Friday, August 24, 2012

Honor to Us All

Omiai: Japanese custom in which unattached individuals are introduced to each other to consider the possibility of marriage. (definition courtesy of Wiktionary)

In English, this is often translated as "arranged marriage".  Not really the kind where you meet on your wedding day.  Not even the kind where you meet and say, 'yes' or 'no' to marriage.  Then again, it's more than a blind date.  This is more than a, "Oh, hey, you should meet my friend and we can 'hang out' and you can tell me if you might like him'".  I would call it more like "arranged courting" (courting in the old-fashioned this is intending to lead to a marriage way)  

In Japan there are two main ways to get married: omiai (arranged match) and rennai (love match or someone you pick for yourself without help of matchmaker/parents/third cousins twice removed/well-meaning random ladies you barely know).  According to one source, omiai were the main method for couples to get married during the Meiji and Edo Eras.  Nowadays they are not unheard of (my source tells me that about 30% of marriages are still omiai) but rennai are obviously the mainstream.

Why, you may ask, do you even know what an omiai is?  It's definitely not something you will find in any Japanese 101 textbook (especially since the textbook I'm in, the first date was a complete failure) or any "guide to Japanese culture".

Funny story.  Last Sunday, after church, a kind sister came up to me and asked me if I wanted to attend a "free discussion with her on the old Japanese customs of marriage".  This was the sister that I went to the art museum with so I assumed it was another intellectual excursion out but this time it was FREE.  I nodded, especially since marriage customs in any culture fascinate me.

So this sister takes me into an empty room in the church and starts to tell me a story about a Japanese family she knows in America and about the problems the sons are having in finding suitable wives.  She tells me how the mother had recruited her to help find a wife for the oldest son.  Her first few attempts at finding Japanese girls were bungling failures due to Japanese boyfriends and the insistence that the girl make the first move.  (Apparently in Japan, men always make the first move)  At some point during this story, it dawns on me that she is telling me all of this because she intends for me to be the next match for this son.  And I'm not entirely sure whether or not to be horrified or flattered.  I just stare at her as her story moves from enough English for me to get the gist to complete Japanese.  I nod dumbly and say the appropriate fillers, " desu ne....hai....wakarimashita..."

Don't worry; this story gets better.  Not only does this Japanese family live in America but what luck!  they happen to come from the same state of Virginia.  And as fate would have it, I in fact know this family.  I am good friends with this family's second son.  The longer the story goes and the more the woman's plans about me going on a "relaxing outing just the three of you" (the oldest son, second son and myself-- hahahaha), the more I've decided that this is all just a really good joke and I can't wait to get home and tell my friend.

I get home and tell the friend.  He writes back, laughing over it and we both marvel that his mother has gone to such lengths in Japan to find his older brother a wife when his older brother had absolutely NO IDEA about it at all.  We decide he should tell his older brother at some point at least and leave it at that.  You know, one of those, "Oh, hey, bro, so our mom did this kind of hilarious thing..."

A few days later, I go to the church to meet the missionaries and this sister intercepts me to talk for another several minutes, in very hushed tones.  She's decided that rather than me just email the second son and tell him about the prospect, she should be the one to write him and ask for a proper introduction to his older brother - the Japanese way of doing things.

So I write back to my friend, "Looks like you're going to get an email asking for proper introductions."  He writes back, "Do you really want to go through with this?  It's up to you but I feel like if we don't, we'll offend our elders."  He and I are starting to wonder if somehow this isn't turning into something real.

It might be a really good time to tell his brother.  It might be a really good time to decide if I'm okay with omiai.  

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