Pumpkin Pie in Japan

Nov 19, 2016 | 2016 Articles, Food Fun, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Lorna Collins

Recipes at the end of this post.

In August of 1998, we moved to Japan to build the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka. Prior to our move, we had hosted six Japanese students in our home. One of the perks of living there was the opportunity to see our ‘kids.’

On Thanksgiving, we invited our Japanese daughter, Yuka, and her friend, Yoko, to enjoy a real American-style dinner. However, actually preparing the meal was quite a challenge, especially making the pumpkin pie.

At first, I had thought about making Larry’s family favorite, Auntie Wanda’s Pumpkin Pie. But there were some ingredients, like molasses and condensed milk, impossible to get on short notice. I also hadn’t seen any heavy whipping cream or solid shortening for a crust. Instead, I decided to make my Aunt Muriel’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. In anticipation of the holidays, I had already ordered some prepared graham cracker and shortbread crusts and a case of canned pumpkin from the Foreign Buyers’ Club, our source for American products. The only problem was we had to order a case, and we had to place our order a month or more in advance.


Thanksgiving 2000 in our ‘mansion’ in Takarazuka, Japan. (The table runner is an obi. I still use it every year.) In the photo are my husband, Larry, and our neighbors, Kazue and Misayo Igo.

I had packed a couple of boxes of Cool Whip, and I was certain I had taken several boxes of instant vanilla pudding necessary for this recipe. I was in the middle of making the pies when I discovered I didn’t have any. And there was no option of running to the market to get it.

So I made my favorite custard filling recipe from scratch and added the pumpkin to it. The result wasn’t as firm as it should have been, but it tasted good. At least, the girls said they enjoyed it.

Aunt Muriel’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

1 pkg. Dream Whip
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk
instant vanilla pudding
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
baked pie shell or graham cracker crust

Prepare Dream Whip with 1/2 cup milk and vanilla. Combine 1 cup with instant pudding. Add 2/3 cup of milk, pumpkin and spices. Beat thoroughly. Mix about 1 minute. Put in pie shell. Cool for two hours and serve topped with remaining Dream Whip.

The following year, I planned better and made sure I had all the necessary ingredients for a real pumpkin pie. Auntie Wanda’s recipe was a tradition in my husband’s family. I not only made one for Thanksgiving, but I made several others during the holidays. Our Japanese friends did not like sweet desserts. They hated fudge! But they loved pumpkin pie.


Lorna & Larry Kyoto, Japan 1998

Auntie Wanda’s Pumpkin Pie

4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 can (29 oz.) pumpkin
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup undiluted evaporated milk
2/3 cup half & half
1 tablespoon molasses
2 unbaked pie shells (9” each)

Combine ingredients in order given. Pour into pie crusts. Bake in preheated 425? oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350?. Bake 40-50 minutes more or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool. Serve topped with whipped cream.

I included the challenges of making American food in our memoir of living in Japan, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including some Thanksgiving ones) in our mystery section.

Lorna Collins and her husband, Larry K. Collins, co-wrote 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, their memoir of building the Universal Studios Japan theme park, two cozy mysteries set in Hawaii, Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise. They collaborated on The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano.
Lorna collaborated with friends on six sweet romance anthologies set in the fictional town of Aspen Grove, CO: Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, The Art of Love, …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe, and Directions of Love, 2011 EPIC eBook Award winner. Her fantasy/mystery/romance, Ghost Writer, set in Laguna Beach, is a solo work. In addition, Lorna is a professional editor. You can learn more on her website, her blog, and Twitter.


  1. THanks for hosting me today. This is a special Thanksgiving memory for me, even though it occurred in 1998. Our friends in Japan remain dear to us.

  2. Great story that I can relate to. I lived in Kyoto 1975-76, and then periodically after that. Some friends had to ask all the neighbors who had a big enough oven to cook a turkey in. They finally found one and then the next year bought their own SuPA oben in Gifu.

    I also remember all the Japanese lining up at KFC for Christmas to get their close enough to turkey feast.

    • Ginnie,
      Lack of ovens was a huge challenge. We had a combination microwave/convection oven with all the instructions in Japanese–which we didn’t read. it was about one cubic foot, and held very little. I took a toaster oven. it was a bit larger, but it held the pie pans. Even thought we lived in a “mansion” penthouse in Takarazuka–a million dollar + place, but none of the places in our area had ovens. The second year, we bought a turkey breast and cooked it in our crockpot. (When it was sliced and put on the platter, no one knew the difference.)
      KFC near our local Daiei was our once-a-week treat.

  3. Ginnie,
    Ovens were few and far between. Even our penthouse “mansion” in Takarazuka–a million + dollar property–did not have one. We had a microwave/convection oven with instructions in Japanese–which we didn’t read. It was about one cubic foot, and too small for most everything. We took a toaster oven with us, and it held the pie pans.
    The second Thanksgivng, we bought a turkey breast and cooked it in our crockpot. When it was sliced for serving, it looked fine.
    KFC was our once-a-week treat because it was on the way to our local Diaei where we did our shopping.


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