For part one of this story, see previous post, My first—and only—Omiai.
And you thought omiai were just for fictional characters in Japanese novels!
It was April 1977. I had a dance recital in the large auditorium of a fancy hotel across from Hakata Station. I had gotten up early that morning to have my hair dressed in a momoware (split peach) style, a Japanese coiffure for young maidens; afterwards I traveled to the hotel, where my dance teacher and her assistants dressed me in a beautiful furisode kimono. The kimono was a heavy crepe silk, mostly white with brocade flowers scattered across the hem and shoulders. In my mind’s eye, I looked like the Hakata dancing doll Mrs. T. had given Mother. She had meant the doll to soften our hearts to the notion of an omiai with her nephew. Whereas I had been beguiled by the doll, I was not interested in meeting Mrs. T.’s nephew. And Mother had explained it to her friend as gently but clearly as possible. “American parents do not arrange marriages for their children.”
No sooner had Mrs. T. crossed my mind, then she burst into the dressing room, her arms heavy with flower bouquets. She had one for me, my friend, Lydia, and my dance teacher, Ura Yūko. Mother rushed in behind the bluster of bouquets looking frantic. I could tell at a glance that she had not expected Mrs. T. to ambush me this way. But there she was, doling out flowers and insisting that I join her and her nephew after the recital for a “cup of tea.”
I said yes just to get rid of her.
My knees were wobbling. I was already fighting stage fright, the last thing I needed was to worry about getting roped into an arranged marriage!
A Five-Course Meal
Somehow I managed to make it through the recital without too much incident. I did step on the sleeve of my sensei’s furisode and ripped the seam. But I hardly had time to apologize before Mrs. T. was back in the dressing room pushing me, literally pushing me out the door, furisode and all. My teacher tried briefly to intervene, more so to rescue her kimono than to assist me, I suspect. But she, like my mother, was powerless to withstand the full force of Mrs. T’s intentions.
I was led to a luxurious Chinese restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. Mrs. T. had arranged a private banquet room. My parents were already there, looking sheepish, alongside another couple, and a very awkward young man of about twenty-six with glasses and a messy bowl haircut. Mrs. T. made the introductions with dramatic flair while our “cup of tea” turned into a five course meal.
Young Couple Enjoys Time Alone
At some point Mrs. T. decided the young couple should spend some time alone. So she ushered us out of the restaurant and onto the elevator, pushing the button for the street-level floor.
I don’t remember his name.
I don’t remember if he ever even looked at me. But it was hard to tell. His glasses were smeared, and he was at least a foot shorter than I.
He hardly spoke at all, and then only in reply to my questions.
Nervous, I chattered nonstop. How do you like medical school? Have you always lived in Fukuoka? Why do you want to go to America? No matter what I asked, his answers were barely more than a single syllable. “Well….umm….ah….”
And so we sauntered down the street alongside one another. It was a lovely April evening, and my furisode sleeves fluttered in the breeze. I was still wearing my white stage makeup. And with my hair done up in the momoware maiden’s coiffure, I’m sure I was quite a sight. People turned to stare as we passed.
My “date” looked relieved when I suggested we head back.
They Sent a Gift Instead
Once alone, my parents apologized to me over and over. By that point, though, the whole thing had become comical. And soon we were laughing.
Mrs. T. appeared at our house the next week. She was delighted by how well our omiai had gone. Her nephew’s parents were pleased to have found such a lovely American girl for their son. It was important for the young couple to spend more time together. After all, there was a wedding to plan. She demonstrated incredible tenacity. Even after my mother told her I was not interested, she pursued the topic, bringing more gifts, hatching more plans.
Even so, I never met Mrs. T. again. And I never took another walk with her nephew.
She stopped attending Bible Study.
Eventually she disappeared entirely from my parents’ lives, only to re-surface a number of years later to announce that the nephew was getting married. My parents were invited to the wedding, and she was insistent that they attend. They sent a gift instead.
Amazing where a cup of tea can lead you! Mrs. T calls to mind the pushy go-between character Kurimoto Chikako in Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes. There’s probably a chapter in Miss Manners on how to say no to people who just won’t hear NO. I’m glad you escaped!
It’s interesting how so much of life seems to be taken from books….Hmmm, I guess fiction isn’t really so “fictional.” I meet people all the time who conform to characters in books.
I loved your story! Awkward situations in our youth often result in renewed amusement for the rest of our lives. Thanks for sharing yours. I
After it was all over, it was something I could share with my parents for years to come. We’d go over the event step by step and always end up laughing. But I still wonder about the young man’s parents. What had they been told? How embarrassing it must have been for them, too!
Truly delightful, despite how it was at the time.
My wife, too, was set up by her anxious parents, and she has told me all about the craziness that followed. So it’s not gone away! My students tell me of other, more modern adventures, especially 婚活, which sounds like a whole different comical adventure.
Thanks for sharing! And your hair looked terrific, too!
Thanks! At the time it was awkward but not really awful b/c I knew my parents were definitely not in agreement with the “arrangement.” I felt bad for them, knowing they were feeling trapped. I didn’t want to embarrass them. As soon as we had extricated ourselves from the event, though, we were able to laugh about it. Those 婚活 spouse hunts sound like a whole other world!