投稿者 HakuAi | 2月 13, 2009

Holy matrimony!

Argh.  I have added another bullet to my list of reasons why getting married is meaningless, or at least why having a ceremony is meaningless, at least as long as I live in Japan. 

Most American girls dream of having the perfect wedding ceremony, surrounded by family, friends, and the occasional coworker with whom they were on exceptionally good terms.  I have been through my own dream wedding once, and while it was perfect in every way except for the unfortunately timed squall (and consequently having to drag out a giant tent), I can safely say I do not care to do it again.  I mean, it’s just such a big production: having to get up in front of a bunch of people and swear “till death do us part”, trying to cry and look all emotional while praying that my hair and makeup (valued at almost a hundred bucks each) still look as picture-perfect as they did in the morning.  Don’t get me wrong; nobody loves to get up in front of people looking gorgeous and put on a show as much as I do.  But if I’m going to put on a show, I don’t really care to star in it as myself, the blushing bride, hereafter expected at least by all of Japanese society to slowly transform into the frumpy housewife and mother who sacrifices herself to put everyone else first…yikes. 

I (well, my parents) spent less than 10 grand on my wedding.  Japanese people spend more.  When it comes to putting on a show, especially when “guests” are involved, Japanese people take the cake.  And when the guest list is required by law (or tradition – same difference) to include every one of your coworkers and your boss, with whom you may or may not be on good terms, you’d better look like you spent enough on the show for a down payment on a pretty nice house. 

How do they afford it, you ask?  After all, these are people who spend hundreds of dollars each month on bowling, drinking, and other optional-yet-mandatory company gatherings, not to mention going out with their friends or families once in a while, if time remained for such frivolity after all company obligations were completed.  It isn’t easy to put aside large sums of cash and save up for a wedding the way American couples (or their parents) do.  Logically, then, the only way to make the most extravagant of shows possible seems to be to make guests purchase tickets, valued at 100-300 dollars per person depending on the region of Japan in which you are located.  And when you consider that every guest you invite is required to attend or face a social stigma that may last for years to come, you’ve got your wedding paid for and then some. 

When I got married, the groom was Japanese and we were moving back to Japan within the week, so many of my friends and relatives gave us money rather than gifts, which we appreciated simply for the fact that it would have been impossible to take so many gifts overseas.  Everyone gave only the amount they could afford, and those who couldn’t gave us small, tasteful gifts instead, some handmade.  Screw culture; this is how it ought to be.  Why stress people out financially on a day that’s supposed to be, above all, happy? 

Three teachers at my current workplace, where I started working on August 25 of last year, have had weddings since I’ve been here.  Two of those weddings took place two months after I arrived.  I am paid by the day, but taxes/insurance/pension/etc. are taken out in a lump sum of approximately 400 dollars each month, which means that my first paycheck (and the first paycheck I’d earned in the three months since moving to Okinawa from the mainland, buying my car, and settling into my new apartment with Rody) was 2/3 of what it should have been, while taxes for the months of August AND September were taken out, leaving me without much room to spend frivolously.  Add to this the fact that the first two teachers who had weddings were guys I didn’t even work with directly and who had barely spoken to me, and the fact that I had just stepped off the plane from Tokyo where the entry fee to a wedding was 300 dollars (how was I supposed to know it was “only” 100 in impoverished Okinawa?), and any reasonable human being could understand why I didn’t want to spend half of my first paycheck AND two consecutive Sunday afternoons sitting at a fancy table with my coworkers and my scary-as-hell boss watching two guys I barely knew put on shows with their white-faced new wives, right?  So I declined both guys’ invitations (which they had so kindly laid on my desk when I wasn’t around) with a nice note, and for the one I would be working directly with after October, I made a couple of seasars (you can see how cute they are at my other blog, Color Champloo). 

Sadly, my scary-as-hell boss, and allegedly some of my coworkers who remain unidentified to me, are not reasonable human beings so much as culturally traditional Japanese. 

I didn’t get an invitation from Ayano-sensei, who got married a year ago but finally had her wedding show on the public holiday last Wednesday.  Ayano-sensei and I teach together and I like her quite a lot, so I was surprised when the week before the wedding arrived and I still hadn’t gotten an invitation, but I figured, oh well – I could have afforded it, but it’ll be nicer to save the money and just give her a small gift of congratulations.  When the boss demanded as to whether I would be attending, I told her I hadn’t received an invitation, so I guessed I would not.  Simple as that, right? 

Apparently not.  According to the big scary boss (she is the very image of terror in a petite, 50-something-year-old package), “some people” around here supposed that my consistent failure to attend weddings and bowling events meant that I was stingy.  Worse in their collective eyes, I make more money by the day than most of the other staff members do for the simple fact that I speak fluent English, and (oh my) I enjoy a two-income lifestyle without kids or a sick, elderly relative to support at home.  So I had better go to Ayano-sensei as soon as possible and ask for a wedding invitation, and then surely show up on the day with a hundred dollars cash in hand (actually it’s equivalent to more now due to the exchange rate), because otherwise people would start to wonder why I bothered to come to Okinawa at all when I could have made more money in Tokyo.  With a final glare, she dismissed me and I took off running. 

When I asked Ayano-sensei (I still don’t know what would be the best, least rude way to ask someone this) why I hadn’t received an invitation to her wedding, making the excuse for my potentially offensive inquiry that the boss had wanted to know, she was instantly embarrassed and apologetic.  “I thought you were just the type of person who didn’t go to weddings, so I didn’t want to make things uncomfortable by inviting you and making you have to refuse,” she said. 

I explained to her that I didn’t know the two teachers who got married last fall, and besides I thought attending would cost me 600 bucks, as it would have in Tokyo.  But since she and I had a good relationship, I told her my boyfriend Rody (whom everyone knows; he’s helped out at both of our special school events held on Sundays) and I would love to go and help her and her husband celebrate. 

Ayano-sensei was the first to voice my opinion of a wedding party as not so much of a celebration as a show for the families and coworkers of the bride and groom.  “Of course, there’s a seat for you at the company table on the women’s side if you want it, but if Rody comes I wouldn’t know what table to seat him at; it would be awkward to have him sitting either with you and all the other women, or alone at the male teachers’ table.  After all, people from work don’t usually bring their families, but just sit together with everyone else from the office.” 

Oh.  Suddenly that didn’t sound like so much fun to me.  Sitting stiffly with the big scary boss and my female coworkers, some of whom supposedly thought I was stingy, and pretending to enjoy my hundred-dollar meal?  And for what, just to prove them wrong? 

“Hey, I totally understand if that’s not your style,” Ayano-sensei said kindly.  “You and Rody are more than welcome to join us at the afterparty – it’s going to be at a bar, and there are no seating arrangements or anything like that.  Probably only the younger teachers will be there, so you won’t have to deal with kyoto-sensei breathing down your neck.” 

“That sounds a lot more like what a wedding should be about – just everybody having fun celebrating with the new couple,” I agreed, and it was decided Rody and I would attend the afterparty but not the actual ceremony.  Ayano-sensei said she didn’t mind at all.  Thank goodness for the reasonable human beings in what tends to be a conservative, traditionalist society more often than I would like. 

Now, how to go about telling my boss I would not be attending the wedding party even after she had insisted I go?  Well, I did the traditionally Japanese thing: I avoided the impending conflict and said nothing, letting her “read the air” and figure it out for herself.  I’m sure she was having an internal fit noticing my empty seat after she had told me to fill it or else, but hey, it’s my right to take my days off off and not show up to work, even though it would have been at a fancy hotel that day instead of at school.  Like I said, I’m paid by the day, and national holidays don’t count.

I apologize if anyone was offended by my blatant badmouthing of Japanese culture and its unyielding respect for tradition.  I’m sure that I could say an equal number of bad things about American/Western culture had I spent as much of my adult life there as I have in Japan.  I basically don’t like culture – everyone has a unique way of thinking, so it’s ridiculous to define someone by a category as broad as the country in which they grew up.  People should use common sense and not use where they were born as a crutch or excuse to not think.  It’s nothing against Japan itself; it’s more a belief that tradition should be viewed in the same way as religion.  It’s perfectly fine to practice it, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights or comfort of other people.  And trying to force someone to pay a set amount of money to go to a wedding by threatening their reputation at work definitely qualifies as infringing.