Sunday October28, 2007 11:16 pm
At the end of my last post I had just escaped Tokyo and made my way to Osakikimijima. The city had overwhelmed me with people, noise, and chaos. I needed calm and quiet and getting to the ferry port in Takehara was a truly wonderful moment. The sea smell in Japan is different than it is in New York, and when I got out of the car my whole life when I was in Japan came flooding back. I bought my ticket, drove my car onto the ferry, and rode back the the island for the first time in a year, standing on the upper deck, leaning against the railing, and grinning ear to ear.
When I got to the island, a funny thing happened - I hardly took any photos. For two days, I took a total of maybe 20 pictures, which for me in Japan is essentially zero. In those two days, I did all the things I think about so often and missed so much. Mori and I went cruising around the island with the seats back and the music on in his gold van. We got ramen from Tokumori’s, the best ramen shop in Hiroshima prefecture. I borrowed Graham’s scooter (Graham has the job I used to have on the island) and spent about three hours driving every single road and narrow path that I used to. I went up and down the mountain a couple times, I went down all the little windy side streets, I stopped at the little beaches I used to stop at, and dipped my toes in the inland sea. The weather was beautiful and clear, and it was stunningly gorgeous. The thing is, I had taken the pictures before. I spent an entire year taking pictures of that life, and as I rode around, I realized that I hadn’t forgotten anything. The intensity of my memories coupled with the roughly 18,000 photos I took while I was in Japan have made sure of that. What I missed were the intangibles - the feeling of pushing the 50cc engine of the Honda Jog around the hairpins on the south side of the island. The way the road feels under your wheels up towards the top of the mountain where the road crews never go and the road is starting to crumble and fall down the mountainside. The way it gets colder when you cross from the sunlit side of the mountain to the shaded side. Going to my favorite spot to watch the sunset and switching off the engine and suddenly being surrounded by this vast soft sound of wind in the leaves and birds far below. I wanted to do all that stuff, and I never once had the urge to pull out the camera. I could look at my old pictures and that would be just fine. Just the doing was sublime.
Just as I was thinking that my four gigs of memory cards and portable hard drive would be unnecessary, Saturday rolled around, and it was time for Mori’s wedding. At 9 o’clock in the morning I packed myself into a car with Mori’s entire family and we drove to Ujina, which is a little waterfront suburb of Hiroshima. After stopping for ramen, dropping the dogs off at the pet hotel, and checking in at our hotel, we arrived at “Remercier” - a fancy french restaurant and western-style wedding venue. Being with a Japanese family, of course we got there an hour early and the staff had to run out and tell us that the last wedding wasn’t finished yet and could we wait just a half an hour? We could, and went down to a pier to kill some time.
From left: Hiroko (eldest sister), Naoki (younger brother), Uncle Kenso (not technically an uncle, but close enough), Saori (younger sister). Remember them, they are the cast of this post.
Hiroko, killing time. It isn’t exactly the most beautiful waterfront, but Japan is a place where some huge percentage of the shoreline is hardened with reinforced concrete - this is the place where the word “tsunami” was invented - so to me, this is a very Japanese waterfront. See how the wall is curved outwards? That is to send a huge volume of water back out to sea. And see in the last picture how the door we came through can be shut with a big reinforced steel door? There are doors like that and walls like these along just about every foot of seashore that is not a huge cliff.
We sat and waited and I think everyone was pretty excited and nervous and after what seemed like just a couple minutes it was time for us to make our official appearances. The wedding staff showed us around and we put our stuff down and waited for the main event to arrive.
Mori and Fumiko - the main event.
Where to even begin? So much happened, and I don’t want to miss any of the strange or fun stuff that happened. This was a western-style Japanese wedding, which is to say that it looks a lot like your standard American or European wedding, but actually there’s a lot going on that is different. In terms of clothing, the men all wore suits and ties, but the women could choose between dresses and kimono. Now here is where my non-Japanese viewpoint clouds things - it could just be that I’ve just seen a million and a half girls in dresses and seven women really wearing kimono. It could be that a kimono seems exotic and different and striking to me just because I’m a dumb gaijin, but I guess I just sort of have to accept that.
I jumped in on this family photo - on the left are two aunts in the (extensive) Nakamura clan, and on the right are Hiroko and her mother. Looking stunning.
Anyway. As members of the Nakamura family (which I was essentially adopted into for the week) we got changed and waited to greet arriving guests. For Mori and his parents, that meant a lot of bowing and extremely formal conversations with distant relatives. For me and the sisters, it meant sitting around, trying to figure out who everyone was, laughing at the odd hairstyles and outfits that came through the door, and ordering endless coffees that we never managed to finish.
Saori is taking this picture, I think. Do I look nervous enough for you? My somewhat-forgotten Japanese got a hell of a workout.
Once the guests were all present, a funny ceremony happens. Some formal signing of the wedding certificate happens in a side chapel, and the wedding is officially done. After that, the families line up on either side of the aisle ordered from most important to least. I protested mightily, but they told me I was part of the Nakamura family and that I had better come along. The families - facing each other across the aisle, formally meet for the first time. Each side goes, and one by one, everyone introduces themselves formally. The general format is “(Family name), (rank in the family), (relation to the person being married). It is an honor to meet you.” - I started sweating as the microphone (yes, microphone) worked it’s way down the Nakamura line, but it was a familiar nervousness - I used to have to introduce myself formally at school when I was a teacher, so I just put on my game face, and when the mic came to me - with my very best Japanese intonation I said “From New York, of the friends, I am Ben. It is an honor.” Which got a big laugh from everyone, so that was all good. Mori clapped me on the back after and said “nice job!”
Mori and Fumiko, immediately after the introductions.
So the families meeting for the first time across the aisle of the secret wedding chapel, away from the guests - that’s pretty strange, right? There’s more. After this ceremony, we have the western wedding proper. Except that they are already officially married. But you know, it’s all good. It’s a Christian wedding - not because anyone is Christian, but because they like the look of a Christian wedding - the veil, the kissing the bride, the loving and cherishing, the “in sickness and in health” - so they do a Christian ceremony. The ceremony has got to be authentic, so how do they do that? A foreigner minister! I have no idea where this guy came from, but when the time came there he was, standing under the flower-draped arch, tiny bible and tiny reading light in hand. Actually wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Fumiko walked down the aisle with her father to - I’m not joking - a live rendition of Amazing Grace. At some points in this wedding, I had to bite my lip in order to keep from laughing, but it certainly looked good.
Nice, right? Outdoors, on a beautiful evening, as the sky darkened, with the sound of water and boats off in the distance. I can think of worse places to get married.
Oh Mr. Gaijin Minister. You crack me up. His Japanese was really abysmal. It was read, with a heavy American accent, off a small paper where it was clearly written out in English phonetically. When we all talked about this later, Fumiko and Hiroko said something pretty funny - apparently his poor Japanese was a marker of authenticity. If he had spoken flawless Japanese (or, god forbid, been Japanese) it would have given everyone a weird feeling. They prefer their religion imported and not too integrated, thank you very much.
They were married (again), everyone got misty-eyed, and then we went inside for what must have been 15-courses of absolutely excuisite Japano-French food. Tiny cubes of Kobe beef with a garlic cream sauce would be followed by the freshest raw fish salad, and then some lemon sorbet as a palette cleanser. There were two carving stations - the first doing beef, the second with giant slabs of premium fatty tuna, which he would slice with a gorgeous knife and lay over rice and hand-ground wasabi. Like everything in Japan, it was one part traditional, one part contemporary, with a twist of wackiness for good measure. I loved ever minute of it.
After dinner there were speeches. And they don’t mess around when it comes to speeches - We probably had an hour and a half of speeches, and after the wedding everyone was saying “you know, there really weren’t enough speeches.” Some people I couldn’t understand at all, some people I could follow along with. Fumiko gave a really nice one which even got me a little misty-eyed, and that was only understanding about thirty percent of it. Mori’s friends gave speeches. Actually, one of Mori’s friends gave a speech, and then three of his skating and graffiti buddies came out and performed a rap for him that they had written. I saw them going into a changing room and ducked in with them to see what they were doing and ended up with quite a few excellent photos of them. Example:
From Left: Takeno-V, POKUMIN, and MC Gatz.
Before we knew it, it was rolling up on 9 o’clock and it was time to wrap things up. That wasn’t the end of the wedding, just the end of the part at the venue. There was still lots of time for the nijikai - literally “second hour party” and sanjikai - third hour party.
Fumiko and Mori as we left the first party - there’s something about photographing weddings - everyone’s so happy that it just makes me happy to look back at the photos.
We went back to the hotel in Hiroshima and dropped off our (not insignificant) wedding guest gifts, and split off into two parties (adults and young adults). The bars were rented out and it was open bar all night. Champagne was poured over a pyramid of glasses. Girls changed out of their kimono, because the knot around a kimono is so tight that you can’t really move or consume any volume of food. We played bingo, with prizes, but not the usual bingo with prizes. When I was teaching the teachers would get together and we’d have bingo games - you might win a CD binder or a set of coasters. At this bingo game I got a crappy prize and walked away with a fancy lamp, and the main prize was a damn Nintendo Wii!
The girl on the right won it - and everyone shrieked. Except me. Of course I didn’t shriek. I don’t shriek.
So that was serious bingo. Other than that, the main activities were talking and drinking, not necessarily in that order. At around three in the morning the first bar closed (wimps!), so we headed to the third party at a bar in a back alley in Hiroshima whose owners had come from Osakikamijima. There were two people quietly having a drink when about twenty five people in their mid-twenties arrived, making a lot of noise and ordering a lot of drinks. We drank through all the sake they had, and then had a go at the whiskey as well, but somewhere around 4:30 people started getting tired and so we decided to move on. We found ourselves back out on the Hiroshima streets inebriation level high. A couple things happened.
First: many drunken group shots of “the boys” were taken.
Second: Naoki decided it was time to take off his clothes.
Once we convinced Naoki that it was not time to take off his clothes, we started walking - not back to the hotel, but in keeping with Japanese youth tradition - to a ramen shop! This is apparently classic Japanese - after a night of drinking, ramen is almost required. As we checked out shops one after another, each one was full of young people slurping noodles at quarter to five in the morning. I had never gotten to experience this, because there are no late-night ramen shops on the island, and I had never gone drinking elsewhere in Japan - especially not with Japanese people.
At a little after five we found a ramen shop with enough free stools, so we all sat down and shouted out our orders. As I had consumed probably nine or ten drinks over the course of the evening, my Japanese was flawless, and I shouted with the best of them.
Hiroko - most likely thinking “Ben, your Japanese is not flawless, no matter how drunk you are.”
My boys. On the left is SKLAWL - The top graffiti writer in western Japan, and a cool guy too. You can see some of his stuff here. The fifth picture down is a piece he did with Mori on the island. It was cool to meet him, Mori used to talk about him all the time - he got arrested while I was living in Japan and it was a mini sensation in Hiroshima. Now he only does legal writing, but “don’t worry,” he told me “there’s going to be a comeback.”
The sisters Nakamura. Nakamura is written 中村 in Japanese, in case you were curious. The first character means center or middle, and the second one means town or village. Together, Nakamura means “center town” - but it’s about as common as Smith is in the U.S. - so no one thinks about the meaning much.
At about 5:30 the ramen was done, everyone was yawning and starting to feel a little lightheaded. Everyone, that is, except for Mori, who had ended his night a few minutes earlier.
Look at the poor married boy. He certainly earned it.
I’ll be back soon with more adventures from the next week on the island and road-tripping around Japan. In the meantime, I’ve been posting supplemental pictures from each post on Flickr. The photos from the last post are here, and from this post (the wedding) are here.