2nd wedding anniversary

24Nov13
Two years ago

Two years ago

Lisa and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary this past Friday. We were married on November 22, 2011 (11/22/11). Nov. 22 is Good Couples Day in Japan, because the kanji for 1-1 2-2 can also be translated as “good couple.” It is the closest thing to Valentine’s Day they have in Japan.

Everything about our wedding was minimal – except for the choice of date. Outside of family and close friend we didn’t really tell anybody about our wedding. We had been together for nearly 10 years, we needed a wedding license in order for my spouse visa, and really, neither Lisa or I are big into self-aggrandizing displays. (I didn’t even attend my college graduation.)

We did, however, throw ourselves several wedding parties, but that’s another story.

When it came to choosing a date, Lisa was more particular. The month of November was most convenient, and when I asked Lisa what day we should get married, she did not hesitate to say Nov. 22. Funnily enough, it happens to be a popular wedding date in Japan. This past Friday the news reported that droves of couples were lined up outside the ward offices to obtain their wedding licenses.

Nov. 22 isn’t quite as popular for weddings in America. Especially since our wedding fell on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

As it turned out, I only had one vacation day left at work, and the Thursday and Friday of that week were holidays. Technically, I should have gotten married on Tuesday, gone to work on Wednesday and then had Thursday and Friday off. Fortunately, my magnanimous boss Dave Caywood told me not to come in to work on Wednesday.

So on a drizzly Tuesday morning, with Lisa fighting a bug of some sort, we were married in a little office of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. We chose the church because city hall was book through December and the pastor only charged $150 (plus a $50 tip). It took all of 15 minutes, and with four friends in attendance, we shortly thereafter began the party.

Six months later we moved to Tokyo and here we are a year and a half later.

Even though we were married two years ago, it seems that only until now do we feel settled in. Moving across the world and adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle takes a while. Lisa has been burning both ends of the candle at her job and I have been teaching English and chasing after freelance writing jobs. We never quite felt like our feet were under us.

Finally, on Monday, I will start a regular job as an assistant editor in the communications department of a large hospitality company aimed at foreigners living in Japan. It’s a nice gig. It’s a regular job with regular hours and regular pay.

As it turns out, my first assignment is to fix the ad copy for one of our Japanese advertisers. They want to use the word “Omotenashi” as their slogan. This roughly translates as “the spirit of selfless hospitality.” It’s a nice sentiment, but doesn’t mean jack to foreigners who can’t read Japanese.

So Friday night Lisa and I went to one of our favorite restaurants in Tokyo – Brasserie St. Bernardus near Kanda Station. They serve a plethora of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle and their food is an amazing fusion of Japanese and Belgian.

We’ve become regulars and the staff greets us heartily whenever we arrive, taking our coats and trying to give us the best table available. Shortly after we sat, our regular waitress – whose name I don’t even know – told us that she was so happy to see us. She said she was leaving at the end of the month for a new job and was very happy to be able to see us one more time.

I should note that Lisa had to translate all of this for me.

Now, this was very sweet, and a little surprising. It’s not like we’re big tippers (there is no tipping in Japan) and we tend to come at inconvenient times – near closing time. However, we do order all of the specials on the menu and sop up every last morsel, which in Japan (and perhaps most restaurants) is a compliment to the chef.

Anyhow, for whatever reason, they like us.

As we neared the end of our meal, the waitress stopped by again, and in my best Japanese I tried to tell her that I was also starting a new job. It was then that she told Lisa that she actually works as a kindergarten teacher full-time and waitresses for a second income. This is rather unheard of in Japan – a woman working two jobs. As a result, she had gotten quite sick, losing a lot of weight and visiting the doctor quite often. That was the real reason she was leaving. With our condolences, she thanked us again for our patronage.

Lisa and I sat there discussing this, among other topics, and we didn’t notice that the waitress had slipped out for the night.

Our special anniversary treat prepared by the chef of Brasserie St. Bernardus.

Our special anniversary treat prepared by the chef of Brasserie St. Bernardus.

However, shortly before closing time there was a bit of a hubbub behind our table. The entire staff of the restaurant, minus our favorite waitress, had gathered around the table and the chef had whipped up some Belgian waffle bits smothered in cream and strawberry sauce, with the words “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate syrup.

Apparently our unnamed waitress had secretly arranged for this treat, and the head chef personally congratulated us. It was a nice moment.

After the commotion had died down and the waffle was devoured, I sat back in my chair patting my belly. I noticed that high up on the wall somebody had scrawled the words “I love this place.”

I couldn’t agree more. And that was when it hit me that that is the definition of “omotenashi.” Everything we had just experienced was omotenashi. Selfless hospitality. And that is why I love this place.

Now I just have to figure out how to turn that into a punchy slogan for an ad. What would Don Draper do?

But after two years, more really, of a rather unstable life without much of a goal in sight, it feels like Lisa and I have reached the point where we feel at home. Both of us have jobs for the foreseeable future, we have good friends and family in Tokyo and we can finally take a deep breath and brace ourselves for what the future entails.

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