Japanese Thanksgiving

Today was Thanksgiving. In years past I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get a bunch of friends together at a restaurant serving an American Thanksgiving meal. It’s always overpriced, but it’s always good, and I like the Thanksgiving dinner enough that having it only once a year is woefully inadequate.

This year, though, I didn’t bother. Work is busy, and I just didn’t feel like calling all the nice hotels in Shanghai and being told of 300 or 400 rmb meals.

So instead, I got together with some friends and we did Japanese all you can eat. Despite rumors of “turkey sashimi” there was not a scrap of real Thanksgiving food to be found. I didn’t even stuff myself as much as I could have.

It’s always good to get together with a large group of friends (we don’t do it enough), but it’s getting harder and harder to “fake” Thanksgiving. I think I might just start holding off on the Thanksgiving festivities until my visits home to the States.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Today was Thanksgiving.

    Ack!!! I’ve had this lingering feeling I was forgetting something all day. I worked straight through it, and didn’t bump into any N. Americans to remind me. This is the first I haven’t done at least a restaurant version of Thanksgiving with my friends, too. Geez…

  2. the other day, I got an email from my previous coworker in Shanghai, wishing me Happy Thanksgiving. I didn’t remember I had ever celebrated Thanksgiving in Shanghai. American ppl thanks God in the season and what’s the point of celebrating thanksgiving in China? Most of Chinese don’t even have faith! Just can’t figure it out.

  3. Greg Pasden Says: November 24, 2006 at 5:40 am

    Since you are faking Thanksgiving, do you have to fake Christmas as well?

    I’ll be in PVG for Christmas. Maybe I’ll be able to see you then.

    This year’s Thanksgiving dinner is going to be airport food in Anchorage, Alaska. I guess I’ll be attempting to fake the day as well.

  4. John,

    Happy thanksgiving. Today I had some type of russian mystery meat that could be chicken, pork, or beef but definately wasn’t turkey. I miss those Japanese all you can eat (and more importantly) drink places.

  5. アメリカ人たち、おめでとうでございます!

  6. But it was a lot of fun, no?

    When KX and I went back in October my mom did up the Thanksgiving meal a month early, so I was pretty content with Japanese food instead. I agree that faking holidays in China is getting harder and harder, though. I think in a lot of ways it’s just not worth it.


    Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday.

  7. Many Chinese are also reluctant to give thanks too… so, Marco isn’t way off base. 😉

  8. Mike in Jubei Says: November 24, 2006 at 9:48 am


    I was in Taiwan alone this year so I walked to The Outback Steakhouse had a juicy cheeseburger and a large Fosters. Well it was two drinks for the price of one so I had two.

    Happy Thanksgiving

  9. Wayne checked in with me this morning on the Japanese meal with “Paz and Et Al” … right on – you should find excuses very easy to get together with friends! It’s even harder to let go, acting a fool when it’s time to go.

    We got super stuffed over here, didn’t even make it to the Int. Auto Show at SF’s Moscone Center (annual tradition) because it was so beautiful outside (didn’t rain like it was forecasted). Happy Thanksgiving, all.

    • Wilson
  10. Last year we drive an hour to have Thanksgiving dinner in Beijing. I was looking forward to turket an dressing (which they had), but I ended up eating Japanese food instead….

    BTW, wasabi is good with almost any food as far as I am concerned.

    Funny word….wasabi….lmao… Say that one out loud to the fuyuyuan at any shanghai japanese restraunt.

  11. A Chinese acquaintance of mine was who reminded me. Otherwise I would have completely forgotten… didn’t have all the usual Black Friday ads to keep me eager.

    His SMS read “Happy Thanksgiving Brian! Be careful, do not drink so much beers!”

    I’m not sure if I feel insulted or if he just knows the holiday too well.

  12. Why not just get together with friends — and be thankful that you can & have friends to share the good times with. With that approach, you could have a ‘thanksgiving’ every month.

    When your sister made 5 pies (1 apple w/ crumble topping, 1 pecan, 3 pumpkin) for Thanksgiving, I thought that she had gotten word that you would be there for dinner. ;->

    Besides, Thanksgiving isn’t really the food. It’s the getting together & the reason.

  13. Dad,

    Getting together with friends is nice, but there’s just no substitution for family. That’s what Thanksgiving is about to me. (And secondarily, the food.)

  14. Hi John B
    I looked it up in Wiki and it traditionally was for giving thanks to GOD.
    Read this:

    The Chinese doesn’t actually quite get used to say “thanks” all the times is because they do consider too much thanks coming out of your mouth each day is a little insincere. They think you are close enough not to say thanks. If you have ever got too many thanks from a single person, you’d better watch out. He/she doesn’t think you are close. For a Chinese family, we seldom say thanks to our parents and our parents donot either. The same rules apply to your best friends.

  15. Marco,

    Hm… well, at least it’s not an overtly religious holiday like, say, Easter. Maybe my family was just a bunch of heathens. 🙂

  16. @marco, while saying thanks to close friends/family can be considered a sign of insincerity in China, for many people who are from English speaking countries (well for me at least) it’s a habit that’s been hammered home since childhood and is simply too ingrained to get rid off. It’s just one of those things.
    @ all Americans – please let your Chinese friends/students/colleagues/family members know that Thanksgiving (at least the one celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November) is an American (and Canadian?) festival and it’s not really appropriate for them to wish a happy Thanksgiving to people who are not American. It would be like me (a Brit) wishing a happy Thai New Year to a Korean.

  17. Happy Thanksgiving! We celebrated here w/ Korean BBQ chicken and way too much wine.

  18. I always thought Thanksgiving was the most disgusting, hypocrytical Holiday in America if you look too much into the details, “Thanks for your food, later we will give you blankets infested with disease and slaughter the rest who don’t die off from that”.

    So let’s not quibble about details, use the holiday to poke fun at other people’s and just be thankful for what you have, kay?

  19. Now that I’m back in the States, I’ve decided to quit faking the Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year. I never much cared for ricecakes and moon cakes anyway.

    Sliding off-topic a bit, I had great fun shopping in NYC’s Chinatown. Filled my backpack with the freshest bitter melons I’ve ever seen in the US and paid $1.35 a bag for wolfberries that are marketed as Tibetan goji berries and sold for $5 at health food stores. The $2 plate of hand-made steaming pork and cabbage dumplings was a steal.

  20. trevor7744 Says: November 25, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    I like Thanksgiving a lot, for me it means the time my family gets together and eats good food and plays board games all night. It’s always really fun. We do the same thing at New Year’s. Those are the best holidays for me.
    As for whether or not it is religious, I would say regardless of it’s origin, most people would say it isn’t religiously focussed. It’s more that it can be made religious if you are a religious person/family (like anything else, if someone is religious, they can make everything in their life have religious significance). So Thanksgiving isn’t really a religious holiday. Considering America’s puritan roots, everything was religious at one point. But in modern times, Thanksgiving isn’t very religious unless you make it religious yourself.

  21. Not being American I never got the point of Thanksgiving, apart from as an early Christmas copy? It is not true to say Thanksgiving is not religious, not unless you are ignorant of American history. If it is not religious, who are you thanking? It is not a festival to thank your Mum for making apple pie. It is to thank God for motivating the non-Christian Indians to help the original English settlers survive.

  22. Early Christmas copy? The meanings of the holidays are very different. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus while Thanksgiving is America’s version of the autumn harvest festival. Christmas was originally a Christian holiday while Thanksgiving is more inclusive as all religions teach followers to be grateful and appreciate what they have. While the true meaning of Christmas has become lost in out-of-control commercialism, Thanksgiving remains a simple holiday of food and family. Early Native Americans’ generosity to English settlers deserves to be celebrated, regardless of how the settlers’ descendants behaved.

  23. i had great fun on thanksgiving day trying to explain to my co-workers what the day it is all about….and i’m not even american. i ended up getting into heated discussions with my boss and another colleague who kept saying that thanksgiving day is a european holiday and i had no right to tell people not to say ‘happy thanksgiving’ to me, and that i was just being an arsehole foreigner not letting people have fun.

    when i asked what they would say if they were overseas and heard me telling a bunch of australians that chinese new year is celebrated by feeding monkeys at the zoo and a bunch of other crap (total crap being what they were saying about thanksgiving day), they told me to shut up and don’t be stupid because everyone knows what CNY is about, and even if you had never been to China yo would know how its celebrated.

    point being that people who have never been overseas, let alone to the US were telling our foreign staff how to celebrate their own holiday.

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