23 August The Wedding
Rising late and feeling bright and refreshed after a sound nights sleep we took a late breakfast and in the afternoon sallied forth on the subway to Ichikawa City Hall. The public area of the functional concrete-constructed building had a long counter. There were signs along the counter indicating that this was the place where driving licences were issued, this where drain-unblocking applications would be received, this where alien registration cards were issued, this where council rent could be paid, and so on. In the middle of this, in a section daintily delineated by containers of potted plants, was the place where marriages would be registered.
Stephen and Yasuko had an appointment at 3.30 p.m., but we arrived some time beforehand. This proved to be necessary, for, despite the voluminous forms already filled in by Stephen and Yasuko, the British Embassy (it had cost Stephen £70 for a formal Embassy declaration that he was eligible to be married), Yasuko's parents, and I dont know who else, there were yet more forms to be filled in by the happy couple before the detailed work could begin. Stephen had to have one of his forms validated by the alien registration section 20 metres down the counter, and Val signed a consent form on behalf of us both. Nearer 4pm than 3.30, the clerk started to sort through the forms.
There was a dramatic pause in the proceedings. A major problem, it appeared, had arisen. The British Embassy, according to the clerk, had omitted to supply a vital form. Now, the affable Embassy official who had provided the affidavit about Stephens eligibility for marriage had warned Stephen that the clerk would say this. He assured Stephen that the clerk would be wrong. The procedures had been changed some years previously, but no one had thought fit to inform the clerks. Their counter manuals were wrong.
The clerk produced the manual, a loose-leaf book about 15 cm thick. Much thumbing through kept producing the same result. Stephen continued to press his case in fluent and insistent Japanese, ably reinforced by Yasuko. Although I could not understand a word, the tenor of the conversation was clear and believe me, I would not like to have been the clerk at that moment. Yasuko was unrelenting, and the clerk was eventually persuaded (or should I say, browbeaten) into telephoning his superiors, a fearsome task for a mere clerk. Doubtless the superior consulted his superior, and so on up the chain, perhaps as far as the Cabinet Minister responsible, for all I know. Whoever it was, someone in authority confirmed that the British Embassy was correct, and Stephen had all the necessary documentation. This had taken over quarter of an hour to resolve. Stephen says this was typical of Japanese officialdom. No one would make a decision or take an initiative, because there was a laid-down methodology that was sacrosanct, even when it was palpably wrong.
However, within seconds of the decision being made, the clerk told Stephen and Yasuko that they were legally married, and the certificate would be mailed to them in due course. That was it, the lowest low-key marriage imaginable.
So we went outside. There was a small bed of roses in front of the City Hall, and the new Mr and Mrs Denney stood in front of it to have a photo or two taken for posterity. Val produced a good-luck horseshoe, some bubble-blowing equipment and some confetti to strew over the pair of them. One or two passers-by were astonished at the confetti: what were these gaijin doing, throwing litter about the place? You dont chuck paper around the streets in Japan. Fortunately, as we had explained to Yasuko, this was edible confetti, which the birds would soon polish off. Yasuko demonstrated this fact to the amazed passers-by by eating one or two pieces of this rice-paper confetti.
Photos done, we walked off to a kissaten not too far away. After various drinks (but cake was resisted in view of the evenings plans) we were politely ejected at closing time, around 6pm. We walked around the area, looking at the shops. Stephen was familiar with the area, as the school at which he teaches was close by, and he sometimes shops there.
We took a taxi to a private house some distance away. This was where we were to have a wedding feast. The house was owned by a chef, who simply opened up his tatami main room for his customers to be served.
We had a ryotei meal. A total of eight courses were served, the banquet for that was what it was - taking about two hours. The dishes successively brought to us included these:
Delicious cold green bean soup with tofu
Tuna (maguro) sashimi served on iridescent cellophane over blue-dyed ice in sundae glasses
A deep-fried cheese and meat sausage
A rolled herring-like fish stuffed with tofu and mushrooms
A pair of rolled fish stuffed with sweetcorn
We finished with the chefs signature dish: cold, transparent, square-sectioned seaweed noodles with his own plum leaf, mustard and vinegar sauce. I liked the sauce very much, but the noodles had a texture rather like rubber bands. We were served with copious quantities of green tea, served in large jugs.
As well as eating, Yasuko and Stephen opened the many cards from family in England that Val produced from her bottomless bag. I was quite proud of the fact that I had managed to sit cross-legged on the tatami at the low table for two whole hours. The secret is to wedge your knees under the table, assuming the table is heavy enough to resist the upward pressure. However, staying sitting was one thing. Getting up was another. When I eventually managed to get upright, I stood looking like a cowboy whose horse had bolted. I had some difficulty in getting my shoes back on as we left the house, as the circulation cut-off I experienced in my lower extremities made my feet swell a couple of sizes. However, the chef produced a shoe-horn, and we were able to proceed.
We walked along to the subway line, where Yasuko became re-oriented, and we found the train to Gyotoku. There we went into the No.9 Billiard Parlour (a traditional wedding-night venue, according to Stephen, though everyone else poured scorn on his assertion) close to the station, where we had a few beers and played a number of games of pool. Stephen is something of a hustler, we discovered, and Val displayed a latent talent for the game, at least when she worked out whether she was spot or stripe.
We then re-trained (after Stephen bought some Weetabix from Tokyos only known stockist) and went along to Myoden. We hired a booth in Satys Karaoke Parlour for a couple of hours and sang to our hearts content. Stephens rendition of the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen was memorable, authentic and entertaining, if not patriotic.
There is a pernicious Japanese song (title and chorus in English) that Val eagerly sought and found and forced us to sing. Apparently, A Walk in the Park had been something of a theme song for her and Ann on their previous visit. Its one of those banal melodic phrases that hooks itself into your subconscious and pops up at unexpected moments. I am still suffering from it some months later as I write this. Aaagh! At least Val had the chance to perform the hand jive from her halcyon days.
It being late, we walked home, in high spirits.
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