Monday, February 13, 2006

Japan Marriage

A Joint Post by Scott and Maureen

Sometimes the best things in life are worth waiting for…and sometimes they’re worth doing as quickly as possible.

After nearly four years together, we (Maureen and Scott) got engaged in July, just three weeks prior to her leaving for Japan. We said a tearful goodbye in Detroit the morning before her departure, then spent the next 4-1/2 months apart. That was more than enough time to realize that we didn’t want to be apart again when his temporary visitor’s visa expires on March 15th. So, since we were already going to Sapporo in the middle of January, we decided we might as well get married while we were there.

Finding the U.S. Consulate office proved something of a challenge to our navigational skills, and was not aided by the heavy construction fences obscuring the entrance. We later learned the construction is for keeping the Sapporo U.S. Consulate office up to current security standards (since Japan is such a hot bed of terrorist activity). Arriving there was only made possible with the assistance of a few (okay, several) keitai calls to the ever-helpful P.A. Shane.

Among the racks of papers in the U.S. Consulate office in Sapporo is the handy, three-step guide to marriage in Japan. Step One was to visit the U.S. Consulate General and obtain an “Affidavit of Competency to Marry.” Presumably this step is to dissuade all of those young, foolish (drunken) couples in the U.S. who would otherwise hop a flight to Japan to elope. Among the many questions to which we had to swear our answers (with right hands raised) was that this was the first marriage for both of us. Prior to our embarkation on Step Two, the smiling clerk kindly provided us with both verbal and written instructions for what to do once we start having babies in Japan, since that is clearly the first thing married couples do.

Following a romantic lunch at and a pink-n-cutesy gourmet deli and dessert café, we hopped the subway to meet Shane at the nearby Chuo Ward office, where the Consulate clerk had assured us we could complete Step Two: registering our marriage and obtaining official proof of our marriage’s officialness (also known as the “marriage certificate”).

The first part of Step Two, registering our marriage, required completing the “application for a report of marriage,” which, of course was in Japanese. That was one of the many places where Shane came in.

“Do you see anyone in here that you like?” Shane asked, sweeping his arm around the office.

“What do you mean?” We gave him blank stares in unison.

“Well, you need two witnesses to sign this form. We might need to grab someone.”

“Since we have you as the best man, Shane, we should grab a random lady who looks nice.”

While scanning the room for the would-be maid of honor, Shane delved back into the form, trying to remember all of those difficult, seldom-used kanji.

“This thing is pretty messed up!” he exclaimed.

“What now?”

“Well, if I’m reading it right, this part wants to know what kind of backgrounds each of you come from. Like, were your parents farmers, merchants or warriors?”

“Are there any other options?”

With the form as complete as it could be, the three of us approached the counter where a lengthy, animated discussion ensued between Shane, the man behind the counter, and his supervisor. As the discussion continued, a tinge of doubt crept into our minds as the man’s expression turned to one of apology, the traditional Japanese look for “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

“He says you can’t get married here,” Shane told us.

“Why not!?!?”

“Because you don’t live here. You’ll have to register your marriage at the ward office of your residence, back in Muroran.”

Even as the staff helpfully called the Muroran office to confirm that we had all the essentially paperwork, our spirits sank at this delay in our “officialness” as a married couple. Even in the midst of having a celebration dinner to look forward to in the evening (thanks to the generosity of Maureen’s family), we were feeling a bit down. Then Shane mentioned a great place he knew to go for dessert, an even better one for beer, and that he would suggest our dinner guests should treat us. Our spirits lifted instantly! After all, we’re not gonna give up a chance to party, especially for this occasion.

In deciding to have a Sapporo celebration, we knew we could count on our trusted P.A. for culinary advice and assistance. Since we are in Japan, it would seem appropriate to go all out and arrange a fancy Japanese dinner. However, the words “fancy,” “Japanese,” and “dinner” are a combination that rarely occurs beyond the presence of fish, and Maureen’s pallet doesn’t entirely agree with the taste and texture of fresh foods from the sea.

“So let me get this straight,” Shane had asked in a previous discussion, “you want a nice Japanese dinner, but you don’t want fish?”


“I think that would confuse them.”

All was not lost. All along Maureen had a hankering for lasagna, and she was determined to find a place that served it. After all, if you are going to get hitched, you darn well should be able to choose the menu! That decided, we charged Shane with the task of finding an Italian restaurant that would serve it. A few days later, he e-mailed us back suggesting a place called Becco.

On what turned out to not be our official marriage night, but rather the night of our “U.S. Consulate Date,” we met Shane and six other JET friends for a cold, windy 15-minute walk from the Sapporo Station. The dim lights of Becco provided a rather elegant and relaxing atmosphere. At Shane’s request, they prepared everything we wanted and more: several appetizers including pizza, garlic bread, various meat dishes, and two deep pans of thick-noodle, cheese-dripping lasagna. The guests in attendance can all attest to this wonderfully prepared meal. If you are looking for a great Italian restaurant in Sapporo we highly recommend Becco.

Some of you may know a few of Shane’s favorite drinking establishments in Sapporo. One of these is a small place hidden away in a basement stacked high to the ceiling with empty beer cans from all over the world. The selection of full cans and bottles is just as outstanding. Maybe Maureen is biased, but this was by far one of her favorite ni-ji kai’s yet. The owner, Fred, is an American ex-patriot from California who just plain knows how to brew beer and sell the best. We even toasted to a bottle of his choice on the house. Please email Shane for directions on getting there. He’ll probably request that you invite him, too.

It was Shane who best summed up our feelings for the day. “To me, marriage is something that you feel inside yourselves. So as far as I’m concerned, you’re already married. Kanpai!”

Friday, back in Muroran, was our next chance at consummating our officialness. Whether to even try on that date was a matter of considerable discussion, being that it was Friday the 13th. Despite Shane’s enthusiastic encouragement, we had our doubts. In the end, the point was rendered moot, as Maureen’s supervisor, who had generously agreed to accompany us to the city office and translate, was not available.

On Saturday evening, we once again found ourselves having a party with nothing official to celebrate. We couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy another gathering in our “un-official honor,” especially with delicious Sri Lankan curry prepared by Sumudu, a Muroran friend. Fun times were had by all as we divulged ourselves in chicken, potatoes, veggies and rice. We capped off the evening with scrumptious chocolate cake chosen by Katie, John, and Judy, and a champagne toast with acting best man John Gainor doing the honors this time around.

“I think they just want an excuse to party,” said Judy. “I don’t think they’re ever going to get married.”

We were beginning to wonder, too.

Monday was our next chance, but it was shot down by one of Maureen’s co-workers, as it was butsumetsu, “the day Buddha died,” according to the lunar calendar used by Japan into the 19th century. Not a good day. Seeing as how we had already eschewed American superstition, we thought it fitting to follow suit with the Japanese. Besides, Maureen had a New Year’s office party that night, and a school visit the next day – hardly ideal conditions for celebrating a marriage.

Taking advantage of the marital leave in her JET contract, Maureen had seven days off beginning on Wednesday. That morning, we met her supervisor at the Muroran city office. This time there were no apologetic looks from the staff. With his help, we completed all of the paperwork in a matter of minutes and were instructed to return the next morning to pick up our marriage certificates. There were no ceremonies, no vows, not even any “I do’s.”

We said goodbye to Masuda-sensei and began the long trudge through the snow up the hill to our apartment.

“So what just happened there?”

“Are we actually married now?”

“I think so.”

“It all feels a little anti-climatic, doesn’t it?”

To best merge the location of our marriage with our own personal tastes, we had sushi for lunch (well, at least one of us did – no prizes for guessing which one) and made spaghetti for dinner. We returned to the city office the next morning and were presented with three pieces of paper: two simple marriage certificates and an ornate one with gold trim and a red, stamped seal. None contained so much as a single word of romaji, let alone English. Maureen can read enough kana to make out our names and the date, January 18th. Beyond that, we can only hope it actually says we are married, and is not instead the opening dialogue from last week’s Doraeman episode. Maureen’s mother already wants us to mail it to her so she can have it matted and framed.

That afternoon we boarded a train for Noboribetsu, where we were treated to a night at the Sekisuitei Onsen, courtesy of a very generous and very unexpected wedding gift from Maureen’s coworkers. At the front desk, we were asked whether we wanted a Japanese room or a room with a “bed-o.”

“Bed-o,” we replied.

Several “arigato gozaimashitas” later, we took the elevator to the fourth floor and stepped into a beautiful room with a raised tatami floor, low table and chairs, … and two twin beds. We exchanged curious looks. But that, like Scott's upcoming trip to the immigration office, is another story.


Robin Garn said...

Congratulation, best wishes, lots of love and steam for you two

Robin Garn
Hamburg, Germany

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say Congratulations to you both! Good luck and best wishes!

Gail Swartz
Avon Lake, Ohio

Steve Uncle said...

What a great writing on a great moment in your lives!

Kelle said...

I'm glad I read your blog. I wanted a personal account of the wedding process in Japan. We are getting married in Muroran in August. We will be performing for the Muroran Jazz Cruise. This will be our second visit to Muroran and Sapporo.
Thanks for being so descriptive and honest in your blog.
Were there any other steps you had to take?
I printed the permission to marry form. So I have to find the office in Sapporo?

Kelle said...

I forgot to ask you if you had to have your birth certificate. And were they copies of your birth certificate or the actual copy?
We leave for Sapporo on Sunday. And I want to make sure I have everything we need. Did you have to make an appointment at the Sapporo office? What about at the US Consulate office? I read on their website that they will be closed next week for appointments only.