The Japanese have an oddly distorted perception of food that's from the United States. They are based on over-excited reinterpretations that Japan has eagerly adopted and then hasn't known what to do with next.
“You do NOT hold hands and sing around a Christmas cake in the United States.” I practically yelled. The only physical contact at Christmas is snogging under the mistletoe or sitting on a complete stranger’s lap as they are wearing a disguise and telling them what you will do for candy. Definitely no hand holding.
“But in Japan, we do it because you do it.” Yasu gave me a half-closed-hooded-lid glare, daring me to challenge him. Since I wanted to win this argument I decided I was going to cheat a little. Okay, I cheated a lot.
“We don’t light a Christmas cake! We don’t even have Christmas cakes unless they are like ice cream cakes from Carvelle’s. And we don’t hold hands and sing.” I folded my arms. I started to bluff him out.
“I saw it on tv.” There, that was gospel. God help me.
“You have it confused with Halloween.” This is me grabbing at straws.
Yasu was firmly planted in his seat, smoking his cigarette and staring at me. I figured if I flinched I would show my hand so I stayed relaxed and perfectly calm. Just like we were trained in Alaska - no sudden moves and that big bear over there won't jump you.
“There is no such thing as a Halloween song.” Yasu fired back. He slowly worked his ash to a point in the tray and looked up at me.
“Of course we have one. We have a pumpkin in the middle of the table with a candle lit and we all hold hands and walk and sing around the pumpkin and then blow out the candle.” I was getting the hang of this.
“But that’s not a cake.”
“No, it is not a cake. It’s not a cake, but there is a song.”
“So sing it to me.” He sat back and gave me his skeptical but undivided attention.
“The song is quite simple:
Happy pumpkin sitting in a field
Sitting in a field when will you grow?
When will you grow? Where will you glow?
Where will you glow?
Happy Pumpkin Good night! (Candle is blown out)"
“I don’t believe you. I've never seen that on tv!” And with that Yasu allowed the universe to slide to the next topic of conversation. The rest of the day was pretty ordinary. And it was devoid of any discussions about pumpkins.
The following week I was reliving our verbal duel with my best friend and she and I hatched a devious little plan. We would do a Happy Pumpkin dance for Yasu. Seeing is believing.
My friend walked into the kitchen and she and I started the Happy Pumpkin song and did a very slow step around the table. Yasu’s eyes lit up with joy and merriment. We clapped and completed our last circling move to finish our little performance. Yasu was thoroughly won over.
Following our song's success, it became our private joke - my best friend and I. One of us would start singing it and the other would always do the blowing out puff noise. We would think of Yasu and have a warm feeling.
Two years later, Yasu comes up to me. He looks a little flustered. “You know my parent company is from Pennsylvania.”
“Yes, I know. Pittsburgh, right?”
“I met the person from HQ in the smoking room and I asked her if she ever sang the Happy Pumpkin song.”
I had to pause before my rasied eyebrows almost shot off my forehead.
“She looked a bit confused when I was singing it to her.” Probably because it was the first time anyone but three people on the planet have ever heard that song, I thought.
“Did she say anything to you?” I tried to sound sincere except a giggle kept making me cough.
“She said she's never heard it before.” Yasu tipped his head to the side, inhaled and played with his lighter. “So strange.” He sounded a little crushed and forlorn.
“Did you sing the whole song for her?” I am hoping I'm sounding helpful.
“Yes." Thoughtful pause. "I danced too.”
I wonder if he was going to be up for a psych evaluation.
"Well. That was really a song that I made up just for you.”
“What! Why?" Yasu spluttered. "I sang that song to her at work!” He was mortified.
Come on, now. How many people get songs written for them?
It is still a sore spot now, but it's simmered down to being an uncomfortable prickle rather than a searing ball of righteous indignation. I think progress is being made though. Soon enough Yasu will come back around to wanting to sing the song again. Getting him to dance the part will take another decade more. Plenty of time to introduce him to traditional Thanksgiving throat-warbling till then.