Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's a good thing I like instant ramen

After a few late-night conversations filled with stress and worry, I decided to keep my appointment to visit the tonya-san (wholesaler) with my kimono school's Headmistress. We met early on a Saturday and on the way, she asked me what colour houmongi (formal "visiting" kimono) I was hoping to find. She also assured me that I should be straightforward in my opinions on the kimono I would be shown, and not be afraid to say that I didn't like something. This pep talk would have been helpful a week earlier, since from the moment I made the appointment a feeling of impending kimono doom had been seeping into my consciousness. Despite the beau's insistence that I need not buy anything unless I truly loved it, my teachers' confidence that I would go to the tonya-san, find a kimono and have it all sewn up to measure by my test was more than a little disconcerting, for the equation left no room for me not loving something.

The tonya-san was located in a fairly drab office building but once inside their main office, it is one huge tatami room with rolls of kimono fabric piled on the floor and stacks of obi material and half-sewn kimono on shelves lining the walls. Headmistress and I were invited to sit and partake in tea and cake while one of the employees, Yamada-san, brought over a pile of kimono she had picked out for us to view. We quickly looked at each and then made "whassup" and "ish don't think so" piles. Despite thinking that making a kimono to order would take care of all my height and sleeve length worries, I discovered that wasn't entirely true. Depending on the positioning of the pattern on the fabric and by extension, my body, some designs would look unbalanced or too small on me, a veritable godzilla at 5'6. I also learned that some patterns look "lonely" depending on placement and sparsity.

I slipped on a pair of tabi slippers (imagine a pair of tabi socks had been cut off before the heel) and Yamada-san strapped a white collar to my chest to give us the best idea of how a kimono would actually look on. The kimono I tried on all had a few loose stitches put in here and there so that when draped properly, we could see where the pattern would fall and whether it indeed looked lonely or not. I tried on a black houmongi, thinking it looked like a possibility but as soon as I had it on my shoulders, I knew that there were no other contenders in the whassup pile. Not only is black my favourite colour, but the pattern was chic, a mix of bamboo, plum blossoms and chrysanthemum sweeping up from the hem to the knee, with a few plum blossoms on one of the shoulders and the back of the other sleeve. No one does asymmetry like the Japanese, no one.

Obi were then brought out to match and the guy who seemed to be in charge made me a price, as they say, on a gold and white brocade obi that caused Headmistress to gasp that she would buy it if I didn't. I had brought a bolt of silk to make a naga-jyuban, the robe that goes under a kimono, so Yamada-san then took my measurements (height, wingspan, bust and hip) for the tailoring. Jokes were made by the guy in charge and Yamada-san about my plentiful bosom and how I could spare some to give to Yamada-san, who claimed to be practically concave. Only in this wonderful country. We then sat down to talk business, the fun part over. This was the point in the show that I had been dreading, for I really wasn't ready to make a decision on the spot. Everyone else, however, was raring to go.

In my most polite Japanese at a pre-pubescent pitch almost ready to break, I asked if I could think about it until Monday, the latest point at which I could place an order that would be ready for my test date. I did think about asking Headmistress what would happen if I didn't have my own formal kimono for the test, but decided it probably wasn't a question that had ever been asked. Yamada-san wrote up a detailed estimate for me, listing the individual prices for the kimono, naga-jyuban and obi and those for the tailoring. When she handed it over it felt like it weighed 10kg in my hand, despite being a transparent piece of receipt paper.

I can see why women here are intimidated by the kimono industry - the aura of untouchability alone is enough, but combined with a lack of ability to say no, and I now understand the stories I've heard of women getting in over their head on impulse kimono purchases. The beau, bless him, knew time was a-ticking and directly asked his customer if we could visit his wholesale company, an invitation we would normally have to wait for. So when Monday rolled around I visited my second wholesaler that week, price estimate in hand. Again, big tatami room, rolls of priceless fabric. The customer was very obliging and looked at photos I had brought of the kimono and obi. After scrutinizing the 10kg paper, he concurred with the price, saying that he would have charged me similar and that the same kimono sold at a department store would be around 100,000 yen more. His second opinion meant a lot to me and ultimately gave me the strength to pick up the phone and place the order.

I'll post on my sweat-inducing test later but let me just say that once you have tasted the sweet nectar of an order-made kimono, you cannot, will not, go back. In the words of the ever-wise Michael Kors, it fits like a dream.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Last Friday evening...

I was walking home from work when I ran into my Secretary, who happened to be heading in the same direction. Much to my surprise, she said hello and didn't run off in the opposite direction. I took the opportunity to make small talk with her and she was extremely obliging. This feels so civilized, I thought as I inquired as to where she lived. I can't remember what she answered now but after changing trains several times, once at a station that looked remarkably like the one in Wellington, we arrived in my neighbourhood, Secretary by my side.

She didn't seem to want to say goodbye just yet, so I invited her in for tea. Our living room was five times as large as I had remembered and the beau, surprised to be receiving an unannounced visitor, played it cool and began to make dinner. My Secretary still wouldn't leave, comfortable as she was with us, so we had no choice but to ask her to stay for dinner, an invitation that she readily accepted. The three of us sat on the floor, eating dinner and talking about her two children (I didn't even know she was married). I believe it was sometime in the middle of this pleasant conversation that I was either drugged or woke up.

Gentle readers, what am I to do, I can't escape from this woman, not even in my dreams!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day out with mama and papa

Did I happen to mention that the beau's parents were coming to Tokyo to meet their very soon to be daughter-in-law? If I did, forgive my lack of updates - BM is still very much pregnant and not exactly going anywhere so I lazily figured an update could wait.

Since the beau was not able to take work off, we weren't able to go to the meeting of the families, but not for lack of trying. For weeks I tried to coddle the beau into taking work off so that we could join in this fortuitous dinner. If this was an anthropology study, I would be one hell of a participant-observer. Even when my begging fell on deaf ears, I considered all manner of devices to be in that room, if not physically, then at least in real-time. At one point I believe I was even looking at a tiny bug device on the internet that I dreamed of planting on the beau's mom while I listened outside in an unmarked van. Have we met? I am a gossip-hungry whore and was gagging to know how to navigate the etiquette minefield of two Japanese families brought together by unprotected sex.

The kind of Japanese societal protocol that would be on display at this meeting haunted my dreams for days and I couldn't help but lament at not being privy to what was sure to be one hell of an interesting cultural experience. I can only imagine the normal level of etiquette and thoughtfulness that would go into two families meeting for the first time, but couple that with a wedding a la shotgun and the ensuing drama, and oh, the endless possibilities! Not that among some families Back Home there wouldn't be some tension in this kind of situation, but I was dying to know how it would be handled by two Japanese families. Would there be self-deprecation and apologies exchanged for the general irresponsibility of their respective children?

Let me just say now that I attended the dinner neither in human form nor electronic, and all I have to go on now are microscopic crumbs of information the beau throws my way, much the same way you would throw food scraps to a starving and mangy dog, just to make it go away. Why he doesn't take a more active interest is beyond me. Last night over wine and cheese that created a dirty sock taste explosion in my mouth, the beau called BD a grand total of 3 times during the course of our conversation because I kept asking questions to which he had no acceptable answer. As a result of this, I have a much better handle on this situation and am now starting to look for pictures of what updo I will sport to the wedding.

I did have a very civilized day out with the beau's parents however, who will now be referred to as mama and papa. You should know this choice is not an arbitrary one, for that is what their children call them and what they now call themselves. Not a rare occurrence in Japanese families, but one I think is rather unfortunate, is the near complete loss of one's name once children are born. You become mama /papa, or okaasan/otoosan. Not only do your children refer to you by these titles but you refer to each other by them too, and even yourself if you are speaking in the third person. If the beau ever calls me mama he is going to get a healthy does of I ain't your mama so that we are very clear on roles. In case you were wondering, I try to avoid calling the beau's parents anything at all, which is quite easy in Japanese, but if I have to, I use okaasan/otoosan. They call me Geisha-chan or Whitie. *

But I digress as usual. The four of us started out with lunch and then I went to see kabuki with mama and papa while the beau took off like he was running from a forest fire. The kabuki-za in Ginza will be torn down in a couple months, so now is definitely the time to see it. Kabuki is not the kind of thing I like to see on a regular basis, but once or twice every couple of years keeps it interesting. I'd never sat through an entire program at the kabuki-za before (5 hours) but our close seats combined with the earphone guide (surprised and impressed me) prevented me from "resting my eyes" more than once or twice.

Kabuki was followed by dinner and drinks, 5 hours of them to be exact, at which time we all quite literally rolled home. There wasn't too much talk of BD and BM, mostly because mama and papa were to meet them the following evening. Mama was definitely worried about the kind of person BM is, and pressed the beau and I for details. The beau in turn, told them everything we had gleaned from the dinner with them last month, minus the hypothesized trajectory of BD's sperm. Mama and papa were fairly apprehensive about the meeting, so I hope that their fears have been somewhat allayed by now. They still seem to be in shock and not altogether approving of the whole situation, but as the beau said, there will be a grandchild soon, and that will probably soften any hard feelings. Papa also gave us a little pep talk about the wedding and said that he was counting on both of us to be there, yoroshiku etc. etc. Snark aside, I am touched that I will be included in the wedding, for it is anything but normal to have an unwed kimono-yielding whitie sitting at the family table. I have no doubt that while everyone will be polite, there will be some interesting conversational tidbits to dissect post-nuptials that relate to me being foreign, unwed to the oldest, in kimono or all of the above. I'm actually a bit nervous if you can believe it. Weddings here involve so much protocol and special etiquette and since I am not a true family member but being counted as one just mixes things up even more. I think I will just keep my mouth closed except for when a champagne glass is at my lips, a living and breathing doll.

The real gem of the evening has nothing to do with the Shotgun Saga but with mama and papa. They are now in possession of their first passports. Ever. When they told me that they had applied, I almost swooned, it was truly sweet. Since the beau and I announced our intentions to move overseas next year, they are getting prepared for visits. Their first passports. I have to repeat it to believe it's true. As someone who had her first passport and international jetset at age 2, it was humbling to hear and really put things into perspective. I am excited to take them to Canada one day and I know the beau is too.

That is about it on the Shotgun Saga front - stay tuned for the wedding in April and wedding preparation minutiae. For the time being, I am trying to turn my focus back to my own life, content not to be the centre of a saga recounted on some bitch's blog.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Postcard from the Kaisha #1056

Just when I thought I could use the word "swimmingly" when asked how work is going, the movers came to the Kaisha. Both Secretaries in my quad finished their periods of banishment in my gaijin ghetto and have been moved elsewhere. While I was rather pleased to no longer have to worry about carefully and sloooowly easing tissues out of the box so as not to make a sound, or only selecting silent foods (read: baby food) to eat at my desk, my noise-ridden paradise was short lived.

I started getting suspicious when my Secretary, who has been known to ignore me for weeks on end, started wiping down the desk opposite me. Why bother foreshadowing when you know where this is leading, where it always leads, to me feeling constrained and fucked and not in a kinky way. Minutes later Sunshine, the only Secretary who smiles genuinely at me with any frequency, started bringing stuff over to the other empty space. Being a normal functioning human being, she told me that she would be moving into my neighbourhood. This does not bother me, in fact, I am even secretly thrilled that maybe, ten months from now, we will go for lunch. Meanwhile, my Secretary is now carting stuff over to the desk that lies just over a very low barrier from mine. As obvious as her aversion to me is, I figured social mores would win out and she would at least throw a mumble my way to the effect that she will now be, for all intents and purposes, facing me for a stretch of hours every day. Call me naive, but she didn't make a peep at me, so I am back to pretending that she doesn't exist.

This occurred on Friday and over the weekend, I somehow managed to forget about the whole situation. When I say "somehow," I mean two nights in a row of imbibing that left me with a bruise of unknown origins (first time in ages, YAY!), a memory of a broken wine glass underheel set to a Rhianna song and a conversation with a man from Egypt during a short stint in a hookah bar. And of course, no memory of late Friday. Imagine my sheer and unbridled joy when I rocked up to my desk on Monday morning and found sparkly stuffed toys lining the demilitarized zone.

It has now been two days and both mornings it has been me that initiates the Good Morning Exchange with my Secretary. This would be possibly forgivable if she was arriving before me, but such is not the case. I am engrossed in work when she arrives and only when I wish her a pleasant morning does she do the same, without looking at me. I can only conclude that something is actually wrong with her, socially or mentally. She obviously cannot cope in simple interactions with me and although I feel affronted by her extremely off behaviour, by both Japanese and Western standards, there is not a whole lot I can do. Whether she is scared of me, disgusted by me or just plain socially retarded, I have giving up trying to figure it out and am now turning to religion, praying for her short stay in what was my solitary confinement.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yes, please do it at home

They must be following my life over at the Tokyo Metro, how apt is this poster as I wade through the murky waters of an upcoming shotgun marriage (April, people, April!!!!). I'd always assumed that Creepy was past child-bearing age, I'm not sure if it was his sweater, his glasses, or his vacant stare, but I was quite surprised to see that he impregnated Mrs. Creepy (or Miss, after all it is all the rage now in Japan to have babies out of wedlock). Almost as surprised as when I heard of the union between Baby Daddy's sperm and Baby Mama's egg.

Does anyone else recognize the couple from last February? Last year they were exchanging chocolates and whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears while Creepy looked on with a busted leg. They obviously haven't learned much this year (maybe they don't ride the Metro in real life?), as they listen to the latest from Smap while Creepy's baby mama looks like she's about to lose her water. What do you think gentle readers? Will we see Baby Creepy appear in posters a few months from now, or will Creepy kick his baby mama to the curb after rubbing up against some young hot thing on the train home one day? Your guess is as good as mine.