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Tuesday, November 20

A Time for Thanks… and for Awareness

Obviously, enjoying American holidays in a foreign land has its frustrations. But it also has its moments of inspiration. I don’t get to sit at the big old family table back home, but I get to have friends join me at my table. I don’t get either mom to make the turkey for me, but I get to appreciate the hard work that they both have always gone through to make the stupid bird. I don’t get the warmth of being surrounded by the familiar and the loved, but I get to seek inside myself for the familiar and the loved coming from the foreignness that surrounds me.

For this Thanksgiving holiday, I think it is time to assert my awareness of what I am thankful for as provided by my Japanese hosts:

1. Reverential bowing. As a person who doesn’t like to be touched much unless you know me pretty well, this is the most wonderful greeting I can imagine because respect is so very chock-full in every inch you give to the other person. This tradition has been so embraced that I actually bowed when I met someone new in the states on the last visit. They didn’t quite get it, but did get quite the giggle about my personal evolution.

2. Drinks to quench any type of thirst, both the physical and the mental. On every corner, there is a vending machine. I have tried more drinks than I ever could have imagined were available on one island country. You can even buy alcoholic goodnesses like chu-hi, sake and beer in many of the vending machines. My goal is to try everything before I leave although some clear favorites have me skipping new samplings lately for the old.

3. Food worthy of the Gods… or Buddha. Despite both KH and myself having some small issues with increasing blood pressure because of the high sodium content in Japanese food, it is just heavenly. Where else in the world can you get a better bowl of hot ramen? Sure the Chinese invented it, but the Japanese perfected it. Not to mention my other favorites… bento boxes, yakiniku, yakitori, soba, udon, gyoza, shabu-shabu, okonomiyaki, oyakodon, katsudon, tonkatsu, tempura, sushi, sashimi, corn/mayo/potato pizza, seafood pizza, miso, tofu, natto, sweet red bean paste, those little baby water lily buds, Japanese jello, mochi… I think I could go on and on here for days.

4. Simplicity and elegance in the ideals of beauty. When I first arrived here, it often seemed that they way people decorated was stark. The buildings are square, unadorned boxes that I used to think lacked character. Inside, to my untrained eye, whole rooms would appear vacant and impractically unused, as they remained entirely empty but for a painting on a far wall. Now I see the beauty in the uncomplicated and empty spaces. Color and objects are used so quietly and sparingly. You will not find intrusions into your life, at least not by any garish aesthetics.

5. Acceptance. When you live in a foreign country, particularly one that has a dark past with the United States, you wonder if you will really feel accepted. In my time here, I have felt nothing but acceptance with kind and warm receptions greeting me everywhere I go. Only once has someone moved away from me on a train, an older gentleman who moved a few seats away. Not being able to know what he was thinking when he did so, I can’t even confirm that it was because there was an American next to him that he moved. In all other instances, I have found that the Japanese people are happy to talk to me if they can and will often even seek me out like the man who wanted to sing the Star Spangled Banner on the streets of Kamakura with my family.

6. An undeniable and utterly beautiful culture. In everything to see and experience here in Japan, it is infused with an ancient culture of which I can only dream to totally understand before we leave here. West influences may be changing things, but there are so many that hold dear to the traditions of their past. Many people spend much of the month of August visiting the graves of their ancestors. Many still know the art of kimono and wear it with pride. These things may have seen adaptations in the past years, but they are inherently Japanese in their core. It is in the distinct subtleties of changes that Japan shows their love for a celebrated history and their wish to grow with the modern world. Yet, they remain instinctively, and in my humble opinion, blessedly Japanese.

Wherever you are from, if you have the time I would love to know… what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday?


Juliet Carnell said...

I am thankful that, for a short time this summer, I was able to experience a little of the country you have come to know. A week in Tokyo and Kyoto is certainly not the same as living there, but it opened my eyes to a beautiful culture I had once only viewed from afar. I hope to return to Japan again soon, but for now I am thankful for the every memory I made there.

Mike S said...

You picked almost all the reasons Japan is my #2 favorite place to reside. #1 is here in Maine:)

Anonymous said...

I am thankful for far too many things to list here, but at the top of my list is my healthy, happy little girl and her daddy. I am also thankful for the men and women who have made our own country, with all of its freedoms, what it is.

As for sweetened red bean paste, if you are NYC you must go to Minamoto Kitchoan on 5th Ave. for delectable Japanese pastries, many of which are made with sweetened red bean paste.