HOME (AND FAMILY) AWAY FROM HOME — JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program teachers count on each other, especially during the holidays. photo courtesy of Mika Osaki

I’m sitting shotgun holding a Tupperware of homemade pumpkin garlic cream sauce that took me over an hour to make. I had to bake the pumpkin in a toaster oven because most Japanese kitchens don’t have ovens. The only Tupperware I could track down had a lid that didn’t quite fit, so I hurriedly duct taped it shut. It’d probably be embarrassing if I wasn’t headed to see people who have basically become family. The four of us in the car scream sing Christmas songs and joke around as I carry the pumpkin sauce steady the entire way. After a two-hour drive, we pull up at the Ratty Ryokan. This isn’t an actual business where people can rent a room. This 17-room Japanese inn was the housing provided by the board of education to one of our friends — it’s her house. The Ratty (as we call it) is already packed with people and food. There are so many dishes on the table that I can barely find space for my pasta. I load up my plate and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m happy to report that for all the effort, my dish was a hit.

We weren’t able to find a turkey, there’s no football game or parade, and all of us dream of our families at home. This is far from an ordinary holiday season for us. We’re in a far-away land without access to most of the staples required for traditional celebrations. We have to make the best of what we’ve got. And it turns out, we’ve got a lot. The food is hot, the wine is flowing, and the room is filled with laughter. We take goofy photos, play dumb drinking games, and dance around the living room. The majority of us are American, but we also have friends from Ireland and New Zealand. We joke about the fact that their first American Thanksgiving is in rural Japan. We laugh and cry as each of us says what we’re thankful for. Every single one of us says how thankful we are for each other.

Many English teachers in Japan have a tough time during the holidays. It’s times like these when we realize how much we need each other here. I look around the room and become overwhelmed by how deeply I love the people around me.

The bonds forged while navigating living abroad are unlike any I’ve experienced before. Here, we are each other’s friends, siblings, parents, peers, therapists, protectors, nurses and professional networks. We celebrate every birthday, gather for every holiday, and carry each other through every difficult situation. We’re all we have in Japan. There is no one else who can help us the way we can help each other.

Living in such a rural area, I’d probably go insane were it not for the fantastic support system I’ve been blessed with. The holidays really remind me that people make or break every situation you might find yourself in. My people make my life an incredible adventure. They support me when things get tough. They fill me with so much love I fear I might burst. While we all know this stage of our lives is temporary, and we will someday go our separate ways, the family we’ve built here will last a lifetime. These bonds will never break because for a while, we were everything to each other.

Mika Osaki is a Yonsei and a recent college graduate. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up deeply involved in San Francisco’s Japantown community. She is currently living in Tottori City, Japan as an English teacher with the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. She can be reached at

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