How to Celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan: History and Favorite Thanksgiving Restaurants

Thanksgiving in Japan, also known as 勤労感謝の日きんろうかんしゃひ  (kinrōkanshahi), is one of the national holidays. To celebrate workers in Japan, gifts such as letters and cards are exchanged as gestures of thanks for the hard work they put.

Japanese Thanksgiving always falls on November 23 every year. This is unlike Thanksgiving in America which is celebrated on the third Thursday of November no matter the date.

As we dive deeper into what is Thanksgiving in Japan, we will learn more about how thanksgiving in Japan is celebrated and useful words and phrases. If you want to learn how to say 感謝祭おめでとう (kanshasai omedetō) or ハッピー感謝祭 (happī kanshasai) for “Happy Thanksgiving” in Japanese or other Japanese words and phrases, do check us out at Coto Academy.

What is Japan Thanksgiving?

History of Thanksgiving in Japan

The original name for thanksgiving was known as the ritual of Harvest Festival, 新嘗祭 (Niinamesai). In this ritual, the Emperor made the season’s first offering of freshly harvested rice to the gods and then ate the rice by himself.

The history of Niinamesai goes back hundreds and thousands of years and was first respected in November 678. Niinamesai began on November 23rd during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and was a nationally celebrated event. The holiday first began as a celebration of the fall harvest alongside the harvest ritual carried out by the Japanese emperor and the Royal Court.

It was not until after World War II ended that Niinamesai was re-established as Labour Thanksgiving Day in Japan. With Japan no longer being an agricultural society, traditions changed with the times and it is now celebrated as a day of giving thanks and showing appreciation to people who work hard.

Difference between Japan and Western Thanksgiving

You might be wondering what makes Thanksgiving in Japan unique as compared to Thanksgiving in America. Well, there are a few differences and similarities between the 2 countries.

Thanksgiving in Japan is not lively as compared to how it is celebrated in Western Countries. Unlike usual thanksgiving customs in America where people host big gatherings with tons of food, there are no enormous parades, huge sports games (definitely no turkey!) in Japan. It is a rather simple and quiet national holiday in Japan. Most businesses are still open on Labor Thanksgiving Day, with only government services closed. Thanksgiving day in Japan acts more like a rest day and gives thanks to the labor force.

In recent years, with the growing number of westerners in Japan, people have started to adopt the westernized version of thanksgiving and now host large potluck parties. Similar to Western countries, it is small gatherings with friends and families with traditional Japanese dishes. Scroll below to find out what are some popular restaurants in Tokyo that serve Thanksgiving meals.

Interested to find out more about holidays in Japan? We’ve made a Japanese holiday vocabulary cheat sheet. Check them out here!

Celebrations during Thanksgiving

Gestures of Thanks

More than monetary gifts, people are just simply grateful for the gestures of thanks they get during thanksgiving. For example, you will find elementary school-age children making cards and preparing gifts to give to workers in the labor sector. This includes police officers, firefighters, and hospital staff, in order to celebrate their dedication during the past 365 days. Businesses often take this as an opportunity to review accomplishments and congratulate their workers for their work.

Nagano Labor Festival

Celebrated in the city of Nagano, the Nagano Labor Festival is usually set up by several local labor organizations. The festival is held to raise awareness to the Japanese people regarding issues involving peace, workers and human rights, and being environmentally conscious.

Nagano Ebisuko Fireworks Festival

The Nagano Ebisuko Fireworks Festival is held concurrently with the Nagano Labor Festival. It is held every 23rd November to mark the end of Ebisuko Festival. This event is named after Ebisu, one of the seven lucky gods from the Shinto religion. The Festival is regarded as one of the most stunning fireworks displays in the Japanese calendar year. More than 400,000 people come to watch the fireworks every year and combine the festivities of the two holidays into one big celebration.

Importance of Thanksgiving in Japan

Be Thankful

As simple as it as, Thanksgiving is all about — surprise, surprise! — giving thanks to the community, society and, most importantly, to the people who have earned it. These people have been working hard for the past 365 days to provide for their families. Being thankful for what you have is a part of everyday life.

What can you do?

1. Say a simple word of “Thanks” or “Thank you for your hard work”

A simple word of “Thanks” often goes a long way. There are many ways to say Thank you in Japanese and here are some common ones.

  • ありがとうございます 

Arigatō gozaimasu

The polite way for saying “Thank you” in Japanese.

  • どもありがとうございます

Domo arigatou gozaimasu

Translates to “thank you very much”.

  • ご苦労様

Gokuroosama.

You use this word when you wish to reward or appreciate your subordinates.

  • おそれいります

Osore Irimasu

Saying thank you for special occasions and business situations.

  • 拝謝申し上げます

Haisha Moushiagemasu

If you want to exhibit respect when speaking with the locals.

2. Simple Gestures

Instead of getting monetary gifts for your bosses or employees, why not reward them with a simple gesture. This can come in form of handmade cards and even team dinner meals. Gestures like this act as a way of showing your appreciation for the hard work and dedication people have for their work. Nothing is better than a “Thank you” or “I appreciate all your hard work” on a handwritten card.

Where to get Thanksgiving meals in Tokyo

Even though Japan does not really celebrate the western version of Thanksgiving, there are many restaurants out there in Japan that do provide catered Thanksgiving meals. This includes all the dishes that you would usually eat during Thanksgiving in America like turkey, gravy and cranberry jam. You can also try to get out your cooking skills and cook your very own Thanksgiving meal at home. There are plenty of recipes out there that you can try during this festive period. Check out our guide to foreign-friendly supermarkets in Tokyo if you are in need of imported groceries.

1. Bubby’s

Originated from Tribeca, New York, Bubby’s is known for its hearty comfort food. We’re talking homemade pies, grease-laden burgers and your classic pancakes. During this period of Thanksgiving, Bubby’s sell their limited classic Thanksgiving Day dish “Roast Turkey”. It is available for order at all their stores during this period of time.

Address: 1-12-23 Akasaka, Minato-ku

Website: bubbys.jp

2. Bistro Vino

If you’re looking to pair your Thanksgiving turkey with the perfect wine, this is the go-to Italian restaurant to put under your radar. During this thanksgiving period, they are offering their special Thanksgiving dinner menu. Roppongi’s chic Bistro Vino will once again be hosting its traditional ten-day Thanksgiving feast, beginning from November 19 until November 28.  They offer takeaways for the same course as well for those looking to dine at home. You can make a reservation.

Price: Turkey Dinner Course ¥6,500 or Takeout Whole Turkey Dinner ¥22,000

Address: 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku

Website: bistrovino.com

3. The Oak Door

Splurge a bit this Thanksgiving and treat yourself to a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner at The Oak Door. Diners can look forward to a dishes such as grilled persimmon, king crab, whipped mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and of course, the Turley. Besides the usual Thanksgiving side dishes such as cranberry jam and spinach gratin, they also offer special Japanese styled dishes like anno imo (orange-fleshed yam).

Period: November 25 – 27 (Dinner Only)

Price: ¥9,900 per person

Website: tokyo.grand.hyat.co.jp

4. T.Y.HARBOR

T.Y. Harbor is known for their stunning view of Tokyo Bay and ambiance. It is one of the most popular restaurants for thanksgiving meals for foreigners in Japan. The full-course menu offers creamy seafood chowder with shrimp, scallops, and mussels, roasted turkey with mushroom gravy, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cranberry relish as a main course. Of course, you can’t have Thanksgiving without a classic pumpkin tart.

Price: Thanksgiving lunch option ¥1,850 or dinner ¥5,500

Address: 2-1-3 Higashishinagawa, Shinagawa-ku

Website: tysons.jp

5. SoulFood House

If you are looking for the typically family-style Thanksgiving meal, SoulFood house is your next destination. Founded by David and LaTonya Whitaker, SoulFood House is well known for its wholesome Southern and Cajun comfort food. Their meal course includes classic Thanksgiving dishes such as honey smoked turkey, cornbread dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce, mac and cheese and house dessert.

Price: ¥6,500 

Address: 2-8-10 Azabujuban, Minato-ku

Website: soulfoodhouse.com

Despite the fact that Japan does not celebrate thanksgiving the same way as western countries, it can be good to learn Japanese words and phrases that are related to thanksgiving. This is can useful to you when you are visiting or even living in Japan during this period of thanksgiving.

KanjiPronunciationEnglish
勤労感謝の日kinrō kansha no hiLabor Thanksgiving Day
感謝祭kanshasaiThanksgiving
感謝祭おめでとうkanshasai omedetōHappy Thanksgiving
祝日shukujitsuHoliday
家族kazokuFamily
仕事shigotoJob
感謝kanshaAppreciation
労働rōdōLabor
祝日の飾りつけshukujitsu no kazari tsukeHoliday Decorations
家族の写真kazoku no shashinFamily Picture
プレゼントpurezentoPresent
宴会enkaiFeast
七面鳥 shichimenchouTurkey
クランベリkuranberiiCranberry
パンプキンパイpanpukinpaiPumpkin Pie
グレービーgurēbī Gravy
詰め物tsumemonoStuffing
ロールrōruRolls
アップルサイダーappuru saidāApple cider
マッシュポテトmasshupotetoMashed Potatoes