Rewriting the Rules of Marriage in Japan

DSCN7837Can a Jewish girl from New York ever strive to become as Japanese as the  daughter-in-law your husband’s parents always expected?

“Of course not! Hiroko strikes me as completely of my mother’s generation—looking for a modern way to define her marriage with more wiggle room for her to be her own person, but unlike my mother, who took the commuter train to Manhattan every day to her secretarial job at the Museum of Modern Art, Hiroko worked in the office appendaged to the front of her home, next door to the family business- her father-in-law’s rice polishing machine factory . While my mother was reading about women’s lib from the great provocateurs Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem — as my Rumanian father would come to see them, Hiroko discretely turned to a book of Hatha yoga for her quiet path to emancipation and peace of mind. She never saw women’s liberation as a goal or even an option. Hiroko gave me the impression she put everyone in her family’s needs before her own.”

If I were to follow Hiroko’s example, I would put Aki’s career and his needs before my own. But I can’t because it’s against my temperament to do so.  Aki in his infinite wisdom is sensitive to who I am and understands from the start that we are going to be rewriting the rules–if not the definition itself of what marriage is all about. He understands that  I love my  life as much as he loves his and I think secretly Hiroko understands that we are young. We are idealistic. And so this our agreement: 

Aki wants me to accept his training at Akahigedo into perpetuity. He sets no goal for completing his training even though he has — if we’re lucky — one Sunday off per month.

I want Aki to accept my traveling in Japan and outside of Japan for my work as a journalist for the Japan Times, JAL and ANA airline magazines.

Liane Wakabayashi

Aki wants me to accept living in Japan as a condition for marriage. I love Japan more than any other country I’ve been to and so I happily agree to what seems less a condition than a gift.

And from these naiive conditions, we begin a marriage that is based on separate lives in the same country–his country–a Japan of the early 1990s that I am fascinated with, full of admiration for, inspired to write about, and in so doing, grateful to Aki for enabling me to call Tokyo home.

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