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Japanese bride returns to Beckley for Thanksgiving

By JESSICA FARRISH

The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Michiko Ohira Crysel celebrated her first Thanksgiving in West Virginia, after coming to the United States as a war bride in 1959. She’s in West Virginia again to share the holiday with friends who welcomed her when she started her journey as an American.

Michiko Ohira Crysel, of Salina, Utah, talks about her Thanksgiving celebrations since coming to the United States in 1959 as a Korean War-era bride from the small city of Kiryu, Japan. Crysel, 84, is pictured with her great-grandchildren Vera, left, and Jude Davis of Huntington.
(Submitted art)

Over the years, Thanksgiving has come to hold a special meaning to Crysel, 84, who grew up in the small city of Kiryu, Japan.

“I really didn’t understand the Thanksgiving Day meaning a long time ago,” Crysel said Monday from her granddaughter’s home in Huntington. “But the more I spend the time, the more I appreciate that they do have Thanksgiving Day.”

She came to the United States following the Korean War with her husband, Stuart Crysel, an American soldier who’d grown up in Raleigh County. Stu had been stationed in Japan, where she’d met and married him.

The couple had three children — Sandra Meade of Daniels and Eugene Crysel and Lee Crysel, both of Utah. Her older children, Sandra and Eugene, were born in Japan, and they were with Crysel when she first stepped onto American soil at Chicago O’Hare Airport in 1959.

Crysel had been afraid to leave her home, but her welcome in America was warm, she recalled.

“My memory, when we were in Chicago airport, the people were so kind to me,” she said. “My daughter, she was only 2 years old.

“My husband had to go check our tickets to the airplane. My daughter Sandra was crying, so people come to me, (asked) if I needed help.

“So that very, very touched my heart.”

Her sister, Yoko, came to the United States, too.

Crysel would later move to Utah, but her first American home was in Coal City with Stu’s family, where Crysel lived while her husband was stationed in Germany.

American food — a staple of any Thanksgiving celebration — was different than Japanese food, Crysel discovered.

In Kiryu, Crysel’s favorite food was sukiyaki, a hot pot dish of meat, vegetables and other foods. She also liked korroke, a tempura-fried potato. While in Japan, she’d learned to cook some American foods Stu liked, including a type of sauce she’d never tried — gravy, an Appalachian favorite.

“In Japan, they don’t eat gravy,” she explained.

She was also surprised to see that people in America ate raw carrots.

“All my life, we never ate carrots raw, so that was a big surprise to me,” Crysel remembered.

Turkey is the first dish she remembered trying in America.

After World War II, Japanese citizens were introduced to bread as a substitute for rice. Although baking would eventually catch on in Japan, it was generally uncommon when Crysel left Kiryu. Meade said her mom learned to bake in America.

“She learned to make cornbread,” Meade said. “But her biscuits were always like little, hard rocks.”

Crysel, for her part, wouldn’t entrust her daughter to roll sushi— a task Crysel performed expertly.

“She said, ‘You can chop,'” Meade recalled.

Crysel said that she appreciates all food.

“To me, any kind of food is OK,” she explained. “So American food, or Japanese food? I appreciate all.”

She said she doesn’t miss Japanese foods.

“I don’t, because everywhere I go, they do have a Japanese restaurant, so I have what I need,” Crysel said.

Crysel, who now lives in Salina, Utah, has visited family in Huntington and Beckley over the past three weeks. She’s also met with a Japanese friend who lives in Ohio.

She said she’s looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving at the home of Becky Severino, her children’s cousin, in Beckley. There, she will see many of the same faces who made past Thanksgivings so special.

“I will see all those people I’ve known for all those years,” she said.

The holiday she didn’t understand in 1960 is now one that she claims as her own.

“I have a wonderful life in the States, so this is my home now,” she explained. “Thanksgiving is wonderful because the family gets together.

“You can spend time with family and then give thanks to God for everything,” Crysel added. “I think it is a beautiful holiday to give thanks and get together with good food.”

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