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International Marriage: Chapter 1, Meeting The Japanese Father In Law

Author:Joseph Robbie, Issue: November 1999, Topic: Commentary

International Marriage Series #1

Well, now the cat's out of the bag, or did you already know? A large percentage of internationally experienced English teachers find their future brides sitting before them during vocabulary review. I did, and there this story begins.

Off in the distant land of hula and monstrous Northshore bone crushers, we fell in love. The juicy details of courtship and proposal I'll leave for another time, for this tale proceeds in the land of the rising sun.

"You live where?" "Tsuchiura, in Ibaraki." What was I letting myself in for?

To test the waters, I flew in for a two-week visit over Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Rika showed off the landscape to me, and showed me off to others. Now the day had come to meet her mother. As, well-dressed and spiffy as I get, I entered the cozy family friend restaurant, I saw her sitting straight and looking serious in the back corner of the room. She had come with support -- her sister with spouse sat adjacent.

Inwardly shaking, outwardly calm, obviously sweating, I seated myself across from the matriarch, Rika by my side. To drink or not to drink? When they encouraged me, I was thinking - "trap". Yet, I ordered a draft beer as the sister had one before her and offered a wink.

It went well. The mother was a delight. Little interrogation, much smiling. I had passed the audition. But something was missing -- oh yeah, the father.

He refused to meet me. There was some issue relating to loyalty to his daughter's ex-beau and family. This isolation was to last two years. So be it then, nothing could be done. I wrote him off.

A few days after Christmas, Rika suggested, "Let's go into Tokyo and find out about marriage." Wearing comfortable jeans and a red sweater, I entered behind her the flourescent, cubicle filled, massive world of a Japanese government office. We waited, filled out some papers, showed a passport, paid some money and got on a crosstown train.

At the American embassy, security was tight due to the action in the Balkans.

Filled out some papers, showed a passport, paid some money, and raised my right hand.

"Do you swear that you are currently unmarried?" "I do." Back on the train.

A return to cubicle-land a half-hour before closing time. Problem. Rika's father had given the wrong social security number to her over the phone. Accident? I suspected otherwise. Yet the crack staff had managed to resolve the crisis as we waited beyond scheduled working hours. A bit more red tape, then the helpful matron handed us a certificate attesting to our, now legal, bond.

A quick photo in front of her desk, and we were back on the street and married. It slowly began to sink in. It was truth. I'd left bed that morning single, scarcely imagining I'd return that same evening massively committed. No blood tests, no waiting period, no ceremony, - no return.

On the bustling curbside just out the door, emotion hormones coursing through my veins, I elegantly swept my new bride into my yearning arms, made an appropriate remark regarding the joy of our status, and bent to kiss her, to seal our happy union. Shockingly, she turned away, rejecting my public show of affection. I felt foolish. I felt anger. Our first fight ensued. What a start!!!

Trying to get over it, we found a German style beer hall and celebrated with sausage, sourkraut, potatoes and beer, of course. Then it was on to Roppongi, a happening district of Tokyo. Failing to find the pub where I had once played harmonica on Thursday nights, we settled for a small bar with a similar feel. Ironically, on my wedding night, I saw for the first time the movie, "Titanic", which was playing on the bar TV. You can't ignore an omen like that.

And so it came to pass, that I tidied up my affairs in Alohaland, sold the car, rented a large storage space, and moved, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, etc., to Sushiland. For the first three weeks, I was timid, and depended completely upon Rika to help me function amid the unfamiliar surroundings and language. Thus, the fateful day arrived.

I had to get out on my own. Rika, a nurse, had night duty. I was going stir crazy. I had mentioned earlier the possibility of my visiting the where-I-met-her-mother-family-friends'-owned bar, hereafter referred to as "Country". So off I went, having more than a totally vague mental picture of the place.

Down "Soapland" street where the, then yet unfamiliar, pimps generally ignored me, to the train station, the center of most Japanese being. I knew the place was on the other side of the tracks, literally. So, I resolved to circumnavigate them. Mistake. An hour and a half later, I was hopelessly lost. What to do?

Ahead I saw a convenience store - how convenient! Inside, the counter girl couldn't comprehend in the least as I displayed the lighter with the word "Country" clearly visible, with a telephone number yet. An apparent salary worker approached in the midst of the miscommunication and asked, "May I help you?"

"Yes, yes, please do." The situation was explained, a call was made, directions were given, and I was on my way. The guy was a lifesaver.

As it happens, the way to the other side of the tracks is THROUGH the station ... who'd-a-thunk? So through I went, then all was ease.

Upon entering, I was spent, after two hours hiking my way along the paths less taken. Dazed, confused, I ordered a whiskey and a beer, both of which vanished, prompting another round. The house master let on that Rika had called, and was in distress after being informed of my plight.

Duty bound, I called her at work. Where had I been? - Lost. Was I OK? - Yes.

Why was I so stupid? - Birth defect. Unfortunately, she had alarmed the in-laws. "Mom" was currently cruising the streets in search. This, I didn't need. I'm a man. The things I'd been through, how could she think I'd be in harm's way by failing to find a sought pub directly? Embarrassing...yet worse was to come.

Following another round, the bar phone rang. For me. Rika informing me that her mother and younger sister, Shoko, were on their way to Country. Sure enough, they soon arrived.

Grave concern. Horrid musings. All for naught. Indeed, I had made it from the apartment to the pub without major incident. All was well - don't worry.

Another round, then the bombshell...

Otoosan, the father-in-law, wanted to meet me. Now

I'm thinking, "I don't think so", but to no avail. He was waiting. Now. A survey of my condition: extremely underdressed, drunk, exhausted, peeved at Rika, and with a hole in my sock.

No minor concern, that. Putting on my clothes for the eventful excursion, I couldn't overlook a big, big-toe hole in my left sock. "What the heck, I'll wear them one last time tonight as I don't plan on removing my shoes", I reasoned.

I'm a pro-choice kind of guy, but felt I had none here. So, we arrived. Amid the din of aggressive barking, a throbbing headache, and a feeling of impending doom, I remembered my culture studies. I had read up on Japanese culture before flying off. I removed my shoes and placed them facing outward, I bowed deeply upon entry, I assumed the formal sitting position, legs under, feet to the back, like praying. This served well to hide my holely sock.

The doggie din continued unabated. In a wonderful ice-breaker, the father-in-law shouted in English, "Shut up!!!" And they did. Did I want a whiskey? Thin, conservative, stern, he looked like the president of a prefectural fraternal business organization, which he is.

Awkward though it was at first, I actually scored some points by being a whiskey drinker and tobacco smoker. The old guy felt an ally in me. Things loosened up a bit. However, I was getting to be at a loss for words, since I only knew seven. Maintaining an acceptable outward composure, my mind raced - what to talk about? It was too early to leave. Then it hit me - childhood photos! Brilliant, eh?

Yeah, that was the hit idea. Saw Rika as a toddler, tot, terrible threes, all the way up to "developed" teen. An hour passed. I had to go, you know, to the "bath" room.

Shuffling my feet like a chorus girl, I did my utmost to HIDE THE HOLE in my sock as I passed by the elders. Found the room, found the switch, and soon returned, doing a similar three-step.

Okay. I had done my best under the circumstances. After all, I hadn't been ready for that scene in the least. It was 10:30. Time to quit while ahead.

Pleading weariness, I thanked all, especially Pop, for the hospitality. The ride home was like watching "60 Minutes" at half speed. Chit-chat with mother and sister-in-law; internal bleeding of confidence and ego in general.

Well, that's the story, in essence. I finally met, and was well-received by my father-in-law. We had broken the ice, and now there was warmth.

As a bit of an epilogue, about a week later, Rika returned from an afternoon visit to her folks. She had brought a present for me from her father. What was it? Whiskey? Cigarettes? I clawed at the wrapping, and soon revealed - ten pairs of new socks!!!

The End

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