David Chart's Japan Diary

September 13th 2005

First, last week. Complaints from my parents that the diary entry I'd said I'd done didn't seem to be there alerted me to the fact that I messed up the link from the front page. I fixed it yesterday, but, obviously, it will move down the page when I upload this week's entry. Unless I mess up again. Anyway, if you haven't read last week's entry, it does exist, so you can do so now.

I also remembered what we did on the Wednesday of the week Yuriko was there. Well, 'remembered' isn't strictly accurate. 'Yuriko reminded me' would be better. We went to Roots of Norfolk at Gressenhall, and despite the most wintery weather August could manage, we had a really good time. It helped that it's a sort of museum that Yuriko really likes, and it is generally an interesting experience. There's a lot about workhouses, particularly the one that used to be housed in that building, and that was an are of British history about which Yuriko knew nothing.

So, I think that clears up last week, and lets me get on to this week. Work has got started properly again; most of my students have now had their first lessons here, and I'm getting on with writing my next book and shepherding more Ars Magica books through to completion. I'm also enjoying living with Yuriko. Part of it is the unreasonable level of delight she displays when I, for example, cook dinner. I did that last night, because Monday is part of my weekend but she was in work, and she was very pleased. I think this sheds light on an interesting sociological phenomenon.

A number of people have commented that it is not that uncommon to see western men married to Japanese women, but western women hardly ever marry Japanese men. This is often attributed to the image of Japanese women as submissive, obedient, and mysteriously erotic, an image that, in part, can only be held by western men who have never actually met Japanese women. This does not, however, explain why the Japanese women are happy to put up with the bargain.

The key to the mystery is Japanese men. Relations between the sexes here are rather different from in the west, so even a western man who thinks Japanese women are submissive, obedient, and mysteriously erotic probably gives his wife more independence and practical help around the house than a fairly progressive Japanese man. Or, at least, that is the image, and the image is enough. After all, most people do not run auditions for partners, trying them out for a few months to make an accurate comparison. Rather, they stop once they find one they like. (And most people would not approve of someone who did run auditions of that kind.) Thus, Japanese women with western partners tend to find that their partners are much less demanding than they think a Japanese man would be, and thus tend to maintain the relationship.

Partnerships between Japanese men and western women are not a topic of which I have much personal experience, so I can't say much. Maybe there isn't even really a lack.

At any rate, our life together is going well so far, and with the main part of the move complete we have moved on to the next projects, of which there are three.

The first is finishing furnishing the flat. At the moment we are eating off my desk, which is practical but not ideal. We have, however, now ordered an extendable dining table, so we'll be able to eat in civilised fashion and even entertain guests. We've found a sofa bed, an essential component in having guests to stay overnight, and made a start on getting ceiling lights in the main rooms. It will take a little while, but we're actually getting civilised.

The second project is organising our wedding ceremony. We are going to have a Shinto ceremony, which means that we have to find a suitable shrine in or around Tokyo. When you start looking, there is quite a wide choice, and there are a lot of factors to consider. Price is one, unsurprisingly, but the variation there is not that wide. The appearance of the shrine is another; is it a nice setting for a wedding? That can only really be judged on the ground, so right now we are visiting a number of shrines to see what we think. On Sunday we went to the first, Atago Shrine, in central Tokyo.

Shusse Ishidan The stone steps at Atago Shrine, viewed from the top.

This shrine is on top of the highest natural hill in the 23 wards of Tokyo, and used to have fine views of Tokyo Bay and Mount Fuji. Now, it has fine views of the surrounding skyscrapers. Its main entrance is a very steep flight of stone steps. There is a story that, in the days of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun, he caught sight of a fine plum blossom in the shrine grounds, and challenged his samurai to bring it to him, on horseback. This is extremely dangerous, but one of the samurai managed it, securing promotion for himself. The steps are thus called the 'Worldly Advancement Stone Steps'. Every two years the shrine's mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried up and down, by human beings. The steps are so steep that riding a horse up and down them looks impossible, but it's been done three times in the modern era, most recently in 1982, when it was televised.

The wedding ceremony does not involve riding a horse, fortunately. However, the shrine grounds do have a rather nice pool, and the main building is a good setting. On the down side, I was so badly bitten by midges that my legs are still sore today. Maybe we won't go there...

The other thing to consider, of course, is the nature of the kami to whom the shrine is dedicated. Yuriko's friends have advised against one shrine, because it's dedicated to a general who committed ritual suicide at the death of the Meiji Emperor. Not, it must be admitted, the best possible association for a wedding. On the other hand, Atago is dedicated to the god of fire, who caused his mother's death in childbirth. Hmmmm... It's also possible to have a wedding at Yushima Tenjin, dedicated to the god of scholarship, which would be appropriate in a way. However, there's another shrine, Kanda Myojin, which is dedicated to the god of relationships, happy families, and lovers. It looks like a nice place from the web site, so we are going to have a look there this weekend. Yuriko has another small art show, so I'm going to do the main looking around; they have a wedding seminar in the morning, so I'm going to go along to that. I'll see if we can get back together before it gets dark, to at least look around.

The wedding ceremony will be some time next Autumn. We can't pick the day until we've picked the shrine, obviously, but we need to pick soon to give people time to get there. That leads to the third current project: our legal marriage.

In Japan, the legal marriage and the ceremony are often completely distinct. It is fairly common to have the legal marriage months before the ceremony, which is what we will have to do; we need to get legally married before my current visa runs out, so that I can change visa status. Next Autumn is about six months after the critical date...

If both partners are Japanese, the legal marriage is a purely documentary matter, involving sealing a piece of paper and handing it over at the local ward office. If one partner is, say, English (to pick a random example), things become slightly more complicated.

The main complication is that, for a Japanese person, the fact that they are single is recorded on their family record, so if they take that along it serves as proof that they are legally able to marry. Foreigners, of course, have no such thing. Instead, they need a Certificate of No Impediment from their embassy. This is a piece of paper saying that they are free to marry. To get it, I have to take basic information (passport) along to the embassy, and then swear on the Bible that I'm not married already. They post the announcement for three weeks, and if there are no objections issue the certificate. Thus, as with so many of these things, it comes down to you telling them that you aren't married, and them believing it. It is, after all, very difficult to prove a negative.

So, I've set that in motion, gathering the information I need. I'll have to go to the embassy to swear the oath and, possibly, to pick up the document. I also need a full birth certificate to show the local ward office, so I've ordered that. Apart from that, it looks fairly simple.

Of course, once we're legally married we still have to do the visa application. And then there's the matter of organising the formal wedding ceremony...

Two Years On

I've now been keeping this diary up for just over two years. There have been a couple of interruptions, but nothing too bad. So, just to mark the occasion: happy second birthday, diary.