June 11, 2008

Notes from Marriage Week

As always I am a bit behind posting news to my blog. Sorry about that. If you couldn't tell from my previous entries, I married my girlfriend L. three weeks ago. We didn't have a wedding ceremony, but plan to have one next year in May. My family came to Japan to meet with L.'s family, which was totally great. If you are interested, I've written up the events of the week.    

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

My family arrived at Narita airport at about 14:30.   Jana called my cellphone as they were deplaning.

After work I headed over to the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.  We spent a lot of time talking.  People started to get hungry so we went to the Food Court for dinner.  The Shinagawa Prince Hotel is connected to a large shopping mall (Wing) that has a food court, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and so on. There is even a fairly large looking aquarium there, which accounts for a lot of the Shark themed stuff that is in the area.  

For dinner everyone had Ramen, except for Jana and I.  I had a tonkatsu dinner, and Jana went with a vegetable curry.  We also picked up an order of Takoyaki (squid in balls of dough) that we shared.  I was impressed that grandma Bessie tried one even!  

After we got everyone settled in their hotel rooms and finished our catching up I headed back home.

It was really great seeing the whole family.  The last time I saw everyone in my  immediate family was two years ago in California at Alana's wedding.  It is just amazing to think that my mother, father, and both sisters were able to gather in Japan when we are not usually able to do that in America.  It is also absolutely amazing that my 88 year old grandmother was able to make the long trip out here.  It was the first time that she had ever travelled out of the United States.  She actually had to get a Passport, which was pretty difficult.  The passport office wanted to see her birth certificate, but since she was born in 1919, the hospital that she was born in does not exist anymore.  The town that she was born in does not exist anymore, and even if it did, they did not start keeping those kinds of records until after she was born.  She was able to obtain a one-year permit on the condition that she shows them some form of proof that she had been born (although I find the idea that they might think that she hadn't been born more amusing.)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

On Tuesday morning Alana called and woke me up at 6am.  I went back to sleep.  I got up at about nine and headed over to the hotel.  We were planning to meet Hisatoshi and Noriko Maeda, my father's friends from when he was in graduate school, at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel at 11am.  They were coming from Nagoya and would stay for the night before heading back on the Shinkansen, so Shinagawa was very convenient for them.  

I hadn't seen the Maeda family for about two years, but my parents had not seen them for maybe ten years or more.  It was a very nice reunion.   I had made reservations for lunch at the KKR Hotel, which is very close to where I work, and adjacent to the Imperial Park.  The restaurant has a nice view of the Imperial Grounds, so we were able to get a nice overview of the park without walking around there, which is kind of tough for my family.  

Lunch was a choice between a beef dish and a fish dish, both of which seemed quite nice.  Dessert was a buffet course, and we really took advantage of it.  I was surprised that so many people tried the maccha (green tea) pudding (which was pretty good.)

After lunch at the KKR hotel, we visited the nearby Yasukuni temple. I'm not sure that it was the best idea to take everyone to Yasukuni, but the shrine is close to where we are, and it is a large temple on nice grounds. It is a very controversial temple because it was made to commemorate the dead from World War II, and causes a lot of tension between basically any country that was invaded by Japan.

There is also a museum on the temple grounds, but I've never actually gone in and paid the entrance fee to see the whole museum. I've gone in far enough to see the reconstructed Zero fighter, the large train they have, and the somewhat surreal gift shop.

I don't really know where to stand on the issue, because I think for the most part that most Japanese people (the younger generation - by which I mean people my age, who probably don't qualify as younger anymore) don't really think too much about the war, and certainly don't try to push radical views about Japanese military supremacy or the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. I also think that they don't think too much about what and how they were taught, but you can level that accusation against Americans too, and more easily show gaping holes in our general knowledge as a country by asking some pretty basic world geography questions.

Anyway, I view the place as pretty much just a temple, and I think that is how most Japanese people see it, aside from a small radical minority. I'm sure there are similar feelings about any war monument really. I really wonder what people in America would think about an Iraq War memorial (or Bush monument!) in forty years.

We spent a while at the temple (anything our family does as a group is done at a nice relaxed pace) and then hopped some cabs to head back to the hotel. Since the Maeda family was staying there as well, we all got dinner in a restaurant (we tried three or four places before we could find one that could take our large-ish group) that specialized in Tempura. I'm a big fan of tempura, and it seemed to go over well with everyone else as well. When all else fails, you can always count on Americans to eat fried foods.

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Since yesterday was a very busy day for the family, Thursday was an easier schedule. At noon we were supposed to go to the Kimono Rental Shop and try on some Kimono, then choose which ones to wear to the formal dinner. Since Lisa was planning to wear a Kimono, I thought it would be nice if I also wore the traditional Hakama (split skirt for men) so we would make a nice pair. As long as I was going to the trouble to rent a Kimono, Alana and Jana were both really interested in wearing one too. It isn't likely that we'll have that kind of opportunity as a family again for a while, so we thought we would all do it together. Mom and Grandma agreed to try the Kimono on and see if they liked it.

On the way to the shop in Shibuya, we passed a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Shop. My whole family loves ice cream, and since Grandma was having some troubling finding things that she could eat and digest easily, she wanted to get "lunch" at Baskin-Robbins. So we all got ice cream, and in the process probably freaked out the part-timers a bit.

Kimono are actually pretty tough to wear: they put those things on tight, and for the women at least that means like three or four belt-like contraptions. I only had one or two myself, so it wasn't so bad, but the women had it a bit worse. Mr. Tanaka had warned me that it is pretty tought to wear a Kimono for a long time, and especially tough to eat in one, so he recommended changing after we took the family photos that we had arranged for.

The old lady at the Kimono shop was really happy to see us, and we had a great time trying Kimono on. Everything looked set. She was really happy that mom and grandma were going to try to wear Kimono, so they were very excited about that. We decided on what we would wear, and then made an appointment to come back at noon on Saturday to start the hair and make-up for the women and start putting on the Kimono. We had about three and a half hours, so the timing should just work out.

After that, we headed to our next appointment: Sumo wrestling! I had bought tickets for the family and Mr. Tanaka about a month back, since that is one thing that the sisters said they were interested in seeing. I'm pretty sure mom and dad could have done without it, and Grandma seemed to be practically opposed to the idea. She thought that it was something like professional wrestling, or boxing where the opponents hurt each other (or try to make it appear that way.)

Sumo actually doesn't look nearly as painful as say, mixed martial arts or boxing. The rules are that the first guy to fall (use a hand to support themselves, go down to their knees, etc.) or leaves the circle area loses. So it is more like wrestling in my opinion, with holds and pushing instead of closed fist punching.

We arrived at the Kokugi-kan (the Sumo building) at about 3pm, slightly after the top ranked Sumo made their entrance into the arena. We had normal stadium style seating, which is much better for foreigners than the Japanese style seating the my friend Andy and I tried once.

We watched a bunch of matches, while I did my best to interpret between Mr. Tanaka and my family. This was the first time that anyone from my family met anyone from Lisa's family, and since there were more of us, it was probably pretty tough on Mr. Tanaka. It seems like everyone had fun though. Jana was really enjoying the Sumo. I think it is pretty cool too actually. Dad got a real kick out of how the opponents try to psyche each other out by not giving the sign for starting the match and instead going back to throw more salt.

The final match was a great one: Kotooushyuu (a popular Bulgarian wrestler who had reached the top ranks) against Hakuhou (a Japanese wrestler, also ranked at the top.) The match was fairly even, but Hakuhou was predicted to win. Kotooushyuu actually got the win, and it was one of those times where everyone throws their pillows. I had always wanted to be there for that. They usually only do that when there is an upset on the last fight of the day.

After Sumo, we went to a temple nearby that the Tanaka family has belonged to for about 1000 years (they can trace the temple and their membership to that branch back to Kyoto and a famous temple out there) and we were able to go inside to see the ceremony room. That is where they perform marriage ceremonies (sometimes - most marriage ceremonies in Japan are Western style now) and funerals, or various other ceremonies. It was really nice, because I've never seen anything like that before: a real Japanese temple and how it is usually used by people, not just the tourist aspects.

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Friday was a fairly leisurely day: we didn't have anything planned until the evening, when we were to meet with Alana's friend Mariko, whom she met while in the Peace Corps in Morocco. My dad had arranged for a business meeting on Friday in the late afternoon, so in the earl afternoon I took everyone to my apartment and showed them around the cute little town I live in. Since I live very close to a Baskin-Robbins -- I'm not saying that I chose where to live based on proximity to good ice cream shops, but that certainly didn't hurt -- we had another "lunch" at Baskin-Robbins. When I told Lisa that our family had eat twice at Baskin-Robbins for lunch, she completely thought that I was joking, and now thinks that all Americans are crazy. Probably.

Afterwards, dad headed out to his meeting, and everyone else came back to my apartment where mom and grandma napped, and Alana and Jana went shopping. After a relaxing afternoon, we went back to Shinagawa to meet Mariko for dinner.

Mariko is really interesting: she's American with Japanese parents, and grew up in Chicago. She's been in Japan the past few years studying Japanese Noh flute. I met her back when I visited Alana when she was in the Peace Corps in Morocco - Mariko was also in the Peace Corps at the time, and they were posted fairly close to each other (a few hours by bus.) Since I've been in Japan, I've seen Mariko maybe twice - I can't believe we haven't gotten together more often, but schedules here are just totally packed. Life is like that I guess.

We all met a the "LoungeFoodium" (I love that word!) at Queen's Isetan in Shinagawa, and ate at the New York themed area (at the New York Grill - different from the one with the same name in the Park Hyatt by the way), which is always fun for me. The hallways are named things like "Tribeca" and "Broadway" and so on.

It was great seeing Mariko again, and it really amazes me how the time flies.

Saturday, May 24th, 2008: The Schrodinger Marriage

Saturday morning I met with Lisa and Mr. Tanaka at the Chiyoda-ku ward office, where we have to submit the paperwork for our marriage. There was some paperwork that I had to take care of beforehand at the US Embassy, but there really wasn't too much paperwork required. What really surprised me is that when I asked whether we are now officially married (and I would have appreciated a "you may now kiss the bride" - but that will be saved for the ceremony) I got a really surprised answer.

Maybe if I was Japanese I would have expected this, but it sounds to me like I'm in a Schrodinger Marriage. The paperwork was submitted on the 24th, but according to the county we won't be married until they do some paperwork and finalize some stuff. Interestingly though, the marriage is retroactive to the date we submitted the paperwork. The total process probably only took about half an hour - most of that was because I was a bit nervous and had to fill in a form twice - but it really wasn't all that difficult.

The Tanakas dropped me off at the hotel, and I picked up the family. We headed over to the Kimono rental shop and started the process of putting on the Kimonos and the women also had their hair done. The whole process took about three and half hours for the four of us. The shop owners were very excited about our group, and took a few pictures before we went to the hotel for our portraits.

When we got to the hotel we went up to the area where the photo studio is, and Lisa's famliy was there. I actually did not recognize Lisa: I have never seen her hair up before. She was absolutely stunning in a black flowered Kimono. We took a portrait with the entire Evans and Tanaka families, and then Lisa and I had a portrait taken. They were very busy at the studio with pictures, people going in and out, they really were efficient and got our group in and out in about fifteen minutes. Grandma changed back into Western clothes while Alana, Jana, and myself decided to stay in Kimono.

Afterwards we went to the Takanawa Prince Hotel for a traditional Japanese Kaiseki meal. It was an excellent thirteen course meal. Everything was absolutely delicious. My sister took pictures of each course, but I wasn't able to get the pictures from her. I do remember that the Uni was great. I was really surprised at how many different dishes mom and grandma were trying. You don't get food like that back in Omak.

Everyone got along well at dinner, and Alana and Jana were doing a great job of communication. I had main interpretation duty, but with six people from the Evans side, and six (point five) people from the Tanaka side, I couldn't really cover the whole table. It didn't seem like there were any major miscommunications though, so I'm happy with that.

After the dinner we went back to our hotel, and took a while to get out of our Kimonos. Alana and Jana said they are glad that they wore the Kimono, but those things are tight. We might have some minor ribcage bruising the next day!

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Sunday was another semi-relaxed day. At noon we met with Naoki Chinone, a friend of my father's from Dallas who moved back to Japan a few years back. Our whole group and Lisa had lunch with him at the Chinese restaurant in the Odakyuu Southern Tower in Shinjuku, which was very nice. It was a nice lunch course with six or seven courses, one of them shark fin soup, which is one of the first times I had eaten that.

After lunch I went back to my apartment while Alana and Jana took the family back to the hotel, and then went to return the Kimonos. I started preparing for a party that we were having at our favorite bar, Saraba. Eventually Alana and Jana came to my place, we got some coffee, picked up two cakes, and headed down to the bar. About 30 friends of ours came out for dinner and drinks. I wish I had some pictures, but I don't. I spent the evening drinking, chatting with friends, and meeting lots of Lisa's friends.


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