speaking, Rie and I were married December 28, 2002 at Osaka City
Hall. Our betrothal was an unceremonious affair led by an aging
salaryman with a comb-over, or what is referred to more vividly
in Japan as "barcode bald." Our marriage was processed while we
ate lunch in the diner next door. There we enjoyed a fine "Yakiniku-Teishoku" or
Grilled Beef Special.
When we returned, our faithful office worker produced a very ornate
piece of paper and unceremoniously handed it to us mumbling "congratulations" before
heading back to his steel gray desk. While neither of us were keen
on the idea of an elaborate wedding, this ritual had about as much
personal significance as the act of buying stamps. So we decided
to do it over and do it right last summer.
We agreed that a traditional Shinto ceremony was preferred over
a Western-style Christian one. If you want good food in Japan,
your safest bet is the local fare as opposed to pizza, for example,
because they put corn and mayonnaise on it. For me the same line
of thinking applies to wedding ceremonies. (And for those who are
unsure what I'm talking about, see NM#10). Here the Western variety
is often held in a plastic chapel that looks like it was taken
straight out of a theme park or a Las Vegas casino. It's not uncommon
to see automatic fountains, bubble machines and brides wearing
not only white, but pink, yellow, lavender or even lime green.
On a mild, rainy day in June, we were wed for the 2nd time. It
took place in a 900 year old shrine, on top a hill not far from
our house. My parents and best friend, Bob, flew in especially
for the occasion. The Kobayshi clan (Rie's family) was there in
full force, as were my students, our friends and coworkers.
am happy to say that while I've recorded a lot of wacky past experiences
in this Journal my wedding is not going to be one of them. For
the most part it went very smoothly and all were touched by the
ceremony, even my parents who didn't understand a single word.
Really the only bumpy part was when we had to read our vows in
unison, which were a full page of Japanese. Rie hadn't factored
in that I would need to rehearse them a few hundred times before
going live. Oh well. To the Japanese people there it must have
sounded like Rie was marrying Tarzan, but they were all polite
enough not to laugh as I sweated my way through it.
During our reception, my dad's speech must have officially confirmed
that I was raised by apes. His speech went something like this
but was quite a bit longer: "Japan very far away. BAAD. We don't
see Tom for long time. VERY BAAD. But Rie is GOOD. Now Tom is part
of Rie's family. VERY GOOOOD! Tom's mother and Tom's father are
VERY HAPPY." He ended the speech rubbing his chest as a sign that
his heart was warmed by the occasion. Rie's parents got the message
and cheered, holding up their glasses.
evening we held a final get together for our friends in an old
coffee shop whose décor hadn't been touched since the late
place had just the right vibe we'd been looking for and we got
it cheap from the sympathetic owner, a former WWII Kamikaze fighter
pilot. Apparently, I was the first foreigner to wander into his
establishment in over 30 years. When we discovered the place, about
a month earlier, he came over, sat at our table and unloaded his
When the war ended in 1945, he was 18 and had just completed his
Kamikaze training. At first he felt like a failure for not having
the chance to sacrifice himself for emperor and country. But shortly
after the war ended, he found work as an auto mechanic, fixing
American cars brought over by US occupied forces based in Tokyo.
The sergeant in charge of General MacArthur's security detail became
a good friend, after he fixed his Buick. He talked nostalgically
of being taken for rides in that huge car, through the still bombed-out
streets of Tokyo, while fellow Japanese looked on at them in amazement.
sat there in his café, while he reminisced about how his
former enemies had quickly become some of his best friends. He
went into the kitchen and came back with an old black photo album.
In it were pictures of times he'd described. There were pictures
of him young and proud, wearing a leather jacket, leather cap and
white scarf around his neck, fresh out of flight school. There
were also pictures of him in his best suit, sitting at a round
table with a bunch of happy GIs and their dates. Next to him was
a long-legged blond.
He told us how she was an American nurse who let him take her
for drives in her car and accompany to the USO dances. "We were
just like you two only back then marriages between foreigners and
Japanese were simply not possible." She was eventually transferred
back to the States. After that, he returned to Okayama, to run
this café, which he's been doing now for the last 40 years.
He's now married and has raised his own family. In Rie and I he
must've seen how things might have been if they were from a different
era. We tried to pay him, but he ultimately let us use his café virtually
for free on our wedding night.
Japan Wedding Week Highlights
Wig Shopping: In modern Japan, if you are going
to get married Shinto style, a wig is almost essential.
Very few women have hair long enough these days to arrange it in
the proper fashion that suits a wedding kimono. Rie's kimono shop
keeper recommended us to a man who is apparently one of the best
in the business. As we searched for the shop in the middle of an
old suburban neighborhood, we were expecting an ancient, wooden
house with dusty wigs propped up everywhere inside. Instead we
arrived at a concrete studio with ivy covering the entire façade.
In the entryway, there was a sculpture surrounded by smooth black
pebbles. The studio itself was dramatically lit and had more works
of art than furniture. There was only one mirror with a barber's
chair in front of it. There, Rie's head was fitted and tested with
several different shades of black-haired wigs. I had no idea there
were that many shades of black. To lighten up the mood a bit, I
asked if he had a wig for me also. No one seemed to get my joke.
Apparently wig shopping is a very serious matter in Japan.
Message Chairs, Nude Photo Shoots and Flying Squid
During the week that followed the ceremony, my family and best
friend, Bob, were treated to the best of Okayama by Rie's family.
While most tourists content themselves with Tokyo and Kyoto, we
got to experience such wonders as the finest watermelons in Tottori,
a squid drying machine and massage chairs at a Japanese electronics
For Rie and I, massage chairs have a special significance. It
was in one that I first met Rie's parents about 2 years after we'd
already started dating. Rie and I were reclining next to each other
in the midst of a vigorous 15 minute total body rub down when her
parents walked slowly passed us, jaws agape in disbelief.
Little did we know it, but sitting in those chairs we had been
launched on a crash course with destiny. A formal meeting with
her family was in order and that could only mean one thing: Wedding
Two years later, that was all water under the bridge, literally.
There I sat, completely naked next to Rie's dad, my dad and Bob
in a hot spring bath, or "onsen." The hotel spa that we were visiting,
like most, had several pools with different features, e.g. jets,
waterfalls, wood or rock edges, and pebbles placed in the floor
that were supposed to massage the pressure points of your feet.
In the men's bath, Rie's dad thought we might want to commemorate
the experience with a few pictures. Not knowing exactly what he
had planned, we watched him slip out of the pool, disappear into
the changing room and reappear with his instamatic camera. He took
several fine photos of me, Dad and Bob, standing there knee-deep
in the water with nothing covering us but our small "modesty towels." Unfortunately,
I don't think the censors will allow me to post any of them.
The Wedding Part II: On to "God's Country"
month later it was hospitality payback time as Rie's family made
the journey across the Pacific for our 2 nd wedding reception in
Oregon. My mom and brother arranged a beautiful Northwest-style
reception for us at my aunt's house, complete with outdoor jazz
and alder plank grilled salmon. For Rie's parents, it was their
first visit outside Japan, and probably the best time they'd had
since their honeymoon.
Still the experience was a bit overwhelming. The food was also
a bit of an adjustment, so boy were they happy when Bob showed
up with the dried squid. It was a small package that he'd bought
on his last day at a convenience store in Yokoyama. To me the stuff
has always smelled way too foul to eat, but we relished it like
an expensive caviar and commented the whole time on what a fine
young man Bob was. Yes with his simple squid gesture, Bob scored
big points with the Kobayashis.
Big Mountains, Big Steaks & Big Harleys
Rie's Dad, I am sure that his daughter's wedding had to be an important
day, but the day after may have been what he was really waiting
for. Way back when I had that first official meeting with Rie's
parents, I tried to break the news to them that their daughter
would be embarking with me on a much more international lifestyle
then they had ever anticipated. I tried to soothe the blow by telling
Rie's dad (a major motorcycle aficionado) that one day he'd have
a chance to ride a Harley Davidson on the open road in Oregon.
Today was that day. He and my dad went to the local Harley shop
(right next to a strip joint in the shape of a jug of moonshine)
early in the morning and rented two fine hogs. They took them on
an all-day excursion around the Mt. Hood loop, roaring up the Columbia
Gorge, then through pristine farmland and further up into the Mt.
Hood wilderness. After stopping at historic Timberline Lodge, we
cruised back down into Portland.
The day ended at the mother of all steak houses: Sayler's Old
Country Kitchen. I have to admit, my family doesn't go there all
that often and there are probably better places to eat steak in
the area, but none can match the pure size and splendor of Sayler's.
They have a contest: If you can eat their largest large steak (I
can't remember the exact size right now, but as my dad pointed
out, it's almost the "size of a newborn child") with all the "fixins" in
less than one hour, you eat for free. In the restaurant's illustrious
history only a chosen few hearty souls have had the intestines
to stand up to such a challenge. As for Rie's parents, they could
barely finish a 12 oz. steak split between them.
And that's how I will end this entry. There were a lot of other
great experiences for both sides of the family. East got to truly
meet West and vice versa. My family experienced conveyor belt sushi
and Rie's saw firsthand, the super-sized universe of Costco. In
the end everyone was quite impressed and quite a bit more open-minded.
See you in 6 months for a new edition of the Naked Man Journal.