Thursday, August 29, 2013

White Tulle and Hard Cash

My recent reading lists and browsing history would make anyone who has known me for any length of time slightly suspicious, and perhaps worried that I left my personality and sanity somewhere on the Yamanote line, to continue revolving in circles until found by a kindly train conductor.

As a highly trained ethnomusicologist, and hence someone with a strong grounding in antropology and human ritual, I tend to pick up on patterns in my surroundings... which have now been artifically amplified by Facebook. And there is indeed a pattern which has, for a rather unusual reason, caused my ears to prick up and sustained my attention enough to devote quite a bit of research to the question it spurred.

My question, should anyone wish to answer it, is: 'What, truly, is a wedding for?'

I come from a line, on both sides of the helix, that has somewhat shunned the 'traditional wedding' (whatever that may be is another big question), and this distinct lack of interest has been passed on to me. I do not dream of a white merengue gown that extends two metres from my body, and am left unfased by the idea of wedding colors, chapels, rings with large clear stones and all the other paraphenalia that seem to be a requirement for these events.

It seems to me that the intense focus on the 'production' is more than a little dangerous.

After diving into the literature, I found that many other researchers who have researched the subject in infinitely greater depth than myself agree. The degree of mental energy required to plan a modern wedding is immense, and it detracts from the important fact that after the wedding you have a marraige, which should (hopefully) last much longer. Somehow it makes more sense to me to focus on preparing for marriage, and all the wonderful and difficult things that means, instead of spending half of your annual income (or, in Japan, your friends and colleagues' income) on a rigidly scheduled party.

Another aspect I find immensely troubling is the thinly veiled promise given by the industry that, if you have a 'perfect wedding' it will lead to a perfect marriage...

Huh?! How many huge, million dollar weddings have flashed across our computer screens, just to end a few months or years later?

Monetary investment does not produce a couple who can disagree civilly, support each others ventures and work well in tandem. Perfectly retouched wedding pictures (and engagement pictures, trash the dress pictures, day after pictures...) do not a perfect marriage make.
The obsession and, frankly, rather self indulgent affair of being a bride/groom is front and center, and the transition to being a good partner to your significant other is ignored. It is all flash and minimal substance.
I have a feeling the wedding industry is taking a lot of people for a ride.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dating in Japan: Meet the Parents (part two)

Mea culpa, kind readers. Despite August's image of being an empty time spent listening to the shrill cry of cicadas in the heat, I have been busy (and partially defeated by the weather).
After first freaking out about the potentiality of meeting Matcha-kun's parents way back in December, I eventually chilled out about the whole thing. Since I would be using a few days during Obon to escape to Hakuba, we decided that it was time for the day of judgement (dun,dun,DUN!... just kidding).
I am happy to say that it was pleasantly uneventful and non-traumatic for everyone involved. Matcha-kun's mother was friendly, his father only slightly bemused. I was then taken around to all the various grandparents... apparently they did not tell one of his grandmothers that I am not Japanese, as a surprise. She was only slightly taken aback, and further confirmed my theory that grandmothers all over the world are basically the same, when she pronounced 'お人形さんみたい!' ('you look like a doll!'... which is exactly what my grandmother does).
I got a tour of his family's apple orchard, which was  rather cool, and even received one of the semi-ripe apples (which was surprisingly tasty and sweet!). All in all a good visit, and it seems I made a good impression. For anyone else preparing themselves for this kind of situation, I think there are a few pointers that would be helpful (independant of nationality):

1- You don't need to alter your style dramatically, but go with the most simple, moderate side of your looks.
2- Come bearing gifts. Keep them small and edible, as anything too flashy will make people feel uncomfortable.
3- Obviously (I hope) be polite, and answer odd questions as kindly and seriously as possible (for example: 'Do you have tatami floors in Europe?' or 'Do you eat jam?')
4- Your significant other's family is probably just as nervous as you are, so do your best to relax.
After the niceties had been completed, we went into Nagano city to see Zenkouji, wander the preserved Meiji streets and (of course) have the famous local soba for lunch.

Zenkouji is a rather impressive temple, reminiscent of Todaiji in Nara with its dark wood and thatch. The street leading up to the temple has a wealth of lovely Meiji buildings (the Gohojin hotel is particularly pretty), as well as smaller temples which serve as lodgings and (very importantly) many shops selling my beloved oyaki!
Soba in Nagano is serious business. I had 'karashi soba', which I have never seen anywhere else. The broth (which looks vaguely disturbing) is mainly shredded daikon and miso, so has a nice kick to it.
 After that we hopped on a bus to Hakuba, which I will talk about later :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Toyoko Line Love: Tamagawa

Tamagawa station always seemed to me to be mainly an extension of the terribly tony Denenchofu, big faux-European houses and snooty restaurants... and to some extent that is true.

However thanks to his collection of magazines, Matcha-kun (whom you can see trying to sneak out of the photo below) found out that it is also home to a nice park, where we hoped to chill in the shade and catch the breeze.
Since I was starving, after rushing from my morning koto lesson in Saitama, the first order of business was a quick late lunch at the Denenchofu Club. I had actually seen the building (and people enjoying their dinner on the private 3rd floor) from my train window on the way home several times, and so was happy to finally figure out what it was. Lunch was a good deal, and came with two complementary rose-infused macaroons.

Tamagawa Park itself is actually quite sizeable, with a few hidden surprises (like a waterlily pond populated by tons of dragonflies) and a nice view over the river. Since the trees are quite dense and it is on a hill, the breeze is delightful.
Passing a little shoutengai, where a wagashiya makes fresh ayu-shaped sweets, we also visited Denenchofu Sengen Shrine, a branch of the big shrine at the foot of Mount Fuji. Instead of the usual ema, you write your wishes on little plates. As a big festival had just occurred, there were still strings of wind chimes criss-crossing the path, tinkling away with their cooling sounds.