Thanksgiving in Japan

The Tanuki gingerly picked up a piece of shrimp sushi with his chopsticks, dipped it ever so lightly into the soy sauce, then promptly dropped the whole thing in his lap. He looked down dejectedly as it rolled onto the floor. I thought briefly of remarking, “Impressive chopstick skills,” since that’s what Japanese people always say to me, but instead I pretended not to notice and simply ordered us two more beers, plus a shochu for Imada-san. We Japanese are polite like that.

Thanksgiving in Japan started with a trip to Ten Thousand Fucking Poodles. That’s the establishment formerly known as Starbucks. Know how Europe has all these wonderful cafes with outdoor seating? Yeah, not Japan. If it’s 22 degrees Celsius, everyone’s all “atsui, atsui,” so hot. Or else it’s 20 degrees and everyone complains “samui, samui,” oh, it’s so cold. Japanese people love nature, as long as it’s exactly 21 degrees.

Rise of the Tiny Dogs

For that reason, there’s only about five outdoor tables in the whole nation, all at Starbucks, and completely overrun with fucking tiny poodles. Once COVID-19 hit, the economy ground to a halt, hospitals filled to capacity, folks were dying in their homes, and the nation of Japan collectively said, “Know what’d make this pandemic way better? A fucking tiny poodle. Yep, better run right out, get a couple, and take ’em to Starbucks just to annoy Ken Seeroi.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I love fucking tiny poodles, With those cute button eyes and full-body afro, I mean, who wouldn’t? Only I don’t see why you need to bring a hundred of the yappy little bastards to my coffee shop so they can fur up the place. Set ’em loose in a field of daisies or something. Just a suggestion.

A Good Start to Your Thanksgiving in Japan

But where were we? Oh right, The Tanuki and Imada-san, my old men Japanese friends. So after I got thoroughly furry and fully caffeinated, we met up for beers by the train station. It was a cool autumn day, Thanksgiving, in fact. Otherwise known as Tuesday. Now, Thanksgiving in Japan turns out to be just like it is in the U.S., minus the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Also, there are no parades, football games, or family get-togethers, but otherwise, exactly the same.

By now, it was 10 a.m., and as was often the case, The Tanuki and Imada-san had been drinking since dawn, which is apparently one of the benefits of retirement in Japan. “Let’s get more beer,” they said in unison, which sounded like the greatest idea ever, so that’s what we did. Then we all said it a few more times until someone suggested “Let’s get sushi.” I think that was me. Anyway, it proved to be a popular sentiment, so off we went.

How to Eat Sushi

The waitress at the sushi restaurant was Vietnamese. “You two can speak English together!” said Imada-san happily. She and I just stared at each other. “I think we’re gonna need some drinks,” I said in Japanese.

She returned with a tray full of booze and three wooden blocks topped with assorted sushi. Now, if you know anything about sushi, you know you eat it with your hands and not chopsticks. That is, if you’re not Japanese and want your fingers to smell like fish sticks. Because somewhere along the line, some white guy declared that was the “proper” way to consume sushi, and suddenly foreigners the world over started cramming raw seafood into their pie holes with bare hands. Now, I’m not trying to be the arbiter of propriety—you barbarians can do whatever you want—I’m just saying in twenty years of eating sushi in Japan, I’ve seen Japanese people do that approximately never. Here, we’re sophisticated. We use sticks.

So Imada-san was lifting his fish off the sushi rice and bathing it in soy sauce, then halving the rice with his chopsticks, leaving little white blocks of it off to the side, like a Lego wall. Meanwhile, The Tanuki was busy trying to convince the waitress to give his lap a sponge bath. Why am I always the courteous one? Clearly I have a ways to go before mastering such levels of Japanese politeness.

“Think we’ll take the check now,” I said to the waitress.

“And three glasses of shochu,” added The Tanuki, “shi shi.”

I looked at him. “Pretty sure that’s Chinese,” I remarked.

“I don’t speak Vietnamese,” he replied.

I paused. “Eh, fair point.” Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese . . . well, they all end in “-ese,” so pretty much all the same. That can’t be a mere coincidence. But hey, I’m not trying to paint my friends in a bad light. That’s just how it is in Japan, where #stopasianhate takes on a slightly different meaning. Like, Stop hating, Asian people. It’s all about the comma placement.

The Rest of Thanksgiving Day in Japan

Once we were happily full of sushi and booze, we wandered back to the station and made our goodbyes. They really are good guys, despite the fact they’re old and Japanese. Then I had one of my trademark moments of clarity. I hate when that happens. Because I realized it was two in the afternoon, I was drunk, and I had a full day of productivity ahead of me. I was like, Well, now the fuck what? But I already knew the answer, so I headed to Da Shack.

There’s probably a real name for it, but any identifying markings had long since fallen off the exterior. Da Shack is a dilapidated liquor store slash old folk’s home constructed entirely of discarded plywood, Formica tiles, and corrugated tin, loosely held together with bubble gum. The bar, such as it is, consists of two doors from someone’s house connected with nails and some string, and the bathroom is literally a urinal propped up in the corner of the parking lot, next to the main intersection. That’s a little embarrassing, especially when a family in a minivan pulls up to a red light.

The usual crowd was already inside, drinking shochu and eating dried squid and ume plums. I grabbed a can of malt liquor from the cooler and sat down between an old guy and an older guy. The old guy had on ripped jeans, an imitation black leather biker jacket, and a tiger-striped fanny pack. I was like, Dude, that’s a lotta look. But he was an alright sort of fellow, intent on entertaining me with pictures of his Harley and a long-ago trip to L.A.

The older guy, however, kept doing the one thing that annoys me more than fucking tiny poodles. He’d latched onto me as a listener and would not shut up, rambling incessantly in unintelligible drunken Japanese. Between the booze and whatever dialect he was speaking. I couldn’t make out half of what he was saying. And then he peed himself.

I felt that was an improvement. He finally stopped jabbering and started wiping his feet over the puddle on the concrete floor, as though he was going to mop it up with the soles of his shoes. There was a large stain down his right trouser leg and he looked perplexed, like, Who peed my pants? Well, brah, pretty sure it wasn’t me.

Japanese National Holidays

I’d been on the fence as to whether to have another drink or leave Da Shack, but that’s about as clear a sign from God as you’re gonna get. So I made my goodbyes, stopped by the urinal in the parking lot, then began weaving my way home.

I hadn’t stumbled a hundred meters when I turned a corner and there was a guy urinating into the gutter, just out in the open. Not a tree around for miles. Did I mention it was the middle of the day? I looked at him, and he, dick in hand, calmly looked back. So that was weird. I was like, What the eff, is it national pee day? Why am I left out of all the good holidays?

Thanksgiving Dinner in Japan

Suddenly, I felt like having hash brown potatoes. That’s not related to the guy peeing, I’m just not good with transitions. So I stopped by 7-Eleven and got two hash browns, a bag of dark chocolate covered raisins, a couple tall cans of malt liquor, and an ice cream bar. Then I went home, stuffed everything in the freezer, turned on Netflix, and promptly passed out.

When I woke up, it was dark and there were malt liquor slushies and potato-flavored popsicles in my freezer, plus a bunch of rock-hard chocolate raisins. Eh, nothing a little microwave and a pan of hot water can’t solve. So I took out the fine china, restarted the movie, then sat down to Thanksgiving dinner in Japan. And I said a little prayer. God, if you’re up there, thank you for 7-Eleven. Also, for these bountiful hash browns, melted chocolate raisins, two exceptionally frosty malt liquors, and Netflix. Please bring world peace, less carbon in the atmosphere, fewer fucking poodles at Starbucks, and help old men not pee themselves. Oh, and I’d like to be rich, have a hot girlfriend, and a magic lantern. Thanks in advance. Your friend, Ken.

14 Replies to “Thanksgiving in Japan”

  1. “Now don’t get me wrong, I love fucking tiny poodles, With those cute button eyes and full-body afro, I mean, who wouldn’t?”

    Had to read that a few times to make sure it wasn’t any bourbon still in my system from the festivities last night…may I humbly suggest transitioning a particular word to a slightly different location in that sentence? Maybe before “love” instead of after it. Just thinking the mighty Google algorithm might sort you to a category you may not want to be.
    Or that may be exactly what you intended, in which case I still love your blog, but stay away from my poodle!

    1. Thanks for the concern, but from my perspective, any AI that can’t take a joke is not yet fit to rule the universe.

      Just don’t send any poodle pics and we’ll be good.

        1. So you’d like…less information? Sure, I can do that. It’d be a great marketing slogan too—The all-new Japanese Rule of 7: now with less information.

  2. This one is going into the second edition of The Book(TM), isn’t it? There is a second edition, right?

    Too bad this year’s book signing tour to Japan had to be cancelled again. But there is little point making the journey and then spending the whole time quarantined. Hopefully next year will be better.

    1. I know, this pandemic stuff just isn’t any fun any more. I wish I’d spent more time traveling when I had the chance.

      If by “second edition” you mean a second book, then yes, I’ve got one in the works. Of course, being terminally lazy as I am, it’ll take a bit of time. I’ve got a few other things taking priority right now, but hopefully I’ll get back on track soon.

  3. I’m not entirely sure how you can still believe in Japanese politeness, outside yoshinoya.

    My vision of Japanese politeness properly includes men walking into me rather than give a centimeter of pavement; the occasional shove without bothering to glance; the two average-looking guys in their mid-20s who headlocked and beat an Indian guy bloody within two meters of bouncers in front of a club in Roppongi the other night, with the bouncers keeping carefully void, tough guy expressions while this guy was pummeled and shouting for help; the college age guy who smacked his girlfriend on the ground on a major street in Shibuya and dragged her by her hair across the ground until I stopped him. Where is your glib and judgment-laden blog post on the small and at times random acts of violence that go unreported, perpetrated by normal looking ikemen-wannabes or rougher types smacking drunk women to “wake them up” in full public view? I think that aspect of Japan goes unacknowledged, certainly in media, and I don’t see politeness so much as carefully maintained distance and detachment. I’m assured these things happen Elsewhere too, so I shouldn’t get too ruffled when I see casual violence go unacknowledged, but I live here, not Elsewhere, and my memories of witnessing violence at home don’t all end in a shrug and deflection towards “what.you foreigners did to Japanese the other night” from the police.

    1. Let me add to that tremendous comment.

      The constant groping reports about young girls (many of them underage), recent news of a man accused of killing his wife and 1-year-old daughter, the Police officer arrested for assaulting a 13 y/o girl, fathers abusing her own daughters and please don’t forget the arson-killing events.

      This clearly shows that japanese aren’t kind at all. That japanese politeness comes from a young age where they learn that they can’t show emotions, the can’t show feelings, they can’t express things because they will be judged, killed or crushed. Btw… If only ken could do an analysis of this topic it would be great.

      As you say, happens everywhere, but japanese know how to portray themselves as the good ones, as the cutie-goodie (and this also goes for women). They love to portray themselves as the cutie little pies but in the inside you will see the frenetic/psychotic monster who has been hiding all his/herlife.

      Japan’s politeness stand out because it is not kindness, compassion, nor empathy, it’s just a mere protocol.

      Be careful folks.

    1. It doesn’t really faze me. It’s being unable to visit my family and friends in the States, regardless of the season, that bothers me.

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