Black Friday

Ever since I have moved overseas, Thanksgiving Day does not mean as much to me. It is not that I do not appreciate the holiday. It is just that the holiday is a very American experience and other places in the world do not celebrate it or even acknowledge its existence. Because of this, I have had to work on the past six Thanksgiving Days, and after the sixth time, it is hard to get excited about this day.

It fills me with sadness when I recognize this fact because for a long time it had become my favorite holiday. It was the one day where we stripped away all of the pretentious behavior of our daily routines, and get together with family to share a delicious meal and make memories. There was also the looming consuming beast of Christmas looming right around the corner, but we could put that aside for a moment to just enjoy being with the people we love. I know that other countries have holidays that are comparable to this, but it is hard to get into the spirit of them when they jump out at me from nowhere and I am expected to understand the traditions of these days. The traditions of my past are the ones that stick with me and which I yearn for every year around this time.

There are other Americans at the schools I have taught at that help to keep this tradition alive. I have had one Thanksgiving dinner already and I will be experiencing another one this weekend, and I appreciate that people take the time to make sure that this holiday makes it across the ocean. But since I have moved to Asia, I have started a new tradition that makes me just as happy. It involves the day after Thanksgiving which in the United States is one of my least favorite days of the year. It is not because I am working off my turkey coma or I am depressed because I find myself without my family again. It is because I believe that this day brings out the worst of Americans as they push and shove to get crazy deals on crap that they really don’t need. It is fodder for the television news broadcasts and every year it gets just a little worse. Hopefully, with Covid ravaging the land, people will take it a little easier this year, but the current state of things has proven that many people would not let this tradition pass them by no matter what danger may loom in a crowded room.

The way I have avoided the pain of this day is to take in the meal that I usually miss because I have been stuck at work during Thanksgiving day. I have had the fortune to have the next day off, and the Asian countries though they ramp up the shopping experience during Black Friday, it is no where near the insanity that can be found in the United States. The restaurants are still open and this is a great day to hop from one to the next as I indulge in a little bite at each one. It allows me to get out there and see a bit of the holiday spirit as it takes over the community while not fighting with people over a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. This is the tradition I would like to see take off for this holiday. We need to step back from this idea that stuff will make Christmas perfect and look back at the holiday we have just enjoyed. It is about family, and all holidays should take Thanksgiving’s tradition to heart. This is what my new tradition would be about because you do not go out to spend money on people, but you meet up with them at various restaurants to enjoy their company.

I hope you all found yourself in a wonderful spot on this holiday and that you are taking the precautions to be safe during the next month. Be thankful for those people you have in your life no matter where they may be.

Taking Back Black Friday

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Let’s face it, life is busy.

Sometimes it gets so busy that you do not have any time to breathe, but you still plug along through the grind hoping to find a moment that you can just enjoy. It gets even more difficult when you find yourself in a large city. You become just another face in the crowd. It almost feels as if society packs you into places like sardines so it can just shuffle you off to the next destination your busy schedule deems you need to be at.

It gets even crazier as the year approaches its end. Not only are you responsible for the usual things on your list, but now you have to squeeze in holiday parties, family moments, and shopping for all the loved ones. And just when you think you have everything accomplished there is that random person who buys you a gift obligating for you to return the favor. It is this never ending cycle of insanity, and you never think you will ever be able to get ahead of it.

The one day out of the year that pushes the stress levels to the highest and brings out the worst of humanity happens to be the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. We are told as a society that on this day, you need to go out and buy those Christmas gifts. You need to compete with your neighbor to get the best possible present and it has even gotten to the point that the corporations expect you to shake off the tryptophan daze inducing your good night’s sleep, get up a couple of hours before the break of dawn and stand out in the cold just so you can participate with your fellow shoppers in competing for those amazing deals.

It has even gotten worse over the last few years. Companies have started to promote the shopping frenzy on Thanksgiving Day. I know not everybody would agree with me, but I believe that this holiday should be considered sacred. It is the perfect time for the family to get together and share a moment at the dinner table. We should not ask to take people away from those moments just so people can go out and buy a bunch of stuff just so they can check off all of the people on their holiday lists. It is almost as if the big corporations are taking this holiday away from us so they can make more money. It offends me, and what I propose to do would make the corporations realize they do not control our lives. I want to show my loved ones that I love them not by making sure they have another present under the tree they may not need, but instead creating a memory that will last a life time. My hope is that people refuse to let the corporations dictate this insanity by taking back the day that was meant for them, Black Friday.

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The way to do this is to first refuse to go shopping on Black Friday. I know this might be hard. It is so tempting to go out there and snatch up all of those amazing specials, but they are really not important. Ignore that big huge sale signs with Santa showing you how you can save money. Instead, go out there and find those rare moments that will allow you to experience life with friends and family.

For a second year in a row on Black Friday, I voyaged to a new place and experienced something new. Last year, I spent my Thanksgiving weekend making connections with my extended overseas family as they got together for a Korean camping trip. This year, I downplayed it a bit by hopping a plane over the Sea of Japan to spend the holiday in Tokyo. Of course, with my current position in Korea, I am not given the holiday of Thanksgiving Day off. I can’t really complain though because it is an American holiday and I am living overseas. They are still kind enough to give us the next day off, so I spent the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day flying to my destination, and the next day celebrating my favorite holiday on the next day. I did spend it at one of the greatest commercial centers in the world, so when I saw thousands of people rushing around to attend to their holiday shopping, I sat back and enjoyed the day. This is when the thought of what this day could mean started to formulate. Why did I need to be one of those crazy masses trying to find a great deal when I already had one next to me, the friends I chose to spend the day with?

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I spent the day, instead, enjoying the cultural opportunities Tokyo had to offer. I strolled through the park that was the entrance to Meiji Temple, a Shinto shrine that promotes peace in the world. It was easy to see how it was trying to make this promotion because I felt the same experience as I enjoyed the serene atmosphere from the natural setting. It also reminded me of the other joys this country had to offer. Sake producers would bring large containers of their drink to the grounds to let it ferment while getting the blessings of the spirits of the king and queen who founded the shrine back in the 1920s. These weren’t the only ones that brought their drink to this site. Stacks of barrels of wine were delivered all the way from France looking for the same kind of blessing.

Many other people came to this same location to find the same kind of serenity. When we had finally made it to the temple, we saw many families with their young children hoping to get another blessing. It was also a place where a man and a woman could join their lives together in a traditional Japanese wedding. We were lucky enough to witness one of these ceremonies while we were there.

If serenity was not what you looking for, there are other experiences out in Tokyo that can send your heart racing. There is, of course, Godzilla Road in Shinjuku that shows the beast’s head poking out of the top of one of the various skyscrapers. There is the Tokyo Tower which is nothing more than a replication of the Eiffel Tower. It sit prominently on one of the bigger hills in the middle of the city offering amazing views if you take the trip up the elevator. I would recommend doing it at night. It makes you feel small by standing up there and looking at the glittering lights of Tokyo because all of a sudden you realize that you are just one of over 13 million people now inhabiting this small dot on the spacious world map. You start to wonder how anybody can stand out in crowd that size.

If the reminder of your place in the universe is not your thing but you still want to have the cultural experience, there is the Samurai Museum. It costs a little bit of money but the historic armor on display and the stories about the history of Japan is worth it. They will even allow you to touch one of the samurai swords and try on one of the helmets. These gems make the visit here worth your time.

But the real experience of Japan, the one that everybody needs to enjoy, and the one that showed my ability to take back Black Friday was to eat the various kinds of food offered in the country.

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Japan is one of the greatest places in the world if you are a foodie. There are so many different styles of food from different regions of the country that you can travel for over a year and still find a new kind of food you have never experienced before. Of course, the best place to find all of these regional delights is to wind your way through the streets of Tokyo. They bring the best of the best together in one location to fill up that hungry stomach. I have eaten food in Japan before but I do believe that this trip here the best for this experience I have ever had.

I was able to enjoy okonomiyaki which is considered the Japanese equivalent to pizza. It is basically a mixture of veggies, meats and cabbage thrown on a grill for you to cook. You wait until it is golden brown on either side and then you top it off with mayonnaise and enjoy.

There are also izakaya bars. These places are Japan’s answer to Spain’s tapas. These places offer many small dishes you can share with the rest of your table. Many of the dishes were wonderful at the one we went to, but we were given a dish that we did not ask for by mistake. I wish I knew what it was called because it would be something I would avoid in the future even though it was very popular with many of the other guests. It was some kind of root vegetable steamed then topped with a kind of shaved horseradish. It did please my palate as did other guests but that might have been just me. You should try new things, and I did, but that does not mean that everything I am going to try is going to be something I enjoy.

The other foods I ate on my day long feast were ones I had tried before and still enjoyed. Of course, the sushi and ramen I enjoyed were better than I would have found in the United States or South Korea, but then I am in the country of its origin so I would hope that it would be at the peak of its perfection.

We did enjoy an hour at a tempura restaurant as well. Even though I enjoyed it, it was a little overpriced. I understand it was a small location in the heart of Shinjuku which meant the location was in a prime spot. It made sense I should have to pay a little more than I would have if it was from the smaller town of Castle Rock, Colorado, but when I am paying almost three dollars per piece of tempura-fried vegetable then I do believe I am paying a little too much. But once again, live and learn.

Even though there were a couple of times that the trip did not live up to my expectations, it was so minor that I couldn’t let it bring down the better moments. It also made me proud that I did not fall into the temptation of the holiday season by driving myself crazy fighting the shopping crowd Black Friday loves to attract. Instead, I enjoyed the day the way it and every day is meant to be enjoyed, spending that time with friends and family. I challenge you to spend the next Black Friday the same way. Ignore the temptation of the big corporations and take back the holiday season from the stress it imposes upon you. Spend the day relaxing with loved ones.