They may be in Japan, but many adhere to stateside Thanksgiving traditions
November 23, 2006
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — No way is a turkey going to fit in Martine Sallee’s Japanese oven. You’d have to chop the bird into three-inch parts and bake it one bite at a time.
“A fish-cooker oven and three burners isn’t going to cut it — not to mention the lack of counter space,” Sallee said in Yokosuka on Tuesday. “If you live off base, preparing Thanksgiving dinner would be extremely difficult.”
It begs the question: How do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan? With sushi and sumo? Or do they try to translate the traditional pack-it-on-athon into a new culture?
According to Yokosuka Commissary’s Store Director Totolua Ripley Jr., Americans cleave to the time-honored feeding frenzy if it all possible.
“Granted, there isn’t a lot of turkey cooking off base,” Ripley said. “But people cook on base and invite all their friends.”
His grocery list? 24,000 pounds of turkey, 8,500 pounds of ham, 600 pumpkin pies, 850 pounds of Cool Whip, and 400 gallons of peanut oil for trendy deep-fried fowl. That’s what went from shelves to shopping carts last year. This year, once the USS Kitty Hawk returns, they expect to sell at least that much if not more, Ripley said.
“We do more business at Thanksgiving than any other holiday,” Ripley said.
Some Thanksgiving trivia from the aisle: They sell twice as much jellied cranberry sauce as the berried variety and “mince pies” and fruit cakes are decidedly out of vogue, Ripley said.
“Even multicultural families tend to buy the ‘traditional Thanksgiving food,’” Ripley said. “But we do sell a lot of coconut cream and turkey parts this time of year.”
But don’t expect lines at the commissary the day after Thanksgiving. It’s “Red Friday” even though next door at Yokosuka’s Navy Exchange, it’s “Black Friday” -—the biggest shopping day of the year. The commisary loses to leftovers and shopping, Ripley said.
“Everyone is digging in the fridge and checking out the high-definition television sets for Christmas,” Ripley said.
Even though his wife is Japanese, Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Gromacki is doing the whole sit-down dinner with the family, plus picking up a few “Thanksgiving orphans” to share the feast, he said.
“My wife doesn’t understand Thanksgiving but we still do it,” Gromacki said. “Christmas is usually when you stick to the family, but Thanksgiving is more of a time be with lots of different people, get together and enjoy the camaraderie.”
On the other hand, after 13 years in the military, Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel McGowan has become Thanksgiving deprogrammed. He also has a Japanese wife, but instead of spending the holiday cooking and eating, they use the time off to get out of town, he said.
“Thanksgiving? We’re not doing any of that,” McGowan said. “I associate that with my American family back in the States, but it’s been 13 years since I’ve been able to sit down with them for a traditional Thanksgiving.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Socorro Huynh opted to give cooking a try and was carting around a turkey with the trimmings for her first Thanksgiving in Japan, she said.
It will be a first for spouse Peta Kosnar too — her first Thanksgiving as an American citizen, as the Australian was naturalized a month ago, she said. But that doesn’t mean she was going to cook, she said.
“We’re going to the O-Club and will let them cook for us this year,” Kosnar said. Sallee was going to the Officers’ Club dinner as well, she said. Even though she can’t cook in her apartment, the tradition is still important … maybe even more so in Japan, she said.
“Here in Japan, having Thanksgiving reminds you a little bit of home,” Sallee said.