"She's a gem!"
- My father's first reaction on meeting my girlfriend.
I had known from the start that it would be a long, slow job to get Naoko's parents to accept the idea of us getting married, so I was ready to take it slow. As it turned out, it was Naoko's
mother who was most impatient for progress. After my mother died, she warmed to me a little. Realising that I had increasingly less emotional ties to Ireland, and more at stake in staying here,
than she first assumed, she started to take me seriously as a suitor for her daughter. Long conversations were held in which I was asked my plans for the future, and gradually she came around to
the idea of us getting married. Once she had given us her approval, things started moving at a brisk pace. Naoko was still busy with her studies in Omiya, and until those finished we were biding
time as Naoko's mother grew more and more impatient for wedding plans to become finalised.
In July I found myself roped into a game of baseball with some members of my sports club, and I ended up after this punishingly hot day with a severe dose of sunburn on my legs, which I had left foolishly exposed by wearing short pants. My calves and ankles had been badly burned, which left me unable to walk for several days. Any attempt to stand caused body fluids to flow down to my legs, causing pressure on the skin, and even the slightest movement, which included the minute movements made in keeping balance while standing, caused me extreme pain. As a result I spent four days in bed, only getting up to use the bathroom or drink water. I had no food in the fridge and could not go out to buy any, and thus went a full four days without eating. I was surprised, actually, at how easy that was. It also meant, of course, that I went four days without beer for the first time in about twenty years.
Later that summer, Naoko and I joined her parents at a beer garden for an evening of drinks. In the course of that summer her parents had grown to accept me more and more, and this was shown at the end of that evening by her father giving me a pat on the shoulder as he bid us goodbye on leaving the beer garden. That was a noticeable change from the cold shoulder he had given me on our first meeting. In August Naoko took the exams she had been studying for, and did not feel that she had done very well. Since that meant that here academic studies were at an end, we were now free to begin planning our wedding in earnest. I formally asked Naoko to marry me four days later.
That was when things started picking up the pace. Despite a full workload which included a visit to Shanghai in September, we started looking at apartments, wedding halls, wedding rings and fridges (My twenty something year old second hand fridge was the first thing she wanted to change about me, and she was right.
At the end of August I formally asked Naoko's parents for her hand in marriage, but messed up my prepared lines at the crucial moment. Naoko and her mother were both none too pleased about that. Her parents treated me to a "teppanyaki" dinner for my birthday, and that was the first time I could really relax in their company, as they now were treating me as family. Around this time I was also getting ready to take part in the Kawagoe Festival again, and this would also score points with Naoko's parents in regard to my apparent assimilation into Japanese life, and their newfound ability to take pride in their upcoming son in law. By the end of September we had selected a new fridge, and an apartment to put it in, booked a wedding hall and bought an engagement ring.
In October we started looking at dresses. I had a strongly held opinion that Naoko should buy her dress rather than rent one. She came to agree with this when it became clear that the cost of buying would not be much more than the cost of renting one twice, as we would be having a wedding in Japan and another ceremony in Ireland. I had not envisaged weddings on both continents initially, but the planning somehow seemed to drift in that direction. We had the "YUINOUKAI" at the end of October, on the same day that we signed the contract for the new apartment. This is the equivalent of an engagement party, where the marriage is formally agreed between the two families. Since my parents could not attend, Naoko asked that I get someone else, a friend from Kawagoe, to attend on their behalf. I wanted to ask my friend Maeda, since he was the only person in Japan who had actually met my parents, but Naoko was not keen to ask someone from work because of the implied responsibilities that would be associated with attending such a ceremony. She feared that if something were to cause us to break up, that Maeda would in some way feel responsible towards Naoko's parents, since he was involved in bringing us together in that way. In the end he was unavailable on the day, so I went solo.
The rest of the month was then filled with packing my belongings, arranging the disposal of all the rubbish I had accumulated over the years, and shopping for new furniture, futons, clothes and curtains, with of course the Kawagoe Matsuri in the middle to drain whatever energy I had left. I moved into our new apartment at the beginning of November. Naoko would join me in the New Year, after we had visited Ireland.
I flew over at the end of December to spend Christmas in Ireland, and Naoko joined me after Christmas to see in the New Year with us. My father had been having prostate problems, and my brother had collapsed in the street after having some form of seizure, so I was glad to get back and see everyone, and especially happy to be bringing a more positive topic for discussion that might cheer everybody up. While I was there on my own, my father mentioned he was going to make his Christmas visit to his parents’ graves, and I decided to go with him. Something inside me knew that the ties to Ireland were beginning to be broken, and it would be more difficult to visit in the future, so I felt I had to pay my respects during this visit in case it was the last time I could do so for a long time. A part of me also felt like I was cutting ties, not just tying up loose ends, on this trip.
Naoko joined us a couple of days before the New Year. I was truly nervous as we waited for her to come through the arrivals gate at the airport, wondering how she and my family would react to each other. She walked through the sliding doors looking like a movie star, and I, and then my father, hugged her warmly. When we got back to the house she unpacked gifts for everybody, even the cat (cat food made with luxurious Kobe beef!) and we went out for a very enjoyable meal. After she had gone up to bed that evening, my father turned to me with a smile and said "She's a gem!". I almost cried with pride, as she had clearly bowled them over just like she had done with me.
Christmas that year was the first without our mother, and it was rough. We all tried to put a brave face on it, but both Paul and Helen were tearful when we made the toast at our Christmas dinner, much of which was eaten in silence. Naoko's arrival brightened things up a bit, and we spontaneously decided to go to a New Year countdown party at a local hotel, the one we had chosen for our Irish wedding reception. It was a good opportunity for all of us to let off steam. My father in particular probably had the most fun he had had all that year, and Naoko later told me she enjoyed it also, since my family gave her a much warmer and more open reception than hers gave me. After the party ended around two in the morning, we all walked home in the freezing cold, and warmed ourselves with a few whiskies before going to bed. The next morning we rose late, and took it easy for that day. On the 2nd, Helen and I took Naoko into the city centre, where we saw some sights, did a tour of Dublin Castle, and had tea in a hotel in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral as the bells rang out, which Naoko particularly enjoyed. The next day we met with the priest who would marry us, and discussed the paperwork we would have to go through in order for the wedding to take place.
Once we got back to Japan, Naoko moved in with me. In order to get married in a Catholic church in Ireland, I had to go to the local Catholic church where I lived to get approval from my local priest and his confirmation that I was eligible for marriage. This would involve, for me, actually going to my local Catholic church for the first time, so I had to look it up on the Internet. Since I felt awkward approaching a priest the first time I met him and asking him to approve my marriage, I took a few weeks to let my face be seen at Sunday mass, and allowed him to draw the conclusion that I had moved to the area recently. (Well, I had moved recently, but actually further away from his church than where I previously lived.)
The priest, Father Andre', was a large jovial man, well into his seventies or even his eighties. He had been sent from his native France to China in the 1950’s as a missionary, but had to change destination suddenly when the Cultural Revolution put an end to his chances of proselytising in China. Thus he found himself in Kawagoe with fluent Chinese but not a word of Japanese. By right he was supposed to verify my suitability as a Catholic, and the maturity and sobriety of our decision to get married, to his own and the Church's satisfaction before he was allowed to give us his blessing, but I presume he was worldly enough to realise that both he and I were in a situation that was less than ideal for the promulgation of the Christian faith, where absolute and strict adherence to the rules was not a very likely path to be taken, and he cut us some slack. Considering that the majority of "priests" officiating at western style weddings in Japan have had no ecumenical training, and are usually English teachers or other foreign workers making a little money on the side, - the appearance of a western ceremony is much more important to Japanese couples than its content - I presume he was glad that we even bothered to contact him, and was cooperative to a fault, allowing a thirty minute discussion to take the place of the three month instructive course that we were actually required to undertake. In the paperwork, his reason given for allowing us to bypass that training was that there are “so few Catholic marriages in Japan”. Having got the paperwork in order, I have not set foot in the church since, and do actually feel somewhat guilty about it.
In February, Naoko's paternal grandmother, who apparently was dead set against us getting married and prayed every day for our relationship to fail, died. Naoko went up to Fukushima for a few days for the funeral, where we were, not surprisingly, a topic of conversation among Naoko's aunts and uncles.
We then set about the much more important business of organising the reception. I am actually surprised there is so much divorce in Japan, since if a couple can get through the hassle involved in organising their marriage here, there is no higher hurdle their union can face, no greater test of their suitability. We had the unusual pleasure of organising two weddings in two different countries, and thus found ourselves working on one each, with Naoko taking the lead on the Japan side and me setting things up in Ireland over the phone with my father and siblings. Naoko promptly went out and bought large volumes of glossy paper in the form of wedding magazines, and started looking at styles for everything from invitations, napkin holders and place cards for the tables, to the little gifts we would give people as they leave, and my eyes quickly glazed over. It was not that I was disinterested, but there were a lot of things that had to be decided which, at the several weddings I had attended in the past, I had completely failed to notice. They are the kind of things that men simply do not notice, unless they have an unusually high class upbringing, or are gay. The editors of these magazines knew this, and never, ever featured a male model on the cover, or any issue affecting the groom as the lead story. I had taken the precaution of buying a few wedding magazines in Ireland at Christmas, and had to laugh at the fact that while there was a good two hundred pages of information in each intended for the bride, one of the magazines had only an eight page pullout for the groom, which included such sage advice as "turn up on time" and "try not to drink too much". Obviously organising a wedding is a task that men are not suited for and should not, whenever possible, be involved in.
Okay, okay, so that is not completely true. There were certain things about which I had ideas and desires, and during the process of picking a wedding hall I did show a reasonable degree of interest, expressing opinions occasionally to show that I was not just along for the ride, without arguing anything too strongly or demanding anything that was clearly outside the envelope for Japanese weddings. I was constantly frustrated by the fact that if you asked for anything that was not part of their "package", the wedding halls would stiff you for extra charges, such as 300yen just to put any extraneous item into the gift bags that we had to buy off them. (We wanted to give our guests a small bottle of Irish whiskey, but the act of putting it in the bag would have cost more than the whiskey, so we had to scrap that idea.) It appeared to me that there was much less to be decided for the reception in Ireland, but that is probably just because I relied on my family too much.
One thing that took a long time was the rings. Naoko had the idea that Platinum would be less susceptible to scratches than gold, and we spent a lot of time looking at rings around Tokyo before finally settling on a pair from a shop in Ginza which I am sure we had rejected earlier on in the search. Shop assistants finally convinced us that a mix of gold and platinum would be the most resistant to scratches, and we made our choice soon after that hurdle had been cleared.
All in all though, we had a reasonably smooth sail through the process, and the many occasions when the wedding hall sales people showed us something that was appallingly cutesy or twee, I would shoot a look in Naoko's direction and was always reassured by the look she shot back at me that said, "Not in a million years!". (We were both into our thirties, and a lot of the wedding hall paraphernalia was aimed at couples barely out of their teens, who were actually a declining group among couples getting married. We both pointed out to the sales people that they should concentrate less on Disney and Hello Kitty motifs, and provide more choices for the more mature couples who were increasing among the newlywed demographic.) It was always reassuring though, to see thatNaoko's tastes matched mine so well.
There were only really two exceptions that marred the build-up to our wedding:
For the choice of music for the reception, Naoko dismissed all the songs I had suggested out of hand because her family would not know them, and selected her own. She later complained that I was disinterested in that part of the process and leaving it all up to her. More of a problem, though, were the arrangements for her parents to visit Ireland. Initially we had planned two ceremonies because we reckoned her parents, and mine, would be unlikely to be willing/able to make the long journey to the other destination. (Her father was initially unkeen, and my father's health was a worry.) But it soon became clear that both her parents and my father were more than willing to travel to the other location, and Naoko's aunt and cousins were interested in joining them, making for a much bigger production than at first anticipated. I asked my sister to arrange a hotel for them, and she took a few days longer than they would have liked, as the first choice, the hotel in which we were having the wedding, was full. This caused Naoko's mother to blow a gasket, which in turn led to Naoko giving me an earful for not responding faster. Although these caused me more than a little stress at the time, I quickly came to realise than Naoko too was under pressure, and that getting angry back at her would not help.
Getting the guest list together was a complicated diplomatic affair, with Naoko and her mother worrying about who to invite and not invite, and who should sit next to whom. It seemed that NOT inviting someone was preferable to inviting them only to have them sit at the wrong table. My guest list was complicated by the fact that we were not having a "second party", to which all those friends and co-workers who were not invited to the reception are invited, and the fact that I had just changed positions at work, and was required by protocol to invite my current co-workers, some of whom I did not know as well as some other people with whom I no longer had such connections. It was difficult to draw a line in my list of friends because there were so many whom I considered to be on the same level, in the same circle of friends, and only inviting some of them would have been a slight to the others. Normally such people would have been all invited to the second party, but we were only having one.
At the same time, we were designing our own invitations for the wedding in Ireland, picking paper, fonts, border designs, texts and whatever. I tried to get hold of the little shamrock badges that were given out at the St. Patrick's Day parade in Tokyo, but the distributor would only take orders of 500 or more. Almost every weekend there was some form of meeting with the wedding hall, the master of ceremonies we had hired (who turned out to be a part time football commentator and a big fan of the Ireland supporters), or the dressmakers. I also arranged for an announcement notice to be put in the Irish newspapers;
KEYES AND IGARI
Naoko and Tony, together with their friends and families, are delighted to announce their forthcoming marriage.
Ceremonies will take place in Dublin and Tokyo in May 2003.
The weeks were flying by. Almost before we knew it, we ready to leave for Ireland.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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