A Jewish bride, a Japanese groom

Liane in wedding hall dressing room with my mother Adrianne and Aki's mother Hiroko

In 1991, the year I tied the knot with Aki in Tokyo, there were few options for a Jewish bride and a Japanese groom other than to discuss conversion. Neither one of us were interested in converting to the others’ religions. And so that raised a question to do more with our parents wishes. Of course they wanted to see their children married in a way that felt familiar and comfortable. How to placate them? How to come to peace with my own inner judge-namely God?

Aki’s parents already decided on a lavish Imperial Hotel wedding for us because that’s where they got married in 1959. I decided that lavish wasn’t enough. In fact, what I needed was very simple. A rabbi. A siddhur. A chupah…

Weeks before the wedding, I race home to New York. My mother drives me over to Brooklyn. I choose off the rack at Kleinfelds in a Hassidic section of Brooklyn and my father foots the bill. My Imperial Hotel dress is made of raw silk, a wedding gown with such a modest neckline an Orthodox Jewish woman could easily wear. And in fact they probably did since this dress was well-upholstered with a long train, studded pearls and poofy sleeves.

A Jewish Wedding in Ebisu

On the night before our Imperial Hotel wedding, a  jazz club in Ebisu rents me their basement rehearsal hall. I track down a white tube material woven with ribbons that I somehow improvise for a dress.

Ofra stands before us in a loose flowing wine-colorer mumu. We stand before her under a chupah improvised from a vintage ivory lace shawl sent me by my great aunt Pauline. The four special men in our lives—my father Carol, my stepfather to be Leon, Aki’s father Toshihiko and Aki’s younger brother Masahide hold up the lace chupah with poles fastened to the corners—like a real Jewish wedding.

Ofra’s hair is covered in a scarf. She holds in her hands a Siddhur.  Ofra’s dimples rise and fall as she reads the wedding benedictions.  She makes a fine Rabbi because she is so believable. I can’t help but notice the look of relief in my father’s eyes as he watches me slip on the ring under a traditional chupah, a Jewish wedding canopy, while my mother’s blue eyes fix on Ofra’s every word. 

Aki and I trade wine from the same glass. My father shows him how to wrap the glass in a napkin and then smash it under foot. Ofra pronounces us man and wife and macrobiotic strawberry short cake, eggless and sweetened with maple sugar ,is served. Aki drinks too much beer. Nobody complains. I hand it to Aki’s parents for joining me and my family at our rehearsal hall  Jewish wedding, hours ahead of the  lavish Shinto wedding to take place the next day. 

So what actually happened in the Ebisu basement jazz club?

Did I think I fooled God into congratulating me for  actually becoming a Jewish bride in the basement of an Ebisu jazz club? No. But the sweet way my father handed me a wad of bills after we dismantled the chupah made me realize how much this meant to him. My intuitive Dad perhaps knew more than I did about the significance of staging even what appears to be a mock wedding. He knew what I knew in my heart to be true: that the Jew within was accompanying me into this Japanese wedding from the start.

 

 

Author: admin

Liane Grunberg Wakabayashi is a Tokyo-based artist and writer of a memoir in progress, The Wagamama Bride, based on her nearly 30 years of life in Japan, 25 of which she has been married to Taoist therapist Akihiko Wakabayashi, her inspiration, and her guide back to rediscovering her own Jewish roots owing to the presence of Chabad House of Japan.

2 thoughts on “A Jewish bride, a Japanese groom”

  1. Lovely to read the excerpt and can’t wait to read the entire story. My sister found one of two rabbis to perform their wedding. He was such a special man that her friend and fiancé wanted him to conduct their wedding — though neither was Jewish.

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