No matter how many Thanksgivings have come and gone, I shall always remember the one I spent in Hokkaido, Japan. I got married before I graduated from college and was lucky enough to join my husband in Sapporo the September after finishing school. We'd gotten engaged on a previous Thanksgiving, so this day was very special to us.
Sapporo, Japan was very, very far away from Michigan, and we were very young. We couldn't live on a base because my husband was only a private in the Army.
Through rather remote and lucky connections, I was introduced to Pauline Lane, an American missionary-professor. When she heard I was coming, she asked the Masakis, a Japanese family, if we could live with them for the nine months we would be there. Dr. Takeo Masaki and his wife had lived in Germany while he completed his medical work. They said "yes" because they knew what "it felt like to be foreigners in a foreign land." They invited us to build a small apartment on their second floor. Dr. Takeo, Sakura, his wife, and their daughter, Yoko, became my family. In fact, they became the family I'd always wanted. As an only child, I'd always felt left out; my parents were a couple whereas I was only one. My new Japanese family made me feel totally included. They extended their culture to us and wanted to know more about ours, enveloping us in the best of attention with their support, time and warmth. They celebrated all of their Japanese holidays for us, even when they had to unpack two generations of their family's dolls on Boy's Day. They organized flower arranging and cooking lessons for me, delighted in my trying on their vintage kimono collection, and introduced me to their friends. They were always available, whenever I needed them.
Thanksgiving was not traditionally celebrated in Japan but they wanted to know all about it and how they could participate with us. Fortunately, I had access to Army stores where I could purchase a turkey and all the trimmings. We invited our American friends, Pauline and Harold Lane, and their extraordinary cook, Aunt Sue. Aunt Sue created miracles in a Russian-type stove, a stove which also heated their house on the campus of Hokkaido University. This stove was in the middle of the house, so it had an opening in the kitchen and one in the hall. It was wood burning and lacked any temperature control, but Aunt Sue knew exactly how to plan the time to cook everything. She baked the best apple pies in the entire world, so everybody said. She baked our turkey for dinner which took all night and the next day. The rest of us made other typical Thanksgiving Day fare. I can still remember their round table into which they put an extension leaf to accommodate all the guests. And I can still feel the magic of all of us sitting together, all ages, different cultures enjoying each other and celebrating an American holiday in Japan.
I was fortunate enough to see Takeo two more times after we returned home to Detroit. Sadly, I never saw Sakura again, though we wrote and sent gifts back and forth. Ultimately, Yoko came to teach flower arranging in the United States, so we visited her often. I said to her once, "How can I ever thank your mother for what she did while we lived with you?" She replied, "You just did!" That was surely one of the most precious moments in my life.
When I returned many years later to Tokyo, I met the Masaki family's grandson, Makoto, and his mom. Makoto brought out the scrap book that Sakura, his grandmother had made, while I lived with them. Makoto said to me, "I feel like you're family." I had the opportunity to tell stories of his grandparents, which he'd never heard before. I felt as I was sitting at that round table again reveling in those marvelous moments, for which I will always be grateful. That's what Thanksgiving means to me -- sharing the very best of us with each other, no matter where we are, where we go, or where we live.
Alice Aspen March, is the founder of TheAttentionFactor (R), of Los Angeles, California.