Friday, February 11, 2005

Weddings Japanese style

Right this very minute, I should be dressed in my finest party duds and celebrating a friend's wedding. I had planned to go to the party--to what would have been my first almost all-Japanese social event. In fact, I had bought a cute little black velvet jacket for the occasion and had figured out what else I would wear with it. My only worry was that I didn't have a warm dressy coat to wear for these bone-chilling, windy evenings.

Then last Monday I casually mentioned to another friend that I was going to a wedding party Friday night. Her eyebrows shot up and she said, "So, you're paying 30,000 yen ($300)?" For a moment, I wondered if I had heard her correctly. Thirty-thousand yen? Granted, I'm decimal-point-impaired, and I've had difficulty sometimes figuring the exchange rate in my head. When I first heard about the party, in my mind I was thinking 3,000 yen ($30), which I thought was fine, even though I've never experienced having to pay to attend a wedding party. In the United States, weddings aren't done that way--at least as far as I know.

When I realized I would have to pay so much money to go to a party for a person I barely knew, I decided that I should reconsider my acceptance, but it wasn't easy. What should I say? Should I tell the truth--that I couldn't afford to pay 30,000 yen--or make up some other excuse? In the end, I decided that I could decline without having to make up a story or give the exact reason. I simply said, "I'm so sorry, but I won't be able to attend your wedding party after all." I didn't elaborate or dig a hole.

While I was extremely honored to have been invited to an almost entirely Japanese party, and looked forward to an opportunity to "see Japan from the inside," I was enormously disappointed that I couldn't attend.

Since Monday, I've discovered that wedding parties have more than one purpose. While they're meant to be a celebration of the wedding, they're also a means for paying for the wedding. As each guest pays the equivalent of $300 to $500, they're helping to defray the costs of the actual wedding. From what I understand, gifts are usually modest because of the high cost of attending the party.

So, while I'm sitting at home in my jammies, there's a wonderful party taking place right this minute that's celebrating the union of a man and a woman in matrimony, and I wish I could be there.

But most of all, I wish Mayuko and her husband a long and joyful life together.

Lumps in the night

For two weeks I've been apartment-sitting for a friend while she's in Singapore and New Zealand. She has two mischievous cats who sleep all day and are quite refreshed by the time I get home around 10pm. That's about the time they start chasing each other around the small apartment--skidding off tables and counters, "cat"-apulting off bookcases, and banging into anything in their path. This usually goes on until around 2am!

The past two years I've been cat-less, for the first time in my life. Even though I love dogs and all creatures, cats hold a special place in my heart. There's just something about their sleek, feline bodies and conniving little minds. . .

Last night I got home around 11:30 and was ready for bed an hour later. As I unfolded the futon and collapsed into the warm down comforter, I laid my head down on the little pillow and felt a hard lump. Lately I've taken to covering the pillow with a small towel to protect it from. . .well. . .cat bottoms. I had forgotten the towel was still there. Without turning on the light, I stuck my hand under it to see what was making the lump and felt something soft and furry. Zelda, the ocicat, had parked her toy mouse there.

I know it was Zelda because that's her kind of humor. She was probably sitting a cat's-tail-length away, waiting for the scenario to unfold, chuckling gleefully to herself as she awaited my reaction.

All her brother Hootie could manage was a disgusted "harrumph" at her cunning ploy for attention.

A baby stroller and a changing table

At first I thought it was strange to see the baby stroller parked by the curb. This is a residential neighborhood with no shops nearby. Yet day after day for almost a week, there it stayed. It wouldn't have been so perplexing if it hadn't been such a new-looking stroller. There was a cheerful cushioned liner to tenderly enfold an infant or toddler, and a matching protective hood hovered above the seat like a celestial ring of Cherubim. What caught my eye was that it appeared never to have been used. Then it was gone.

A day or two later, an equally new-looking wicker baby changing table appeared at the same curb where the stroller had once stood. It was outfitted in, yet again, a luxuriously thick mat. It would have made any baby happy to be changed and dressed on such a lovely table. Below the changing area were two open shelves displaying a matching fabric liner. After a few days, the matching mat and shelf liners disappeared, but the table remains.

If I were teaching a creative writing class, I would ask my students to imagine the story that went with these discarded items. Day after day, I looked at the stroller and changing table. What would prompt someone to set them out by the curb? In Japan, that's where people set their trash, but these were not put in the specified trash area. No, they were set there for someone to claim. But why? Was there no one this individual knew who could have used these two beautiful items? All young couples seem to know other expectant parents. Were they tainted in a way that made them unwanted? Is it possible that the joy of having a newborn was crushed by its tragic death?

I'll never know the answers to these questions.