Thanksgiving and Black Friday in Japan

There is so such holiday in Japan.  Though they do celebrate Labour Thanksgiving on November 23 each year, it’s not a very important holiday.  In fact, one of my adult conversation students had work that day.

I explained the customs and traditions (not so much of the history) to two of my adult conversation classes this week.  There were various questions about what we do with so much leftover food, but mainly they were surprised by the bringing of food.

If you’re reading this and you’re not American, on Thanksgiving it’s customary to bring something edible to the house you’re dining at.  It doesn’t have to be home-cooked – you can bring dessert, even drinks.

Well, in Japan that is considered rude.  FIRST, a disclaimer.  The woman who told me this is in her 80s, and the woman agreeing with her is 52.  Just keep that in mind.   In Japan, if you bring food to someone’s house, especially cooked food, you’re saying two things (1) I don’t like your food and (2) I can do this better.  The only time it’s really acceptable is if it’s a close friend.

I explained to them that, in general, if you’re invited to dinner in New York it’s seen as a polite gesture if you decide to bring something.

Black Friday
A short summary for the unfamiliar:

Black Friday is America’s busiest shopping day of the year.  Many Americans begin their Christmas shopping at this time.  Department and chain stores offer huge sales on this day and open very, very early in the morning (anywhere from midnight to 5 a.m.).  Many shoppers line up, or even camp out at stores to have a better chance at getting a good deal.  In the past five years, violence has become more common on Black Friday.  In 2008, a male employee opening doors at a Wal-Mart was trampled and killed by a crowd of 2,000 people.

This was the topic of conversation for my Friday night class.  They were surprised by the idea, especially that stores seem to egg on this behavior.  Just a decade ago, Thanksgiving sales lasted all weekend.  In an attempt to bump single-day profits, the sale was shortened.

Mr. Nagai, a dentist in his 50s, asked, “Does something bad happen on Black Friday?” after I’d described the concept to the class.

“Oh, there’s a whole second page for that,” I answered.   And there was.

From trampling to gun threats and this year, actual pepper spray & shootings, Black Friday can be quite dangerous.

“I can’t imagine shooting someone because of a sale,” Kazuko, my student, said.

That’s precisely the cultural difference.  If you type “black friday” and gun into Google, you should be surprised by what the auto-suggestion says.  Some Americans think it’s no big deal to have a gun.  Or, in the case of some police lately, no big deal to pepper spray someone.

“They have no qualms about using and carrying guns because they think they’re smart enough to handle it,” Mike said.

Lucky Bag
On January 2 in Japan, department stores sell “lucky bags,” (福袋,  fukubukuro in Japanese)  It’s comparable to a grab bag – a bag full of mysterious items.  Though you don’t know the contents, the bags are sold at a considerable discount. Google Images

“Mr. Nagai, what do you do if you buy a bag with things you can’t use, like makeup and nail polish?”
“He can give it to someone!” Kazuko chimed in.

They also explain that though the stores don’t accept returns or exchanges on lucky bags, you can trade with another customer.

The stores may be crowded on that day, and people run to the lucky bags, but my students couldn’t recall any instances of violence.  (For more info, check out the Wikipedia.)

Perhaps, most importantly, “Lucky Bag Day” doesn’t exist.


About Michelle

I lived in Japan for a year & a half teaching English. Now I'm blogging about learning to cook in NYC.
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5 Responses to Thanksgiving and Black Friday in Japan

  1. Akira Ito says:

    Actually, I don’t think it’s rude to bring some food or drink to the house which I am invited to dine, in Japan. We don’t bring cooked food, but we bring some dessert like cake or cookie, or some drink like sake or beer, instead.

    • pikangie says:

      Yeah, it must be different for some families, because I know when a relative or friend brings food to my grandma’s house in Japan, they seem all happy. Maybe it depends on the type of food, though. It’s usually a “gift” type of food that they can’t really cook/make, like cake. But even homemade gift food(like homemade mochi) seems accepted. I don’t know.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thank you! I was hoping someone would tell me that. I was very surprised when my student said it was rude.

  3. Allan says:

    What are the days when stores offer great discounts in japan ?

  4. Id really like to know if there are any shops that solley sell the Apple products for sale, like these in Japan, and are there good offers?

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