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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[DC notes to self and others in brackets]

Chapter 17


December 23, 1988   -   MARITAL BOWS


There's a famous train here, the Shinkansen, often called the "Bullet Train" in English though it literally means  "New Trunk Line" (I see elephants for cars).  I much prefer the names of Hikari (light ray), for the super express which doesn't make so many stops, and Kodama (echo), which stops at every Shinkansen station.  To me, riding the Shinkansen is like being in a plane that's taking off, only a little bit cheaper.  It's often crowded and I like to pay a few hundred extra yen to get a reserved seat by a window so I can gaze at the tile roofs and rice paddies flying by or catch a row of old farmhouses, their weathered wood and mud walls in a blur.  Sometimes I study the minutia and sometimes I just groove - other times I read a book or doze off.  Mr. Shimizu from the Monday Morning Class complains it rolls a little from side to side but it seems pretty smooth to me as it shoots along on elevated tracks safely above all kids, animals and cars.  Its massive two story reinforced cement structure starts from the South in Fukuoka (in the northern extremity of Kyushu) and runs to Morioka (in northern Honshu), with some significant branch tracks out of Tokyo.  All in all, there are over 1600 miles of track in the sky for the Echoes and Light Rays.  It is Japan's Great Wall.  A pamphlet from the station proudly states that since it was built in 1964 there hasn't been a single fatal accident, and indeed, I feel close to immortal when I'm lucky enough to be a Shinkansen passenger hurtling somewhere through the day or night.


One cold December morning that somewhere was Osaka.  Elin and I didn't have time to get reserved seats for the next train so we quickly fed a ten thousand yen bill into a vending machine in the wall and got two regular tickets.  The unreserved cars were full.  We walked up through the reserved cars and could have applied our tickets to a couple of empty seats in any of them, but we were a little hung up on money at the time.  We had only recently arrived and were just starting to collect some spending money from our first few English classes.  We went on, past the expensive and almost empty Green Car to the Dining Car where we got a nice window table for two.  There we would remain for the hour of our travel and spend over twenty dollars on orange juice, sweet rolls and coffee, leisurely consumed.

"Oh to heck with it, why not splurge?" said Elin.  "It's a special day."

It was indeed a day to celebrate: the fifty-fifth birthday of Akihito, the next-and-soon-to-be Emperor, two days before our first Christmas in Japan, but most notable, it was to be our wedding day.  We were on our way to the U.S. Consulate to procure the proper papers and to follow their instructions.

While the last kilometers streaked by at almost two hundred an hour, we sipped and nibbled, she read the paper and I caught up on the scenery which was starting to consist more and more of concrete housing projects and stark grey office buildings with an occasional minipark, walled in temple or shrine huddling in the midst of the drabness.  I kept an eye out for these redeeming details amidst the total lack of zoning laws or city planning. 


On the evening of Elin's second day in Japan we had gone to a section of Tokyo which was overflowing with jewelry stores.  We were going to be traveling around for a few weeks and staying in homes and temples and didn't want to make people uncomfortable - they do look at ring fingers.  The aesthetics of our choice of ring was strongly balanced by economic considerations.  We bought the cheapest one we could find, a platinum and gold band so thin that it first reminded her of a prize out of a cereal box. 

We tried to get married on that trip but didn't because I couldn't produce my divorce papers for the authorities.  So for a while longer we had to fake it.  We were gaijin and thus not so subject to the horrendous social pressures of the Japanese.  Still it seemed we would be stretching things too far to let it be known in Maruyama that we were an undocumented couple.  It would have been especially unfair to the temple, or, more correctly, to Watanabe, who had gone so far out of his way to help us move into the house next door and get set up.  He was personally guaranteeing us to the authorities and, in a sense, to the neighborhood.  He understood foreigners well and seemed open-minded, but Jessica, who has been translating for him since they were fellow students, assured us he was still quite traditional - as were the neighbors.  To paraphrase worldly-wise Ishitaki (who knew our situation and was used to cohabiting foreigners), if we had told the truth about our nonmarital status to our neighbors, the young would have been bewildered, the middle-aged would have been shocked and our older neighbors horrified.  It all reminds me of Texas in the fifties where I grew up.

But it's really not so hard to meet peoples' terms here.  Secrecy and privacy are built into the language and culture.  Japanese leave you an out in any discussion and it's easy to be vague.  Just use the right words in introductions and greetings when walking about and you're home free.  Be discreet and you can do anything you want inside your house.  I think that if one followed the correct forms on the outside, that one could practice devil worship and animal sacrifice behind closed curtains, and the neighbors wouldn't pay any attention, even if there were occasional muffled cries emanating from the house.           Things went along smoothly until...

"Marriage certificate please," the clerk said.

As our first winter in Japan approached, Elin and I were applying for cultural visas,  a complex and drawn out affair and an undertaking the success of which was crucial to our  being able to stay in Japan.

"Marriage certificate?"

"Yes, marriage certificate."

"You use those in Japan?"


"Well that might be hard to find," I said vaguely.  "I'm not even sure if we got one."

"We must have a document," he said definitely.

Since time had become a factor, I gave up on my government (which had not been able to locate divorce records) and called my ex-wife in Spokane.  We're on good terms but she's not a document type of person.  I'd assumed she had thrown her divorce papers out.  To my delight it turned out she had not and she promptly sent them by registered mail.  We received them three days before Christmas.  And that is how our wedding date was determined.


As we detrained at Osaka on that morning of the 23rd, we were greeted by a pop version of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."  We'd heard that a lot recently.  There had been Christmas music in the shopping streets and public areas since mid-November.  There were also colored lights in the trees in downtown Maruyama to go with the purple and cream colored decorative cabbage that lined the sidewalks and medians.  At home, presents from the States and a few friends in Japan awaited opening under our decorated pine branch which we cut from a tree on the ridge above the temple.  We were about the only ones exchanging presents though.  The only Japanese I knew who thought of Christmas as a time to exchange presents were those who had lived in the States.  Everyone else I ever talked to thinks it's a holiday to eat cake.  Really.  Christmas cakes abound in the bakeries and department stores at this time.  Elin and I have both had discussions about this in our classes.

Most common example:

"What does Christmas mean to you?"


"What does it mean to Americans?"

"I don't know.  Cake?"

Apparently there's so much cake left over after Christmas that lots of it gets stale.  I was at a year-end office party (a big deal in Japan) and one of the secretaries was thirty and unmarried and the guys were teasing her that she was "really stale Christmas cake."  Prime marriageable age for women is about twenty-five.  After the twenty-fifth of December, Christmas cakes are drastically discounted.  They chided her for being on the shelf so long. (She got hitched a year later - to a friend, she said.  "It was time for both of us to get married and we couldn't find anyone else - so we married each other.")


Waiting for a subway to take us from the Shinkansen station in Osaka, we were jolted from our Christmas carol trance and reminded of the day's true purpose.  There was a massive billboard on the wall opposite the tracks, a wedding dress advertisement.  In the ad a young Japanese lady was decked in a fancy white gown with veil and train.  Her smile told the story - get an expensive dress like this for the most important day of your life and be happy like me.  But if any tourist gets the idea by looking at the wedding gown ads (and they are fairly common) that Japanese weddings are like our traditional weddings back home, forget it.


Yasushi and Kaori Namba live in the countryside of Gifu prefecture.  One night they showed me their wedding pictures and talked to me at length about the event.  I was amazed at how involved it all was.  Kaori changed attire five times.  On the morning of her wedding she walked from her house to his with her eyes cast down.  She wore a blazing red kimono and traditional zori, thongs of woven silk and gold thread.  At the groom's house she changed into a uchikake, a long kimono, with an obi and a hood, all pure white.  The hood is called a tsunokakushi which literally means "horn hider."  She was ready not only to marry her husband but his family.  Thus she must drape her body in pure white and be prepared to be "dyed in the family way."  The hood covers her "horns" of independence.  Yasushi wore a blue hakama and haori, the pleated skirt and coat as seen in Samurai films.

About twenty members of the two families attended the wedding.  They could have walked a couple of hundred yards from his home up a wide gravel path, beneath large cedars, some wrapped wonderfully with ritual rope around their trunks - up by the mountain creek to the old rough wood neighborhood jinja.  But instead they went to another town to a newer, larger concrete shrine to have their ancient animist wedding presided over by a Shinto priest.

Afterwards they went to the shrine's adjoining meeting and party hall where their families joined with a hundred friends and coworkers to celebrate the tryst with music, food and drink.  Esteemed citizens gave praise and blessings.  Kaori appeared in a fancy multicolor kimono and obi, with wig, fan and heavy makeup.  To cut the cake, she came out in a Western wedding dress.  Yasushi wore a tuxedo.  Their friends applauded.  This gown, indeed her entire wardrobe, was rented and came with attendants who knew the proper way to put everything on.

When they departed for their ten day honeymoon, she wore a stylish dress with corsage and he a new suit and tie.  Before long they were across the ocean posing for photos at the Golden Gate Bridge and Disneyland.

Yasushi was a used car salesman at the time and Kaori had a job in a bank.  He said that there's no rule for how weddings are paid for but that families frequently split the cost.  They spent about fifteen thousand dollars on the wedding and a little less for the honeymoon, quite frugal according to him.  A major expense of that trip was omiyage, obligatory souvenirs to be distributed to friends and family.

I asked him how many Japanese have weddings like his and he said most everyone does, though the extravagance will vary.  Some brides will model three different fancy kimono.

The Nambas love to talk about the high points of their lives and show me the photo trail.  They have a cordial, peaceful relationship and haven't slept together in five years - since their third child was born.


In front of the Hanshin Department Store, corporate owner of the famed Hanshin Tigers baseball team, Elin and I stood on a walkway overlooking a busy Osaka intersection and watched an amazing concentration of people going rapidly but peacefully to work.  Almost all of them were slim and well dressed.

"Everyone looks like they're wearing new clothes," she said.

She had on a nice long green dress and a practical full length overcoat and I wore my best pants and shoes, camel hair coat and brown striped tie.  It was the most dressed up we ever got but as I surveyed the competition and compared, my grandmother's words came to mind: "Honey, you look like a rag muffin!"

Elin and I were just starting to get friendly that day.  We had been in a matter-of-fact mood, even a little irritated at each other - well, her at me.  Nothing bad, but not our best for sure.  Our conversations had been stilted and collided clumsily.  I found myself babbling nervously and facing responses like, "Well what do you mean by that?" and a mildly disgusted "Why are we getting married anyway?  We're not even getting along on our wedding day."  At that point we stopped the small talk so as not to give vent to our prenuptial jitters.


One of these well-dressed people we were surrounded by, a dignified man who seemed to be in his fifties, came up to us and asked in English if we needed any assistance.  We got to talking and it turned out he was a judge.  When he found out what day it was he insisted on taking us to moningu setto (morning set - Western breakfast) at a comfortable nearby coffee shop.  Aside from the diminutive porcelain cup of coffee in a saucer, what that establishment served was one scrambled egg, an almost raw piece of bacon, a tiny salad with mayo on it and a slice of thick white bread toasted, buttered and cut into three rectangular crustless strips.  While I poured imitation milk from an inch high stainless steel pitcher (drop by drop - watching the fluid designs), the judge told others in the coffee shop our good news.  All were encouraging and wished us well.   One old man laughed and exclaimed, "Jinsei no hakaba!"  The judge explained in his halting English that the old fellow was calling marriage, "life's graveyard."

He said that the Japanese view toward the alternative is even gloomier, especially for women.  A widow is a "not-yet-dead-person" and a spinster is "unsold goods" or "a widow who never went to a husband's house."  He said that the incidence of young people living together before marriage is on the rise in Osaka and that it was a common practice in ancient times.  It was called "inserting the foot," he said winking.  As he explained these terms, he drew the kanji quickly with his right index finger on his left palm.  I never have been good at picking up on air kanji, but I got the gist.

The judge asked us how we'd met.  I considered telling him what I'd told our neighbor Seki-san (who is so gullible and fun to tease) - that I'd been Elin's high school ethics teacher, but Elin beat me to the punch, answering with the truth.

"The first time I met David, I was seventeen years old."  The judges eyebrows raised.  "He came over to play some anti-nuclear songs he'd written.  He was raising money for a musical."

"Was the music good?" the judge asked.

"All I remember is that he came in the house barefoot with a torn t-shirt on, and that mother gave him a hundred dollars because she hoped he'd use me in his musical but of course it didn't work out.  We actually got to know each other when I became involved with the Zen Center - later on."  After a brief explanation about Zen in America she went on.

"For several years I just knew David to say hi to.  I didn't know how to take him.  I thought he was never serious.  One day, when I was twenty-three, we were talking on the Zen Center steps and he asked me to come work on the farm.  It was summer and I had just broken up with someone and was getting ready to go to Taiwan for my junior year of college."

While she spoke I remembered the setting.  I was one of the directors of Zen Center's farm at the time and thought that Elin's bright positive no-nonsense style was just what the farm needed.  Also, a relationship of nine years had sadly come to an end, there was a hole in me, and there was Elin sitting on those steps in San Francisco wondering what to do for the next few months.

Elin wasn't dying to have me as a boyfriend.  We just kept talking to each other and before her first week at the farm was up, we had an evening walk to the beach where we sat on a cliff and talked and then stopped talking.  After that she kept saying, "You're not my type, but just one more time," until years later she gave up and came to Japan.

Most of the Japanese married couples I know came together much more quickly than I'm used to seeing.  In my experience almost all young Japanese are dying to get married - otherwise it seems they feel their lives will be empty and meaningless.   When introducing themselves in a classroom setting all my unmarried women students say, "I am not yet married," or, "I want to get married and have children," or, "I am marrying age.  Marrying age in Maruyama is 24 or 25."  It's totally predictable.  And they don't court long.  It seems like some take the first guy who asks them or who they ask (as was the case with one lady student of mine).  One week a student will say, "I am not married," and I'll ask "Do you have a boyfriend?" and she'll say "Oh no," and giggle, and the next week she'll say she's engaged.  "When did this happen," I'll ask and I'll get an answer back like, "Oh we met last week."  It's a whole different concept.

I began to wonder how these couples come together so quickly.  Etsuko, the school teacher from the MMC (Monday Morning Class) said in class one day that she was twenty-nine and ready to marry.  She's bright, positive, and cute in a quirky way.  And she's so informal - she's one of the few Japanese I know who asks to be called (at least in English class) by her given name (I can't say "first" because with them it's second as they use family names first).  She said she would wait one more year before going the formal route in seeking a husband.

"Formal route?" I asked.

"Arranged marriage," she answered from the chair where she sat next to the couch that held three other women students.

"Arranged marriage?  Your parents tell you who to marry?"

"No.  That was the old way.  But Japanese are still shy with each other.  Many of us, even today, need encouragement to meet a prospective husband or wife."  She smiled and tilted her head.  She was the shortest and perkiest of the group and always wore bright red lipstick that seemed to announce readiness for the arrangement.  She said that the decision is that of the couple after they've met through introductions from family or friends.  "It's called omiai. Sometimes we do it ourselves through professional matchmakers.  Many people exchange questionnaires and photos before deciding who to meet.  The families usually check up on each other too." 


Our dear friends in Maruyama, the Hashimotos, met through omiai.  It was his first try, she had done it many times.  She said when she met him the omiai turned into ren'ai, a word for love.  He was twenty-eight and she was twenty-four.

She said, "If I'd been a beauty he wouldn't have married me.  He doesn't like the so-called bijin, the beautiful woman."

"That's just your modesty," I said.

"No no," she said laughing, "That's true."

I didn't argue.  I guess she's right from the point of view of the mass media.  She's too short to be a model and pays little attention to her appearance.  At the time she was wearing some baggy wool pants.  Her hair is always somewhat uneven since her husband cuts it.  She is wise and accepts herself and doesn't seem to fret much about what other people think of her.  Elin and I find her refreshingly honest and uninhibited and Elin is so happy to have her to talk to when they get together.

"He was a high school English teacher then and I was working for a company."

Their nakodo, the middle-person who brought them together was Mr. Hashimoto's neighbor, a man of good position.  The nakodo has a role in the ceremony and continues to be like a godfather to the couple throughout their lives.

"I was getting discouraged about omiai and asked my neighbor, who had cooked up this scheme with the nakodo, why I should meet this man she wanted to introduce me to?  She said because we had graduated from the same university in the same department."

"Oh really?" I said perplexed.

"First we exchanged tsurigaki, fishing-writing.  If we didn't like what we read then there would be no meeting."

"So, what interested you?" I asked her.

"That we graduated from the same university in the same department."


"I expected we'd have a lot in common to talk about.  I saw his picture and remembered him.  He had been a senior when I was a freshman.  I thought he was studious, hard working, modest, and truthful.  I decided to meet him and he was as nice as I expected and we talked a lot.  We left the neighbors house after an hour or so."

"Yes, we went to a coffee shop," he threw in.

"No.  We took a streetcar to the hill where the tracks end."

"That's the woods," I said, "You went to the woods?  That's quick."  And then looking at the Mr., "And you forgot?"

"Not in that way," she said laughing.  "At the street car stop he asked me which way I wanted to go - downtown or to the hill? and I said the hill.  There was a special reason.  His professor whom he respected so much had committed suicide there.  He had been my professor too.  We went to that spot and talked about him and got to know each other.  No one knows why the professor did it but it was during the nationwide student protests, perhaps it was related to that.  We talked about our experiences, what we'd studied with the professor and what we learned at his summer seminars.  We went back to town and ate soba in a noodle shop."

"No, we had sandwiches in a coffee shop," he corrected her.

"No, it was noodles.  Then he took me home.  I asked him if I could see him again and he said yes.  He proposed after one month and we married eight months after that."

"I was going to propose on her birthday," said Mr. Hashimoto but my mother urged me to do it quicker because women are more worried about getting married or about the man's intentions.  We went to a coffee shop."

"Yes, that time was a coffee shop.  Maybe I should have asked my parents," said the Mrs., "but I said yes on the spot.  Then we did kikiawase, asking around.  Our parents knew nothing of each other.  His family relied on their neighbor, the nakodo.  But my father had a car and he and my mother thought it would be a good idea to bring my aunt and go to my prospective husband's village.  They drove there and asked an old man the way to the Hashimoto house and inquired into the family's reputation.  Later we found out the old man was my father-in-law-to-be.  I don't know what they did once they found the house.  Maybe they asked questions of some neighbors.  I guess they already knew it wasn't a Korean or eta neighborhood which is the main thing parents worry about.  So they just went through the motions."

"That was it?" I asked.  "You passed the test, got your parents permission, and made wedding plans?"

The mister spoke up.  "I had to give her yuino first.  That's bridegroom's money.  He gives it to the bride to help prepare the wedding and if she backs out she has to give double back and if he backs out she keeps it."

"How much was it?"

"Thirty man," she said. (300,000 yen - twenty-four hundred dollars today but half that back then)

"It was forty man!" he said.  "My father went with the nakodo and delivered it to your father.  It's a formality.  The decoration alone cost ten man.  It was wrapped in fine silk on an obon, a tray."

"The tray and the wrapping cost 100,000 yen?"


"How can that be?"

"Well, it is highly decorative.  A doll comes with it and the furoshiki, the wrapping cloth, is made of fine silk.  It's like a culture tax - the price of keeping tradition," he said and then added when I continued looking unconvinced, "They always stick it to the consumer on obligatory expenses."

"It's put on the tokonoma," added Mrs. Hashimoto.  "But my house had no tokonoma so we put it on the altar.  The bride used to have to give jisankin, a dowry, but not now.  I don't know of anyone doing that these days.

"I got up early and dressed up in a wig and a special long wedding kimono and went to greet his neighbors and his family for the first time.  Because it was in the country it was far to walk between places in fine ladies zori.  When I passed the junior high everyone looked out because my husband's big brother taught there.  I waved which surprised them because I wasn't supposed to do that.

"The nakodo was the manager of a big hotel near my husband's village so that's where we had the wedding and the party."

"How many times did you change clothes?"

"I would have felt like a doll modeling all those different fancy kimono and dresses.  The wedding kimono was enough.  So I didn't change clothes during the wedding party.  I could do that because we invited only our relatives."

As Elin and I entered the Consulate, handed our bags to the uniformed guard (who didn't speak English) and went through the metal detector, I thought of the Hashimotos and their easy way with each other.


The first time I was married was in '73.  It was a big wedding at Zen Center complete with a reception and many guests.  Suzuki's heir, Richard Baker, decked in his finest robes, performed the ceremony.  Bells rang, people bowed and chanted amidst incense, flowers and candles.  We exchanged rings and drank from a black Navaho wedding pitcher.  I wore my black robes, and Daya, a white cotton two-piece outfit with flowing ankle-length culottes. (I always like to say for shock value that I wore a dress and she pants.)  We took the same thirteen vows we had taken at our priest and lay ordinations.  (Zen weddings are ordinations - so are the funerals.  In Japan, Buddhist temples cover the funerals and memorial services.  Shinto covers the happy stuff: weddings, blessing babies, New Years.  To my Japanese friends, a Buddhist wedding would be like getting married in a funeral home.  There are exceptions.  I know one mixed-nationality couple who were married in a Buddhist temple and I had a Japanese student who was married in a church.  I asked if she was Christian.  "No," she said "But church weddings are becoming fashionable.")

Elin and I, on the contrary, had a small, discreet - uh, ceremony?  It was quite lacking in form.  A lot of people have the mistaken idea that Zen is free and formless.  Anyone who's been around Zen institutions knows that it's also full of form.  This wedding wasn't Zen at all and it was heavy on formlessness.


At the Consulate Mrs. Oishi went over our papers.  She's got a great name.  It means "big stone" but sounds like the word for tasty.  When Mrs. Oishi saw my divorce papers she smiled and provided us with a certificate that said it was okay with the U.S. government for us to get married.  Then we had to round up a couple of witnesses.  I asked a businessman from Utah who was sitting on a couch if he'd mind witnessing our wedding.  He apologized and said that he was too busy.  Mrs. Oishi told him all he had to do was to sign.  He and she did so and wished us good luck.  We stepped into the elevator to make our final descent from the legal realm of "lone bodies" (dokushin - which translates as "being single" in English).

Holding hands, we proceeded to the nearby North Ward Office.  It was a plain cement building with no endearing aesthetic quality within or without.  We walked in through the swinging glass door.  There were sturdy metal desks on the other side of a waist-high wooden-slat partition and at these desks sat mainly young women, quietly doing their jobs.  One of them stood up from her desk and pleasantly asked us what our business was.

"Life's grave," I responded.

She looked at me blankly.

"We'd like to get married," Elin said, kicking me gently.

Several women at their desks and the one attending to us started laughing with their hands over their mouths.

The lady asked us to please wait.  Soon a distinguished elderly public servant, a tall and handsome man, came out, introduced himself and sincerely congratulated us.

"Not yet," Elin said.  "You have to marry us first."

He had us each fill out a form that was in Japanese and though he didn't really speak English, he helped us out by pointing to the questions and uttering key explanatory words in English.  It was obvious that he did this a lot.

There was a hitch when he got to transcribing the male witness's name.  He couldn't read the signature.  Neither could we.  It was a slightly awkward moment when we explained that we didn't know the witness personally.  This elicited raised eyebrows from the gentleman but he focused on the problem at hand.  He needed to write a name in katakana.  We fudged.

The most dramatic moment was when I had to run back to the Consulate around the corner, over a pedestrian bridge and another half block away in order to retrieve a document that we'd forgotten to get from the lady who helped us.  It was like forgetting the ring.  Exciting!  I didn't have to worry about the ring because we still had the cereal box one from Tokyo.  As I ran back I clutched it in my pocket.  Elin had taken it off earlier on the way up the elevator.  Planning.  I went back as fast as I could because my poor bride was standing alone at the altar waiting for me - sort of - actually she was sitting on a wooden bench, bored and reading the morning paper.  To me my errand was heroic and urgent.  I returned panting with the certificate.  The kindly civil servant apologized for having made me get it, took the document in hand, asked us to please wait and disappeared into the maze of desks and partitions.  The young secretaries looked at us smiling shyly and with romantic innocence in their eyes.

After about thirty minutes, the man returned with the wedding certificate.  It was written in attractive kanji and had a square red seal stamped on it.  The paper was beige with a design of light brown leaves and grasses around the border.  It was the large size as we had requested, about the same as legal paper, only wider.  We admired it with him.  After paying a fee of three thousand yen, we thanked him for his kind help and departed to smiles and calls of congratulations, "Omedeto gozaimasu!"

We returned to the Consulate where Elin had her name changed in her passport and we received a document in English translating the Japanese marriage licence and certifying the legal union of us truly.  That's where the paper chase ended.

"Yiperoo!" said Elin.

There was an Arby's across the street from the Consulate.  We had a wedding feast there of bar-b-que sandwiches with french fries and milkshakes.  We were in high spirits.  And the ring, oh yes, we had forgotten the ring after all.  I pulled it out of my pocket.

Elin put her hands in mine.  "Which finger does it go on?"

"You don't know what finger it goes on?"

"Well it's the fourth finger of either the right or left hand, but I'm not sure which," she said.  Reading my expression she added, "Well you know, I've never been the sort to study Bride Magazine."

I started to say something unnecessary but she cut me off.  "Shut up and put it on the right finger, the uh, correct finger," she said sweetly.  We kissed as the french fries cooled below our noses.


Our Japanese marriage licence soon was framed and hanging on the wall in our bedroom.  It proved that we got married, though just exactly how and when is shrouded in mystery.

It's funny when people ask us where we were married.  I like to think of the thirty minutes that we waited for the certificate as the ceremony, but we don't agree on this.  Elin says it was at the Consulate and I correct her and say it was at the North Ward Office and then she says that nothing happened there and at least at the Consulate we signed papers and had witnesses and people were smiling.

Then I say "No, no, we signed something at the Ward Office and they were smiling there too."

And she says "But that's not a wedding.  He didn't even ask us a question."

And then I say, "Maybe it was at the Arby's.  That's where I put the ring on your finger and we kissed."

At this point, witnesses to this conversation look perplexed.  If they're Japanese it may confirm whatever suspicions they've had about the depth of American culture.

I loved our wedding - to me it was perfect and pure.  I think it's a bigger deal to me than to Elin though.  She's not as sentimental.