Last year I couldn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family because I was on a school trip, and this year I spent my Thanksgiving in a country where the holiday is largely unheard of. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, for despite its highly questionable origins, I can’t not enjoy a holiday that essentially celebrates family and overeating. I was actually surprised by how disappointed I was at the fact that I would not be able to celebrate a genuine Thanksgiving, although this probably coincides with my recent and desperate craving for American home-style food (One can only eat so many rice and noodles—why aren’t mashed potatoes a thing here?). I figured that since I couldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving properly, I should reflect on the things that I have been thankful for since I started my adventure in Japan three months ago.
The first thing I am and will always be thankful for is my family. From my grandparents, who picked me up from the airport and fuss over me on a daily basis, to my parents, who are more than 6,000 miles away from me but are still there for me as much as they can possibly be—I’ll always be grateful to have parents that double as best friends. The last thing my father told me before I entered the security check in JFK airport was “If you need me, I’ll get the next flight to Tokyo.” Hopefully I don’t get into any sort of situation that requires him to actually do this (knock on wood), but I know that I am beyond lucky to have a parent who is willing to put everything else aside for me. My siblings don’t seem to miss me too much, but after hearing my sister’s voice for the first time in a few months on the phone when I was bedridden (shout out to my UTI), I realize how happy I am to have both a brother and a sister in my life who I know will always be there for me.
I am also thankful for my friends. This includes the friends I have known since childhood and the friends I met just months ago when I first came here, some of whom I’m already confident I’ll invite to my wedding someday. In just two months, my friends here have displayed extraordinary kindness and thoughtfulness, from accompanying me to the emergency room when I had aforementioned UTI to surprising me on my birthday with homemade cakes and flowers. If there is anything studying abroad has taught me it has shown me how quick to compassion people can be and that there are some people out there in life who you will connect with instantly, as if it’s meant to be. It has also taught me that a good friendship can withstand the problems that come with long distance, and that it is possible to feel closer than ever to someone even when you are thousands of miles away.
Lastly, I am thankful for this experience. When I was a young girl I always longed for the moment in which I became what I then thought was “an adult,” and I imagined an older version of myself that was beautiful and better and independent and dazzling in every sense of the word. I do not think that I have yet attained this level of achievement, and truthfully I probably never will because it is rare to ever be satisfied with yourself, but I hope that I haven’t disappointed my younger self. Sure, I’m not fully independent and I don’t entirely have my life together, but I honestly feel like I’ve had more fun and experienced more independence in the last few months than I have my entire life.
So this year, I spent my Thanksgiving in the library and later dancing my ass off in Shinjuku, topped off by eating a rice bowl at 4 in the morning. Not the typical, Norman Rockwell-esque all-American Thanksgiving that I was longing for, but still an unforgettable evening with people dear to my heart, so I guess it wasn’t so bad. Mashed potatoes would have been nice though.