Marriage go-betweens traditionally offered advice — not rubber stamping. I regret that I didn’t do more to ask for advice. Our Go-between was largely ceremonial and added a definite touch of impressiveness. But what I needed more than anything was a primer in Japanese marriage—what would be expected of me. And through soul- searching to ask myself whether I could live up to what was expected of me. Aki’s self-made illustrious grandfather had spun flax into gold — or at least rice husks.
But as I look back on the potential of these nakodo to have offered something in the way of advice, I am wistful. I didn’t ask for it. They didn’t offer in return. The concept of a nakodo may be antiquated and charming, but its main function is to prevent unhappy if not downright disastrous marriages. My nakodo had been married a long time. They’d raised children. They’d weathered the ups and downs of married life–like living under the nose of a harsh matriarch.
I’ve poured over photo albums at countless dinners at their home hearing their stories about weddings, exotic travel, the years when my nakodo studied as a Fulbright scholar at Columbia, our shared alma mater. Based I think, on that rather handy Columbia connection–the pride of his life that he went there in the 1950s—they are joining us on the wedding dais today. I feel honored. I feel somehow assured that though words go unspoken between us, they would never have consented to this marriage if they didn’t half believe in the chances of its success. Still, I can’t help but feel something is out of sorts. The other half of my nakodo cancels at the last minute He isn’t here. The Columbia connection is in a hospital bed wasting away from cancer. The man at the dais is Aki’s uncle Susumu.
So these nakodo didn’t give us advice. But how could I blame them? What do they know about foreigners living in their own country? This is a wild experiment for all of us. Add to that the fact that they are from very sheltered families. They’d never taken the subway trains. They had never been exposed to society’s riff-faff, unless you count John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. Yoko was a close relative of this nakodo, a tradition breaker on a grand scale, telling the world its not only okay to marry into Japanese culture, but its pretty hip.
I’m trying to make sense of the obvious: my go-betweens couldn’t offer me advice because their marriage was based on a union of the most exquisitely overlapping family and business interests. It was the marriage of two zaibatsu, the union of industrial conglomerates, educational institutions, cement, life insurance, and high brow culture.
Ours was what? A marriage of chance. A journalist from New York of Jewish decent marries the grandson of the inventor of one of Japan’s most important postwar inventions, the rice polishing machine. I am not bothered that the man I am marrying has no college degree or ambitions to obtain one. What he lacks in credentials he makes up for in a wealth of knowledge about Eastern medicine. I find it comforting to know that I won’t live in penury and that he will know what Chinese herb to give me to combat a cold. I feel it with all buy senses—this is going to be nothing short of an interesting life. Interesting. Yes. But a happy life? A peaceful union? A marriage of shares values and goals? How I wish that my dear nakodo had sat me down to think this through.