David Sedaris’ take on Japan

I’ve been a big David Sedaris fan for a long time. I think I have read every one of his 6 books, and dream that the observations I make in this blog could be as amusing as his take on things. I’m not as quirky, I don’t have OCD, I have never done drugs, and I haven’t quit drinking, and I never smoked, so maybe I have less to write about. Still, occasionally, I hope people are similarly amused.

I’ve been reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames at a snail’s pace. I’m not sure why, but this book didn’t hold on to me like all the previous books. Maybe because I’ve read most of his books while traveling, many times internationally, where you are in serious lock-down for 8 to 15 hours. It is easy to get through a collection of essays then.

In his latest book, the essay Smoking Section is about his attempt, apparently successful, to quit smoking. He decided that quitting smoking had to take place along with a major change, so he moved to Tokyo for three months to do so. In the essay are his musings on Tokyo, and life in Japan in general. His observations are quite consistent with the gaijin in Japan experience. It is somehow reassuring to see the same observations from a man whose job is to record and write about what he sees.

If you don’t know who David Sedaris is, here is a printable bio from his agency. Photo captured from here.

David Sedaris ~ NPR Humorist and Best-selling Author of Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

David SedarisWith sardonic wit and incisive social critiques, David Sedaris has become one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Sedaris is a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.

David Sedaris is the author Barrel Fever and Holidays on Ice, as well as collections of personal essays, Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames, each of which became a bestseller. There are a total of seven million copies of his books in print and they have been translated into 25 languages. He was the editor of Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules: An Anthology of Outstanding Stories. Sedaris’s pieces appear regularly in The New Yorker and have twice been included in “The Best American Essays.” He and his sister, Amy Sedaris, have collaborated under the name “The Talent Family” and have written half-a-dozen plays which have been produced at La Mama, Lincoln Center, and The Drama Department in New York City. These plays include Stump the Host, Stitches, One Woman Shoe, which received an Obie Award, Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, and The Book of Liz, which was published in book form by Dramatists Play Service. David Sedaris’s original radio pieces can often be heard on This American Life, distributed nationally by Public Radio International and produced by WBEZ. David Sedaris has been nominated for three Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word and Best Comedy Album.

© 2008 Steven Barclay Agency, All Rights Reserved

Top-knot and white-sweats

It’s over. Whatever happened between top-knot and white-sweats apparently cannot be resolved. They clearly are not speaking to each other. Judging from the body language, white-sweats is upset with top-knot. It must be difficult to ride the train with someone you used to talk to and now are no longer speaking. Very awkward. And apparently they work together.

For various reasons I didn’t go in to work today. I was going to go up to the Fuji Rock Festival but I decided it would be in my best interest if I just took an extra day to chill out at home, clean my home office (apparently very slowly as I’ve only addressed half of one table so far), work on photos for a MobileMe gallery and my blog, and study. So far I’ve accomplished sleeping in and a little cleaning. But what a nice, relaxing day. I’ll probably be bouncing off the walls by Sunday. The past 4, 5, or 6 weeks it seems I’ve had something going on every weekend, and I’ve either been in Tokyo or Tomo has been down here so it is has been really busy. Maybe I’ll get some more blog entries up. Tomo said last night that it was cold and raining in Naeba, so even better that I stayed home. He’s working the whole weekend anyway.

In other news, my bank account was not excessively withdrawn. Apparently whatever math error occurred was only one way.

I’m rich, I’M RICH!!!!

Not really. I’m actually not going to comment on my economic status other than to note that today when I withdrew money from the ATM, the balance indicated that I had about $100,000 more in my savings account than I thought I did. Today was payday. I thought that perhaps I got a bonus no one told me about, or a special raise. I certainly feel a $100,000 bonus is appropriate but I’m not sure the company does. I figured there was some sort of mistake, but I will admit to immediately checking my bank balance as soon as I got home (actually, I had to turn on the AC before I did anything). I got paid, but the normal amount which is slightly less than $100,000.

I don’t think Japan collapsed economically today, cutting the Yen so significantly that it would look like I have $100,000 more in savings. Yahoo! headlines do not show anything major.

Pretty normal headlines

The currency markets look pretty stable too.

Currency market stable

I guess it was just a math error of some kind. I am definitely monitoring my back account though. I don’t want the math error subtracting substantially more money out of my savings account!

結婚式 – A wedding

I experienced my first wedding in Japan this weekend. Weddings are big business in Japan, and after going to this wedding I can see why. Wow. In Nagoya, apparently weddings are even a bigger deal. I have several wedding halls in my neighborhood. The wedding I went to though was in Tokyo.

I met my friend Kentaro in a summer University program in France a few years ago. Yes, I am far removed from University, but our companies sent us to this program, and who can turn down a summer studying in France? We had a great time together and with the rest of the J-Crew – various Japanese, Japanese Americans, and Americans who know Japanese. We certainly have stayed in touch and I was able to visit him when he lived in Hong Kong. That too was a wonderful time and he introduced to a Hong Kong native who showed me around because she had some days off.

Ken invited me to his wedding and I was honored to attend. Weddings in Japan are much more formal in terms of invitation than in the US, and you are never expected to bring a guest. It is you and you only, so you hope you know somewhere there. Fortunately, I did know someone besides Ken or else it would have been VERY lonely.

Typical Japanese weddings have a registration period, then the ceremony, then the reception, followed by the nijikai (second party). The wedding and reception have obligatory business invitees, so the nijikai is where the rest of the folks get to meet up with the bride and groom. I have been to a nijikai before and had a good time.

Of course it was very hot because it was summer time in Japan. I was afraid I was running a little bit late, so I started sweating even more in my black suit. As I was waiting after registration, I was sweating like a pig!

When I arrived, there is an area where you register, and I handed over my wedding gift. The wedding gift is always money in a special envelope, done just right. I was staying with friends and one of them helped me prepare the envelope. The bills are supposed to be brand new but I didn’t have a chance to make it to the bank. Sorry Ken and Mayumi! After I handed over my envelope, I received a smaller envelope. I pocketed it did not open it. Later when I opened it I discovered travel money, and that made my gift seem pretty insignificant.

I met my friend Uchi at the registration – thankfully he saw me immediately. However, since I was the only foreigner at the wedding it probably wasn’t that difficult. I stuck to him like glue. We were herded up to the top floor to be able to walk into the wedding hall.

I should describe the building. The exterior is very gothic and is used only for wedding ceremonies. Inside too kept to the what I’ll call gothic-ight motif with suits of armor, a few swords, and a bit of a Disneyesque sense of decoration.

Wedding hall exterior

We walked down the stairs into the chapel and were greeted by at least a cello, maybe a string quartet. I was too busy taking it all in. Our ushers were dressed in robes with crosses on the front. They carried candles as they escorted us to our pews. In the front of the church was stained glass with images of Christ. Hmmmm. The hall chapel was dimly lit. Also in the front was a pipe organ and an alter. Looking around I noticed multiple cameras mounted at various locations. A DVD surely would be available.

The alter and stained glass

Acolyte / chorus member

Wedding guests

Bells rang and the lights dimmed even more. A trumpeter and a trombone player emerged at the front of the hall and along with the organ flawlessly played a piece of music to introduce the groom. Ken walked up very regally to his spot where he waited for his bride to be. The live music started again and Mayumi, in a white dress with a very long train, was escorted to Ken by her father. Together they walked to the front of the chapel to meet the officiant, who was a silvered hair foreigner.

He welcomed us to, “This Christian wedding” with a voice that, when I imitated him, prompted my American work colleague to say today, “So Sean Connery was the priest?” I’m not sure if there was really any official Christian anything in the wedding, I think it was just someone playing a role. I have been approached to perform weddings in Japan. His Japanese was understandable and clear, but his cadence just felt a little strange. Maybe it is a patriarchal sort of way of speaking.

The wedding roughly followed the format of a typical Western protestant wedding. Sorry Bob and Annie, but there wasn’t any element of an orthodox wedding (although, typical of me, I did drop something when I had a role in the reception). There were hymns that were sung, prayers that were prayed, and vows that were exchanged.

A wide angle shot of the alter

Ken and Mayumi at the alter

Some of the musicians at the wedding

Together at the alter

There was also fantastic music performed at various points. Songs were chosen for their melody I think. As I said, the music was flawless. The acolytes turned out to be the soloists and chorus I believe. These were no average people off the street singing a song. These were trained performers.

The bride and groom were introduced as husband and wife and then walked down the aisle into a shower of flower petals. They then doubled back and got ready to pose for pictures with their families. The guest gathered in the vestibule to prepare for another “flower shower” that I think replaces the throwing of rice. They walked through the canopy of petals (silk and not really very exciting) and exited to some special place.

Mayumi and Ken, Husband and Wife

The first flower shower

The guests headed down to the reception hall. It is tradition in Japanese weddings to give the guests a gift as well. Sitting at each chair was a Tiffany & Co. bag. Oh my. I’ve never said no to Tiffany. The guests were seated and then the bride and groom arrived. There was an MC maintaining the flow of the events. Like any wedding reception, Ken and Mayumi had no time to eat. There was a speech by Ken’s boss, a speech by Mayumi’s boss, a speech by Mayumi’s teacher, and a speech by the person that introduced them, the 仲人 (nakoudo). Of course there was a cake cutting ceremony as well. The parents circulated, making their rounds to each table. We also saw the slide show of Ken, Mayumi, and Ken and Mayumi. Also, Mayumi had to change clothes in the middle of the ceremony of course.

Table setting

Uchi at the wedding

The reception hall

Uchi and I at the reception

Photographing the cake ceremony

Part of the reception was for Ken and Mayumi to circulate the tables and each person was to give them a rose that represented something and make a small speech. That was my role – to represent the table. Ken asked me to make a small speech so I worked with Tomo and my translator to write a small speech. I found out that I was going to be the LAST speech. Oh darn. My speech was in Japanese as well which completely stressed me out. Being last just allowed me to get more nervous.

As the speeches started, I was shocked by how brief they were. I had prepared a little longer speech and now the cards and roses were flashing by. Maybe though the last person is supposed to speak longer? As they approached I whispered to Ken, “Do you want me to do the whole thing?” “Yes,” he said. So I had no choice. I started reading in Japanese into a microphone. Whose voice was that anyway? I didn’t sound like me. Instead of concentrating on what I was saying, I started noticing how I was sounding. I stopped getting nervous speaking in public a long time ago, and here I was like a nervous 5th grader. I almost got done and then I froze. What was next? I made it through the final sentence of my speech and then I was done. Except I wasn’t. I was still supposed to hand the rose to Ken. So of course in shuffling the rose, the card, and the speech I dropped the rose. Uh oh. I hope that doesn’t signify bad luck. Of course, I dropped my brother’s wedding ring at his wedding so this is nothing in comparison. Still, I felt my speech was an awkward moment – but I get the gaijin free pass I hope.

In the middle of my speech

Ken entertained us all in France with his guitar playing and his singing, and I hoped that he would do so again at the wedding reception. He did, this time with a band. A few years of voice lessons have worked well for him. He could sing before, but he seemed a lot more comfortable singing this time.

Ken entertaining the crowd

The reception was closed out by the bride’s letter to her family. Then a speech by the groom, and then the groom’s family speech, one more speech by the groom, and then an exit to allow the receiving line. We watched a DVD of the ceremony (a very quick edit) and that was it. The reception was about two and a half hours only.

A quick picture together

The families together

I should note the food was superb. Everything was perfect (except for a dropped rose and Kentaro’s dad calling him Shintaro – oops). I was honored to be invited.

buzzzzz buzzzzz buzzzzz

Sign of the timesIt’s that time of year again. Mark July 11, 2009 as the first day the cicadas, or せみ in Japanese, were heard by me in Nagoya. To me, that is a monumental day – it means that summer is here in all of its heat and humidity. It is the background noise for every Japanese drama or television show that takes place in summer. It reminds me of summers in Indiana (and Australia) and the noise is kind of like comfort food. So far this summer has not been as bad as last summer.

What I have found particularly scary about this post is that it is almost identical to the post I made on July 12 last year. Exactly one year ago. Those cicadas are consistent little devils.

In other news, today was the first day of the sumo tournament in Japan. I had better seats this year. Actually, I was basically ringside. Here’s a nice teaser picture, or two.

The sumo ring
The big boys coming in ...