Thursday, December 14

Japanese Valentine

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In a previous article entitled The Sabra and the Chrysanthemums Wedding, I began the saga of our international relationship – how we met, our jet-setting around the world, and our eventual wedding 20 years ago.  Ours was truly a whirlwind romance which defied all logic, not the least of which was barriers to communication, with neither one of us speaking the other’s language.  Moreover, our different cultures were threatened to clash, as my own background is Israeli living in the United States, while my husband is Japanese.  And yet, looking back at our 20 years together, we have somehow managed to bridge these differences in language and culture with our all-too-human traits.

We met at my son’s wedding.  My son had traveled to Israel where he met his bride to be, a lovely Japanese young woman who was studying history and art in Israel.  After traveling together throughout Israel and Egypt, the couple returned to their respective homes, she to Japan and my son to the States.  Forlorn and miserable, my son sold his possessions and joined his betrothed in Japan.  It was at his wedding that I was introduced to my husband.  I arrived in Japan on the eve of his wedding, and was treated by his in-laws to a wonderful Japanese dinner of shabu-shabu, sashimi and sake.  As soon as we sat down, my son turned to me and asked, “So, Ma, do you want to get married again?” Huh?  Where did that come from?  My son was in the throes of preparations for his own wedding in the morning, and was not known to be much interested in the romantic life of his mother.  But I played along, and replied, “Well, sure, but I need a boyfriend first.”  No problem, my son came up with a ready solution: “The photographer at my wedding is single, he is a businessman and he is handsome.”  This, from my son?  Odd.  My reply was just as facile.  I said, “But he lives in Japan and I live in Miami.”  Not to be outdone, my son replied, “So you move!”  And that was that.  Dinner arrived, and the conversation continued mostly between my son and his in-laws in rapid-fire Japanese, while I sat, eating the shabu-shabu, and listening to the chatter, understanding not a single word. 

It was much later that I understood that my son was translating for his in-laws.

The following morning, I dressed in my mother-of-the-groom best and accompanied my son to his in-laws’ home, where the father directed me with considerable flourish a doorway, announcing, “My friend!” The doorway was empty, so I leaned over and cranked my head to see what was there, when out came a gentleman dressed in tuxedo and white tie, and the brightest grin I had seen in a long time.  “Hello,” I said, and he said hello, and I bowed, and he bowed, and I bowed again, not knowing when such courtesies were supposed to end, until it occurred to me that even in Japan, they shake hands.  And on that note, my son whisked me off to the church.

The wedding of the young couple was lovely, and all along, my intended hopped around in stocking feet taking photographs of the couple, periodically training the camera in my direction, so as to discretely gaze at the match that had been made. 

I returned home the day after the wedding, and our “relationship” began with his sending me a basket of dried flowers.  From that moment on, we burned the phone wires, each of us buried in our respective dictionaries, spelling out words to look up, lamenting our long distance from each other.  We made plans to meet in San Francisco, then for two weeks in Hawaii, but when I returned from our sojourn in Hawaii, I could no longer keep my composure.  I was in love.  It was another six weeks before we would see each other again, still burning the wires.  We made plans that I would go to Japan for a week in February, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Our reunion at the airport was wonderful, trying to keep our emotions in check because of constraints against excessive demonstrativeness.  My intended invited his family for a feast, and as we all sat around a long table feasting on all manner of seafood, Hideo put in my lap a bag where I saw a familiar-looking box that surely contained a ring.  He never formally proposed, but rather referred to me as his fiancée even in Hawaii.  Our Valentine engagement sealed the deal.  


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