional Thanksgiving meal was complicated by the fact of being abroad. In Tokyo, poultry like whole chickens and turkeys are hard to come by. Turkeys are so unheard of that I had to explain to my host family multiple times that they are not the same thing as chicken! After a fair bit of searching, I finally located a turkey and a foil roasting pan at a foreign supermarket. However, this wasn’t the last of my grocery troubles. Thanksgiving shopping brought another unexpected hurdle– Japan’s butter shortage. Everyone knows that generous amounts of butter are the key to every Thanksgiving dish! Luckily, I could skirt my grocer’s one block of butter per family limit by buying five different brands of butter.
When Thanksgiving Day finally arrived, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. With my host family out the whole day, I was free to make a mess of the kitchen, and spare everyone from involvement in the stressful in-between process from kitchen to table. The final menu included stuffing, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, gravy, and turkey.
When we finally sat down to eat, I was hit with two feelings. The first was exhaustion, and the second was “I can’t believe I pulled this off.” At the dining table, I gave a spiel on the meaning of Thanksgiving. But I made sure to keep it brief. After all, everyone wanted to dig in! I was so happy that after my host family showed me so many great Japanese traditions that I could share with them my gratitude. After all, what better way to show your thanks than with Thanksgiving?