"I want to eat sushi!"
"Then you _must_ be pregnant!
- a late night discussion at our kitchen table
On arriving back in Japan, we still had it all ahead of us. We had decided to hold the Japanese reception at a well known wedding hall, "Chinzanso" because it had a magnificent garden with a
pagoda and waterfall that would make for some great wedding photos. I had also wanted to pick somewhere that would stand out in my family's memory as symbolic of either Tokyo or Kawagoe, where
the other candidate for a wedding hall was the Hikawa Shrine, which had impressed me most with their ideas for the ceremony, and had an impressive "torii" in front of their temple which also
would have made for some good photos.
I had brought some photos from the Irish wedding, and some from my childhood, and we asked a friend of mine who is a professional photographer, to prepare some slides for our Japanese wedding reception. This is necessary because it is de rigueur for the bride and groom to walk out half way through the reception to change their clothes and make another grand entrance, and the guests need something to keep them entertained while this is going on. I had also asked a few friends to do other duties such as manning the reception desk (which involves the acceptance of all the cash gifts from arriving guests, so it is important to pick someone you trust!), and asked a few people from work to make speeches. One of the last things we did in the preparations was to meet with the professional we had hired to act as a Master of Ceremonies for the reception. He apparently also did some TV work reporting on football, and once he found out I was Irish he was delighted, and he started singing the praises of the Irish supporters he had encountered during the world cup the previous summer.
My father, sister and brother were due to arrive three days before the wedding, but the plane from London was delayed by engine trouble, so my father and sister arrived a day late. I only found this out when I arrived at the airport. My brother, who had taken a different flight, was also nowhere to be seen, but he had already made his way to the hotel, where I found him in the internet cafe in the basement. The plane eventually made it the next morning, so we had to cancel the bus tour that had been arranged for them by Naoko's family, but I think my brother and sister were privately a little relieved about that, as neither of them liked excessively tourist oriented activities, and they had probably already seen the places that would have been on the tour.
On the day itself, it was the first time in thirty eight years that a typhoon had hit mainland Japan in the month of May, and it was absolutely pissing out of the heavens. Many guests arrived soaked, and we could not get out into the garden for the photos we had been looking forward to. Apart from that the day went well, except for Naoko having a little trouble with her contact lenses while changing from her kimono into her wedding dress, which meant that our second grand entrance to the reception was delayed a little, so we were rushed for time after that. We had planned to go around each table and pose for photos with our guests, but that was cut short. Instead, people came up to the podium where we were sitting and posed with us as I tried in vain to eat at least some of the food laid out for us. More and more people gathered, firstly our friends from Simple Simon, but then even Naoko's aunts and uncles got into the mood, and the reception became a very lively affair.
My father was to make a speech at the end, and I knew I would have to translate it this time as well, so I made sure I got a copy of it from him so that I could translate it properly. However, he added a lot and I didn't get all of it into the translation. I felt really disappointed that I had failed again, but was grateful that a Canadian friend, Doug, who has been here even longer than I, was doing a simultaneous translation for those seated around him.
After we had thanked our guests and wished them goodbye, we went to pay the bill and lodged the remainder of the present money we had received, over two million yen, in the safety deposit box. We went upstairs and changed, I rang Simple Simon to order a round of drinks for any of our guests who decided to drop in on their way home, and then we made our way to the hotel my family was staying in, where we had arranged a "yakiniku" party for both families. By the time we got there things were in full swing, and my father was getting on famously with all Naoko's aunts and uncles, who were falling over each other to be hospitable to him. For a short couple of minutes, all the other tables in the restaurant fell silent to hear my father and one of Naoko's uncles belting out a chorus of the Scottish folk song "Annie Laurie". Although they had never met before that day, it took them only minutes to find some common ground. It was a moment I will never forget. That party broke up around nine o'clock, my father went off to bed, Naoko's father and most of her uncles went off to Karaoke, and Naoko and I took my brother and sister out for a few more beers, during which my sister got emotional because she "realised I would really never be coming home". It had always been a concern of mine that my family were constantly worrying about me being on my own far away, and it was important for me to show them that I had found a good woman, and a good family, that would take care of me. I felt that night that I had achieved that, and was grateful to our guests that they had made the day such a success. All in all I was pretty happy.
The next morning we rose at a leisurely pace, checked out of the hotel and went to meet with my family, and we all headed out to our apartment. On the way there, my sister suddenly got ill and had to get off to throw up. I got off with her, and once we determined it was just a hangover, I stopped worrying about her and started worrying about the large amount of cash I was carrying - I had all the wedding present money with me. We eventually got back to the apartment and rejoined everyone, and in the afternoon we went for a look around Kawagoe with Naoko's Family. For some reason my brother was very tense and narky during this. I think he was just bored, but I wanted to kick him because it was very noticeable and Naoko's family were getting worried that he was tired or sick. That evening we went to an art exhibition held by my friend Osawa, who is a calligraphy teacher. He gave us a present of one of the calligraphy works he had done for the show, a large rendition of the character "kizuna" which is Japanese for "bond". I liked it, and thought it a very appropriate gift, and it now hangs on our wall. Shimano the bar owner also gave us a painting, based on a photo of our wedding, but for some reason neither Naoko nor I took to it, so it rests in the cupboard. In all too short a time, their visit was over. My brother left a day before my father and sister, and made his own way to the airport, but I took my father and sister out to see them off. Then I went home and started married life.
Which is to say, nothing much changed, since we had been living together for about half a year already. Later that month I went to the city hall to register our marriage. At work I was starting a new project for Ford, which meant I would be going to Detroit a few times that year. My first trip was in June, and I would be very busy for the rest of that year. The last act we had to complete in relation to our wedding was to design, print and send thank you cards to all the guests.
When we were discussing getting married, Naoko had made it clear she wanted to move from the apartment I was in to a new place, and that was why we moved to the apartment we were in then. We had agreed that we would wait another two to three years before looking for a house, so that we could get some capital together for a down payment. The place we had moved to was bigger than my old place, with one extra room, but it was one station away from work, so I had a more strict regime in the mornings than I was used to. One morning I left without locking the front door, and for weeks after that I would be struck with sudden doubts as soon as the train doors closed that I had forgotten to lock it again, and sometimes even went back to check. The other problem we had with the place was that there was terrible condensation, since both myself and Naoko were out all day so the windows were always closed. This led to several instances of severe mould developing in corners and under furniture, anywhere that the airflow was not good. This may have been what triggered it, but in July of that year Naoko suggested we start looking at houses.
At first it was only to get a feel for what was on the market, but as the weeks passed Naoko got more serious, and her mother even started complaining that I wasn't serious enough. Even though I was working fourteen hour days, and some Saturdays, I was being dragged around real estate agents almost every other week, and was not happy about it. I was being shown houses and Naoko was pressing me to give my opinion while her mother was pushing us to pick one, as they were both worried the estate agents would no longer take us seriously if we took too long to decide. I was being rushed into a decision I had not even agreed to make. The only break I got was the weekend we went to see the Sumida river fireworks at the apartment that Naoko's cousin Kaoru had bought. The summer holiday, and another trip to America got me out of that situation for a while, and gave me some time to think it over.
During that summer holiday, we went up to Naoko's father's home town in Fukushima. I was a bit nervous at meeting his family again, because I was certain I would not remember their names, (I am terrible at remembering names!) but when I got there I was welcomed as a superstar. Uncles and cousins were lining up to pour drink into me, and the evening was long. One of Naoko's uncles had started on a bottle of brandy at nine in the morning, and was working towards his second by the time we arrived. The entrance of the house opened into a huge tatami room, set up with low tables for the evening meal. It was the first "Bon" since Naoko's grandmother had died, which meant it was special event in her honour. One wall was half obscured with crates of beer, some of which we would eventually take home. On the first day the local priest came and said some prayers at a temporary shrine set up for the grandmother, and in the evening a group of local traditional musicians who were presumably touring the neighbourhood did a short routine in the garden, for which we all went outside and even joined in. Returning to the party, there was traditional music playing and one of the uncles pulled out a "men" mask, like those used by dancers at festivals, and started to perform a dance. It was somewhat like the performances I had seen in the Kawagoe Festival, so when he jokingly offered the mask to me, I did an improvised performance which went down well.
The next day, since Naoko's mother reckoned that we young folk would be bored staying around all the drunken elders, she told us to take the car and go for a trip to Aizu Wakamatsu, which we did. After eating a "Ramen" at one of the dish's most famous purveyors in Japan, we toured the castle, drove around a while and after finding a hotel went for dinner. We drove back the next day, to find the party still in full swing. Much to Naoko's father's regret, we all left he next day to return to Kawagoe.
On returning to Kawagoe I was soon into a business trip at the beginning of September, and as soon as I got back spent the three day weekend looking at houses again. I had reflected a while, and Naoko had gone through her reasons for accelerating the process, (rising land prices in our area, the necessity of getting loan approval while Naoko was still working, which meant before we started the family we had been talking about), and I was more receptive to the idea. There was one site which was very near a station one stop away from Kawagoe, and we started considering it seriously, but Naoko was worried that it was a bit far from her parents' house. I was not completely sold on it either, but I went out a couple of times to look around the neighbourhood and get a feel for the place. In the end we decided against it.
Then one Saturday Naoko was working, so her mother took me around to look at all the locations we had been to up to that point, and I took the time to check each one on the map and see what was in the vicinity. There was one place where there was a group of nine houses, which we had viewed before but it was incomplete at that time. It is surprising how little my wife was interested in the appearance or layout of the house, concentrating more on location. At many of the sites we saw, the houses were being sold before they had even been built. I could not get my head around picking out the most important, largest purchase of my life without seeing it, especially as I would spend the rest of my life, probably, living in it. In this group of nine houses, there was one which I really liked. It did not have the look of being built to squeeze into the space allotted to it, which many of the houses we saw had. One of them even looked as if it had been cut in half, like a half eaten birthday cake. But this one house was like a cartoon a child would draw of a house, practically square, with the door in the middle of the front wall and windows on both sides, and a dormer roof shaped like a pyramid on top. Room for a car or two to park out front, and a very small garden completed the picture. The layout inside was practical, and the location was not bad. After weeks of reluctance and worrying, my mind was made up remarkably fast. The next day we brought Naoko to look at it, and her father, who works in the construction industry, gave it his seal of approval. On what was coincidentally the fourteenth anniversary of my arrival in Japan, we had found our new home!
The next problem we faced was the banks. I did not have permanent residency, so no one would lend to me. I was getting a special "foreigner's living allowance" from the company which would be cancelled if I did take PR, so we decided to get the loan in Naoko's name, and I would hold off on applying for PR, as the allowance would cover most of the monthly payments anyway. We started another whirlwind of activity as we looked for new furniture, curtains, carpets and other things that we would need in the new house. Naoko and her mother had a fierce fight over the curtains, not as much over which to choose as over who would choose them. I thought at the time that it was horrible that a mother and daughter could argue that fiercely, but kept my mouth shut.
For some of the paperwork I needed a registered "Hanko" or stamp, so I had to get one made. I had it done in katakana, because foreigners cannot register hanko with Chinese characters unless they can prove that they have been using those characters in their name. As it was I still had to register my name in Katakana before I could register the hanko. Up till then the city hall only had my name in English letters. We went through the steps of signing the pre-contract, which is essentially a promise to buy so that the estate agents can begin all the paperwork, which itself costs about a hundred thousand yen. On the day we signed the loan application, we had to go to a funeral of a friend who had died suddenly. He was the fiance of Miharu, the photographer we had asked to do the slides for our wedding, and had been hospitalised after a brain haemorrhage. I had met him only days before that at a photo exhibition she had held, and he had seemed perfectly normal. It was awkward to be there, considering all the good things that had been happening to us, we felt almost guilty in front of someone who had lost their loved one and been denied all that we were enjoying. We joined the queue to offer our condolences, and when we did, Miharu wished us both happiness. I wouldn't have been surprised if she resented us for having the happiness she had lost, but she was a better person than that. We decided, all the same, not to tell people about the house for a while.
Only one year after we had moved into our new apartment, it was time to move again. Work was still busy, and I was in America for a week in the beginning of November. I had quit the sports club because I had not been going for a while and it did not look like I would have time to go in the future. And now I had to start packing everything again. One thing I did find time for was to attend a special event in Tokyo to mark four hundred years since the start of the Edo period, in which one of the Kawagoe festival Dashi floats was among several from towns around the Kanto region that paraded around the centre of Tokyo, from Ginza to the Imperial palace. It was a cold day to be walking around in a kimono, but it was worth it to have taken part in such a rare event.
Once we had closed the deal on the house, we did what was referred to as a Tachiai, in which we looked around the house with the builders and made any final requests for changes or fixes before we finally took over the property. Among the changes we requested was to move the gas meter to allow easier access to the back of the house, but the builder refused, saying that the gas company would not allow it. Naoko's father interrupted him to say that he would take care of the gas company (who were one of his major clients), and this left the builder at a loss for words. After that, each time he tried to make excuses for a piece of work being too difficult, Naoko's father would tear strips off him, even explaining in some cases how the changes should be made. I was really glad that he was on our side, and enjoyed watching the builder squirm.
In the final days running up to the day we planned to move, Naoko brought on another bombshell. Her period was late. She thought it was jusｔ because she was tired from work and the move, but one evening we were sitting watching TV at about eleven thirty when she suddenly blurted out that she wanted to eat sushi. I joked with her that it was a sure sign she must be pregnant if she suddenly needed raw fish at that hour of the night. The next day she bought a home pregnancy tester, and it turned out positive. She went to the clinic the following Saturday, which was the weekend we were moving, and as I was loading some boxes into the car I got an email from her telling me that she was definitely six weeks pregnant. I joked with her later that it was a very elaborate way to get out of lifting anything heavy.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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