Friday, November 27, 2009

Bird Day Tokyo

Thanksgiving Day*. The cold frosty nights of late autumn. The leaves long gone from the trees; their remains now carpeting the earth. The men (and some women) up way before dawn, most hoping for a few inches of snow before heading out to the woods, often a trip of a few hundred yards. The women (and some men) up early to start the multi-hour job of preparing dinner. Some men and women up only a little later due to the excitement of watching men in heavily padded gear---many multi-millionaires or destined to be multi-millionaires---chase a funny looking ball up and down a sometimes snow-covered field while knocking each other silly.

No matter which these fortunate folks choose to do, there's always the anticipation of dinner and talking with relatives who have come in just for the holidays to make the dinner a festive affair. Or, perhaps there are a certain few who eagerly anticipate eating the dinner then escaping some of the more annoying relatives who are making the dinner a noisy, uncomfortable affair. It is very cold in the woods at night in late November.

It's been years since I've been back for that holiday. I always dread the near 24 hour trip involving planes, but no trains, automobiles, Greyhound buses, and the kind folks at US Customs and Immigration who make citizens feel like criminals and terrorists just for stepping out of the country. And that was before 9/11. I can only imagine what it is like for "guests." Maybe next year Barack will finally get to his promise to end the excesses of the previous administration.

But in Tokyo, I always take Bird Day off. It's slightly different than back home, which, I suppose, is not surprising since I am in the world's most unique country---the only one with four seasons to boot.

The, umm, less warm nights of late autumn. The crisp? 18 degree centigrade, 64 Fahrenheit days. The last of the leaves beginning to turn and those which have fallen quickly swept up less they inconvenience the ultra-advanced nature loving Japan of the future. The men and women up before dawn to crowd themselves into subway cars ultra-packed to nearly 200% of capacity. (Is that possible? What does capacity mean?) Me not heading for "woods" any more distant than Tamagawadaikoen while finding it impossible to imagine a few inches of snow falling before late December, if it falls at all.

Instead, after having bought a 9-10 lb ¥3200 turkey and finally having secured some cranberries after a long search and at a price higher than the current price of gold (Japanese cranberries so I am sure they are of higher quality, tastier, less sweet, safer, and well-worth the gouge), pumpkin pie filling, instant mashed potatoes (I hate mashing potatoes) the fruits, the nuts, and all the other traditional Thanksgiving food I can find, I am the one preparing the dinner while my wife watches Beat Takeshi clips on youtube and keeps asking when dinner is going to be ready, a question that I am never able to answer. Those Internet turkey cookin' instructions are a bit vague about turkey cookin' times.

I suppose I should write some sort of touchy-feely stuff about what we have to be thankful for, but I ain't the type who can do that. Luck is here today, but it can be all gone by tomorrow. Maybe I should be thankful that it isn't that tomorrow yet.

For tomorrow might be a problem:

Hatoyama's fundraising scandal. I have to wonder about the quality of Japanese politicians. They pass campaign finance laws, but unlike US politicians, they don't seem to be smart enough to find legal loopholes that allow them to continue to freely inhale tons of money while avoiding violating the laws they passed.

Barack Obama: Bowed, rather clumsily, to the Emperor of Japan. While this may not seem to be a problem in 2009, it was and still is in the news in the US. Apparently, Obama has now forever ruined the US position in the world. Ask Dick Cheney. He has some expertise on damaging the US position in the world.

Sarah Palin: OK, she's suffered a lot of cheap shots from the media in the US.* (Just what is wrong with the fact that she has hunted moose? Why is that so funny to apparently morally-superior folks who pay others to kill and butcher captive, helpless, hormone-filled, artificially-fattened animals so that they can eat it without getting their dainty little fingers bloody or truly realizing that it was once a living, breathing animal?) The problem is that some in what used to be the Republican party consider her a serious contender for the next election.

Deflation is back, if it ever left which I don't really believe it did. It's hard to imagine the Japanese economy recovering for quite a while. I'll confidently guess it'll be years. Not only is this bad news for everyone in Japan trying to make a living, it is very worrying that a poor economy---combined with confidence-draining political scandals---makes it more possible that the LDP will be able to slime itself back into power before the DPJ gets a chance to make permanent, meaningful changes.

Japan and the signing of the Hague child abduction treaty. As Colin P. A. Jones recently wrote in the Japan Times (here and here) that due to cultural reasons---real reasons, not the standard "Japanese snow is different" type idiocy---the signing of the treaty will likely not resolve the problem of Japan being a haven for international child abductors. Of course there is the standard bigoted rational exposed by the standard bigots in power that innocent Japanese must be protected from evil foreigners, in this case "abusive" non-Japanese spouses, but this goes a little deeper. Methinks if Japan signs the treaty, that as Mr. Jones wrote, it will not do a lot for resolving the basic problem of Japanese parents---usually the mother---violating court orders and become a felon by fleeing to Japan with no recourse for the non-Japanese parent. It would not be a first for the government to sign a treaty and then violate the spirit of the treaty while being in technical compliance. One case that quickly comes to mind was just after BSE was discovered in Japanese beef and Japanese beef sales plummeted in comparison to imported beef, Japan used a clause in a trade agreement which allowed a country to take action to protect an industry threatened by a surge in imports. The problem was that most of the gap was due to the drop in sales of Japanese beef, rather than a surge in imported beef. Other governments complained about Japan violating the spirit of the law, but Japan accurately claimed that it was following the technicalities of the agreement.*** If this happens with the child abduction treaty, the fact that Japan signs it may do no more than to allow the government to show technical compliance while allowing the problem to continue.

Uh-oh. Seems more like a No Thanks Day post that has gone on too long, and I have only just begun.

* It was actually yesterday, the 26th

**Need I mention that I am not a Palin fan and don't think she is presidential material? Much of the criticism directed at her is deserved. Much isn't.

***This is from memory. I cannot recall any more than the general outline, nor have I been able to find the information on Google.


  1. Hi -

    Long time lurker, but Thanksgiving is a reason to delurk...

    As an expat in Germany, way over on the other side of the world, here's a basic rule: 20 minutes per pound of turkey @350° F. More if it's a bigger bird. A meat thermometer is really, really good, especially if it's a bigger bird: got be over 170° F internally if you want to avoid any sort of nasty bugs...

    My youngest daughter is in Wakayama-shi on a YFU exchange program and is coming back in January after 10 months. She tried to do a turkey and ran into more than a few problems. Cranberries she found (but they were exactly as you said), but she had massive problems with the turkey, as the family she is staying with has no regular oven, never having conceived of a need for one. She couldn't find - so she says - turkey breast or legs, and ended up using a right and proper Japanese chicken instead.

    But it's the thought that counts. As it always does with Thanksgiving...

  2. Welcome John,

    I have been getting better at it over the last few years---rarely have to put it back in the oven anymore. I think the 10 to maybe 12 pound range is the largest available in Tokyo, at least that I have found.

    I can imagine how tough it is to find a turkey outside Tokyo or maybe Osaka and yes, lots of people still use what amounts to a toaster oven. I think we had chicken for Thanksgiving years ago in Toyama. Like you said, it's the thoughts, memories, and perhaps atmosphere that counts.

  3. Hi -

    She was disappointed not to have the real thing, but more disappointing for her was the lack of an oven to make cookies for her guest family. :-)

    And for the finishing touch on the turkey, drape it in bacon for the first 2 hours or so or until the bacon turns crispy: then baste with a mixture of butter, honey and a weeeee dram of Lagavulin single malt whisky (very smokey and peaty). :-)

    In Germany anything over around 4 kilos is special order. We had an 8 kilo bird last Thanksgiving and got it through a specialty poultry shop, ordered it in September. Ran over $100, but it was a fresh bird, not frozen, and very tasty...

    Back to lurking mode...:-) I did a lot of work on Japan (I'm an economist) a few years ago and continue to try to understand the country and its economic culture: easier said than done (and yes, I have the manga on "Japan Inc").

    All the best!

  4. I'll have to try that bacon idea next year...