Thanksgiving a la Japan! Or This Thanksgiving I am Thankful for Japan

* Note extremely LONG post. You’ve been warned!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America. Because I am 14 hours ahead at this point, Thanksgiving just ended. It feels weird because it is Friday night in Japan.

Yesterday, while my friends and family and loved ones were all sleeping off Wednesday into the holiday, I was trekking up to the north of Fukui Prefecture on the hunt for a tourist site called Tojinbo Cliffs located in a town called Mikuni.

Tojinbo Cliffs
Me at the Cliffs in the rain.

Rather than take the JR (Japan Rail) directly to Awara Onsen and catch a bus to the Cliffs, I took JR to Fukui and then transferred to the local railway called Echizen Railway. The rides in total were a little over an hour and well, it’s a good thing I enjoy train rides as much as I do.

When I got off the train at Mikuni, I followed an elderly couple as they walked to a bus stop where a bus was waiting. Within minutes the bus pulled off and drove us along the coast, up a hill and dropped us off at the base of a touristy set of shops and restaurants that led to the Cliffs.

As we all got off the bus, I wasn’t sure where to go as the signs in Japanese led one way and the stores led another. At this point, a woman boldly said to me in English, “well, are you going to come with me?” I was a bit confused, but I said, “Sure!” and followed her through the narrow street of shops and restaurants.

As we walked, she introduced herself (without ever giving me her name) and explained that she was visiting her sister who lives in Kyoto and they had come up to Fukui to see a few sites, Tojinbo Cliffs being one of them. We exchanged conversation for a while about travels and her being from Taiwan and me being from America. She was really very nice. We separated briefly and when we met back together, she was explained that her sister and her were going to get going because they had to catch a train back to Kyoto from Fukui.

Before they left though, they turned to me handed me a Japanese orange and said, “Here is some crab rice, too. We ordered it for breakfast at the hotel this morning and couldn’t eat all of it. Enjoy!”  With that, off they went leaving me with a smile and a chance to walk around the Cliffs alone and in the rain grateful for random meetings and their kindness.

After taking a few pictures and wandering around a bit, I decided to walk down to get lunch. Yes, I ate the crab rice ball (it was delicious!) and I went and had lunch a few minutes later. Either way, I had what I call my Thanksgiving Feast. It was noon and quite a sizeable meal. I had a big bowl of rice with sashimi on top (salmon, octopus, squid, shrimp, and a few other kinds of fish I don’t know) and a smaller bowl of miso soup with two legs of Echizen crab.  It was all incredibly filling and delicious. It was by no means Thanksgiving dinner – there was no turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, arroz con gandules, greens, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, or anything else of that deliciousness, BUT it was hands down some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

Echizen crab!

I decided after lunch that I could head back to the train and maybe walk around Fukui a bit. After all, it was raining and I didn’t know what else to do. I walked to the stop where the bus dropped us off and found the schedule that said I had just missed the bus and the next one would not come for two hours.

At that point, I bundled up more (because it was rather cold) and I started walking. Two more hours at the Cliffs in the rain was not my idea of a good time.  So I walked. And walked some more. And I had no clue where I was going outside of remembering certain things from the bus ride up. At a certain point, I was rounding a curve and came across a wooden building. The sign outside said, “Pueblo Coffee House for Members – Open.”  I immediately got curious. “I mean a coffee house (I love coffee!) in Mikuni named after a Native American Indian Tribe in Japan?” Of course I went in!

When I walked in, the woman, Junko, who I believe is the owner, came out and looked at me curiously. Clearly, I am not a member. I pulled out my Japanese/English dictionary and told her in extremely broken Japanese that I saw her coffee shop and just wanted to look around. She asked if I was American and I said yes and she took my umbrella and showed me in.

Walking into this coffee shop almost made me cry. I am serious. I had many, many emotions welled up inside me as I took in the simple décor of the coffee house, the open and airy space, the owner who was collected and calm and very zen-like, and the small tee-pees and dream catchers scattered all over the place.

Inside decor of Pueblo Coffee House for Members

I recently wrote a post about how I wanted to live on a Reservation as a child and how something about being in Echizen reminds me of that dream every day and this coffee house, this random, small coffee house, in an extremely small town in Northern Fukui, Japan, brought it all full circle.

As I continued talking to this woman in broken Japanese and she in her broken English to me, she pulled out books of American parks out West and about Native American lands. She also offered me a coffee as a “present.” I tried to pay her and she said, “No. Present.”

We celebrate Thanksgiving in America as a way to share our gratitude with our loved ones, but to remember the Pilgrims and Native Americans first harvest together. If we look at Native Americans now, we should be ashamed for celebrating a holiday where we have forgotten the origins and the people we should remember and have all but forgotten.  Instead we overeat and fight with our family, but still say we’re grateful.

At this moment, in “Pueblo Coffee House for Members” I was grateful. Grateful for a delicious cup of coffee (this country does not do coffee well!), a warm place inside from the rain (it rains a lot here!), and this fateful moment where America, Native Americans, my dreams, heritage, love of coffee, travels to Japan and curiosity all converged and brought me to this shop.

I spent a while talking to her and another woman who came in before heading out to continue walking down to the train. As I left, I had the biggest smile on my face. I was happy.

As I continued on down the hill, walking along side the road (no sidewalks), I recognized places I had seen on the bus and knew I was going the right way. I’d say, I walked probably four miles from the Cliffs to the Mikuni train stop, but I had many stops a long the way. I left the bus stop at 12:12 pm and made it to the train station at 2:50ish, just in time for the 3:11 train to Fukui. Not too bad.

Anyway, I ate my Japanese orange as I walked along and watched fisherman bring in their catches of Echizen crab to sell. I watched people come in and buy crabs and even watched one cook steam crabs. Very cool!

As I got close to the point where I had to turn, I noticed the Mikuni Spa. Awara Onsen, the Awara hot springs was 9km away from the Cliffs and I did not want to walk 9km in an unknown direction. I had been itching to get some onsen action on and decided when I saw the Mikuni Spa sign to peek in.

I am so glad I did because it was wonderful! I want to spend many, many more days at hot springs because they are divine!

There was a wonderful moment of confusion where I didn’t know where to go and the girl at the front desk didn’t speak English and the manager had to come out and he didn’t understand me, but we finally made progress and one of the employees showed me the locker room and where to go to change and shower and get in the hot pool.

I didn’t stay in that long because the water is hot and I didn’t want to harm myself by staying in too long, but I stayed in long enough to feel relaxed and to feel good about my decision to spend 500 yen sitting in a pool with naked older women.

After I got out, I wandered around the spa to the “beach” there and noticed how dirty it is and also sent a little message to a friend I am missing and whose birthday it was. I sent it across the ocean and the sand with a kiss and the hope that they received it like a warm hug.  I then turned southeast and walked along to the street needed to get me to the train station.

Dirty, Dirty Beach!

As I turned on the street, I noticed a ton of cute little shops that I hadn’t noticed while on the bus. I was determined to avoid any and all because I had already spent more than I anticipated on my little lunch feast, but my eyes caught a small “stationery shop” and I couldn’t help but enter.

I walked in and greeted the woman, the owner, I believe, and immediately set my eyes on a calendar. It was adorable and I knew in an instant that it was the calendar I would buy for myself for 2013. Adorable and inspirational and just plain cute!  Then I found an expensive pair of scissors that part of me is mad for buying because they were expensive ($12!), but I bought anyway because they say “Mark’s Style” and well, one of my best friends is named Mark and it just seemed appropriate. And then I bought a gorgeous little blue purse/pouch that cost less than both the calendar and scissors individually.

The woman in the shop thanked me quite a few times for the purchase, which made me feel weird, but appreciated. All I could think was, “What an adorable shop and I’m so glad I found it before leaving this town!”  I told her I love her shop and thanked her right back.

As I was getting ready to leave the store, the woman rushed over to a shelf and then turned to me with a pair of socks in hand and said, “Please, present for you.”  She put the socks in my bag and I thanked her. I have been looking for another pair of socks and there was a pair being given to me as a gift. I couldn’t believe my good fortune all day, but furthermore, I couldn’t believe how open and generous all of these women were being toward me.

Currently, I am living in a house where I am a persona non grata.  Things have turned sour between my host and me and I still have seven more days as a guest in her home. You may be wondering why I am staying and the truth is because it is my plan and I’m changing that part of my plan. I’ve already changed my plans enough to leave the house ahead of schedule and in doing so, while going off to discover and see more of Japan, I am also ending my stay in Echizen.

Please know that I am not complaining. As much as I would love to stay here longer, I can feel in my soul that it is time to move on. No regrets there. Not to mention, there is a whole lot of Japan left for me to see and I can’t wait for that stage. Plus, I plan to return to Echizen in the future many, many times, whether I communicate with my host or not in the future. That will have no effect on me.

My point is that my host has done everything in her power, through mannerisms and some words, to let me know that she can’t wait for me to leave. I have graciously not responded. As a matter of fact, I responded with, “I too am looking forward to the day of my departure.”  Because of this, I have battled with at times feeling bad that I haven’t just packed up and left, annoyed at her childishness (although, I get not wanting someone in your house and having to deal with them because an agreement is an agreement, but when you are 30+ there is a way to act), and not feeling bad about it.

Yesterday though, showed me that the horrible person my host is trying to make me out to be is in fact not true. That is her issue. That is her problem. I don’t have to acknowledge nor do I have to fill the role. I can in fact continue to be me, respectful, curious, and generous regardless of what others project and feel.  My host’s feelings are not an actual reflection of who I am. I will remember that and I will move on.

In the past, I would have tried to fix the situation. I would have done anything to make the situation better and to have my host like me again. The other day, as I had a conversation with the bathroom mirror, I looked at my reflection and said, “Sara, it always comes down to one thing: is it worth it or not?” The answer, I saw in my eyes and felt in my heart, “no.” Not because my host isn’t worth it. In fact, she is a great artist and is a kind person, but she and I don’t jive well and that is nobody’s fault, so I said, “I’m thankful for her kindness and generosity the past few weeks, and for having met her, but it ends there. I refuse to feel badly for something I cannot control and for something she is equally unwilling to work out.  While that doesn’t stop the dread of going into her house when she is home at night, once inside in my room, I turn on music and do some work and go to bed. Forgetting that I don’t feel bad, nor care because we’ll be parting soon and I’ll be off to the next steps in my papermaking journey in Japan.

Either way, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and who I am and what I want in life. (Not completely, but enough to let me see a bit of the Sara I know which shows me that I am on the right track and getting closer.) I am grateful for this opportunity and for Japan allowing me to find myself again in her precious bosom – in a Prefecture full of amazing people, culture, and beauty.

I am thankful to have spent Thanksgiving in Japan this year, even though I am a day late in my gratitude and I miss my family.  Most importantly, I am thankful for a wonderful Thanksgiving that brought me to four generous women, who all opened their doors and arms and businesses to this gypsy girl named Sara and reminded me of what being thankful is all about – being at peace with yourself and sharing/spreading love and connection.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Universe, God, Paper Goddess, and all the forces that came into play yesterday and every day as I’ve been on this journey. Gracias y Merci!

Oh, and because I cannot forget this! I’ve talked about my paternal grandmother coming to me when I’m on the right track in her ladybug form many times. So I have to tell you that yesterday, when I got off the train at Mikuni, the poster board outside of the train on the platform was of a large drawn ladybug.  I knew then that going to Mikuni was the right thing to do, I just had no idea how much good fortune and all I’d have to be grateful for would present itself. Thank you, Grandmere!

I hope your Thanksgiving, if you are American, was just as full of gratitude and wonder. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, then I hope you experienced small miracles yesterday that reminded you of the beauty that peppers our small world.

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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