A few weeks before my third Thanksgiving in Japan, I went to a posh department store in downtown Sapporo to order a turkey. On the lower level of the store after passing displays of every sort of gourmet food imaginable, I found the meat counter, where I waited my turn and then, in carefully rehearsed Japanese, ordered a small turkey. The butcher, a tall man with a kind face, asked in Japanese when I would like to pick it up. I gave him a date, and he responded with an energetic, yes, I’ve got it. Then he was on to the next customer, and I turned to leave, realizing I had not given my name or phone number or received any sort of receipt with which to claim the turkey. I had a large crowd of friends coming for a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, and I wished I had a little more confidence that I would be able to produce a turkey for them.
This is how things went in Japan. The first time I ordered ramen over the phone, I hung up and wondered if my Japanese had been understandable. About twenty minutes later with a polite knock on the door, a ceramic bowl of piping hot ramen was passed into my hands. It felt like magic. Once, when I stepped into a futon shop and asked to rent two futons for a couple of friends who were coming to visit from Tokyo, the shop owner bowed and said she would take care of it. I asked if I could write down my address for her, and she said there was no need. I left feeling terribly disappointed, convinced I had failed in ordering the futons. After all, how could I order something to be delivered to my apartment without giving my address? On the specified date, however, the futons were brought to my door. Again, magic. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when, a few days before Thanksgiving, I returned to the department store meat counter, and the butcher caught my eye as I approached, ducked behind a curtain to the back room and came out in a moment with my turkey. Exactly the weight I had ordered. Magic.