KITANAKAGUSUKU, Okinawa — Yesterday’s turkey and trimmings were great, but now it’s time to work off those extra pounds in the great American tradition of the Day After Thanksgiving Christmas sale.

It’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

But what if you want to get your Christmas shopping done early — but the thought of battling the frenzied crowd at the post-Thanksgiving Day sale at the base exchange fills you with dread?

What’s a shopper to do?

Shop off base. It’s just another Friday in Japan, but the stores are chock-full of Christmas fare.

It’s a secret my wife and I discovered shortly after we moved to Okinawa. What a difference an ocean makes. We actually have a good time doing our Christmas shopping.

Not possible, you say? I know what you mean. Christmas shopping in the States is synonymous with long lines and short tempers. And that one perfect gift you spotted in the pre-sale flyer always is out of stock.

I always thought Christmas shopping was the modern equivalent of the medieval religious practice of wearing hair shirts and scourging oneself with birch whips.

And it was worse for the lowly reporter assigned to cover the madness, wading into the mob and getting quotes from the survivors of a Kmart Blue Light special.

You think Tokyo subways at rush hour are crowded? They’re nothing compared to the toy aisles of a Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving Friday.

You think anti-base demonstrations in Seoul are dangerous? Not compared to the carnage I once witnessed at a Children’s Palace in the Midwest, when a riot developed among 40 people fighting for the last Cabbage Patch Kid.

But the aisles of the local Toys “R” Us on Okinawa usually are not crowded on a Friday morning. The malls are all but empty, preparing for the weekend rush.

I remember our first foray into a Japanese Toys “R” Us on a Thanksgiving Friday.

We knew we had stumbled onto something special when we found something that’s rare in the States during shopper lemming madness: a parking space within walking distance of the store.

And inside — paradise. The aisles were almost empty, the shelves overflowing.

Some of the toys even were on sale.

My wife later described the scene as eerie, dreamlike. It was if we were the only people on Earth. Not once did we have to bow and mumble a respectful “sumimasen” or its American equivalent: “I saw that first!”

We had time to linger and debate the merits of buying the Ballet Barbie instead of the Barbecue Barbie without having to pry the Very Last Barbie from some mother’s death grip.

Of course, if everyone heeds our advice, the Japanese stores are sure to become crowded on Thanksgiving Fridays, with the hordes avoiding the rush at the exchanges.

But that’s OK. We discovered the stores in Japan are open on Thanksgiving, too.

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