Around this time people ask if I miss having a traditional Thanksgiving or winter holiday season. To be honest, no. Not at all. Not to say I don’t miss family, but I dont miss them any more on “special” days than I miss them on regular days.
We make no special effort to bring the holidays to Japan by dressing up for halloween or putting up stockings for christmas (my sister in Korea does enough of that for ten ex-pat families). Our thanksgiving dinner was a just more of the same fabulous food we always eat, and I didn’t even realize it was “Thanksgiving Dinner” until the next day.
With Mona here though, I did start to feel a bit guilty that she would not have some kind of special traditions to enjoy as a child – memories to mark the passage of time such as getting sick from eating all the hallowing candy at once, eating stuffing and pumpkin pie for thanksgiving, and having to wait until it was officially time to come out of our rooms on Christmas morning.
Sure there are festivals here too, and while we participate in a very small way with obon, new-year, spring planting break festival, etc. it is not the same for her as for the other kids. For her it is simply an hour or two when we walk out the door and get together with the other people in the hamlet, come home and life is back to normal. For the other people here it is several days of family visiting and an entirely different atmosphere creating memories they carry with them for life.
Then, the other day as we were eating what we randomly decided to count as our thanksgiving meal. I realized that she will probably have some very special memories that I didn’t get growing up, and maybe even many of the children living here don’t get.
For one thing, Mona will, I think, be far more sensitive to the seasons than most people I know, and “Nozawa Pickling Day” will become one of our official custom-made family holidays to mark time. The yearly trek to the nozawana field in the cold, lugging it back home to be washed in the near-freezing river water, sometimes in a cold rain, sometimes in the snow.
And we can’t forget the first taste of this years nozawa pickles, a flavor that changes throughout the winter. Its amazing how wonderful it tastes and easy it is to forget about how tired you had grown to them after a winter were nozawana is one of the only greens available.
For her, most every autumn meal will be a thanksgiving meal comprised almost completely of the flavors of fall. Fresh rice (tastes completely different than it will in a few months), mushroom soup from freshly harvested wild mushrooms (which has saddly passed, and we were unable to find anymore as we hiked today), the first taste of this year’s pickled Nozawana leaves, and perfectly mushy persimmon for dessert.
With winter, we will be eating mostly rice, pickled Nozawana, and miso soup with root vegetables with hardened well-dried persimmons for dessert. Fresh greens will be a luxury item, as will be the occasional mochi cooked on the fire stove (she loved that tonight)
Spring will bring the fuki, bamboo shoot soup every day, tender young ferns. All of these are foods that we love, but are never too sad to say goodbye until next spring.
Summer is eda-mame, tomatoes, fresh leafy greens, mullberries, raspberries, watermelon, grapes.
I suppose it could be considered child neglect or abuse to not have strawberries in winter in a world where everything is available at any time of the year from the supermarket, but at least it is giving her a bit of a tradition and she will grow up to know the passing of the seasons means more than just the color of the leaves and a few more layers of clothing.