Japanese in-laws, a Jewish daughter-in-law

Toshihiko and HIroko Wakabayashi

Yesterday was a “red number” day on the Japanese calendar – the national holiday Keiro no Hi, Respect for the Aged Day.

Here in this excerpt from The Wagamama Bride, I invite you to meet my in-laws for the first time with me in their home in Okachimachi, Tokyo…

Meeting the Future In-Laws August 1989

The journey from Aki’s 5th floor studio to his parents Penthouse apartment is so close we take the back staircase. Aki turns the key in his parents’ door, shouts Tada IMA, “I’m home!” I’m expecting a spartan flat like Aki’s bare-bones tatami room. I assume that his values must have come from his family background. Well, in fact, the opposite is true.

The genkan is a spacious foyer paved with black stones, lit by recessed pinhole lighting that illuminates a shoe box decorated with a fine blue and white porcelain vase . I hear slippers padding down the corridor. Elegantly attired in crisp neutral colours— harmonising with their formal surroundings,  Aki’s parents appear in the genkan to greet us. We bow to each other respectfully. Nothing touchy-feely, just the lowering of heads and warm smiles upon the rebound. I get the impression that I’m welcome and I’m feeling such relief I want to hug them. But I don’t, because I don’t want to shock them with Rumanian Jewish greeting etiquette-a kiss on each cheek, and give them the impression that I have no manners.

How do you make a relationship with in-laws who are so different from you actually work?

Being so different is even more of the attraction. Because from the start I am scanning them for what we could possibly have in common. So this quest for knowing them through our connections becomes the  challenge, and like a puzzle, we’re all players around the table and happily I find out we know the game rules without having to say so out loud: to figure out common interests. And thank God, the conversation takes off…

I have so much to thank my mother-in-law Hiroko Wakabayashi for. She is a huge impetus for writing The Wagamama Bride. And in my heart I thank Toshihiko too–for sadly he passed on in 2012.  

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