Today I wanted you to hear about my friend's meeting with her daughter's fiance. I thought it sounded like a very Japanese situation and so asked my friend, Rumi-san to share her story with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This November 4th was a very special day for our family. Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face. It is a happy story but it might seem somewhat awkward to people not accustomed to Japanese ways. On Sunday, November 4th, my daughter Mikako brought her boyfriend, Mr. Sugiura to our house in order to ask for our approval for their plans to get married.
Mikako lives in Tokyo and works for a company there. About two weeks ago she called me and told me that her boyfriend had proposed! Between themselves, they were unofficially engaged. But Mr. Sugiura felt that they could not consider themselves officially engaged until he got approval from us, Mikako's parents. To me, it is interesting that although he graduated from a college in the U.S., is working for a foreign company and is the sort of person who has very modern ideas, his ideas about marriage seem very conservative.
Mr. Sugiura made sure that he paid us a visit in the morning of the 4th because in Japan, traditionally, a happy event should occur in the morning. Although we have a room with a sofa and armchairs, for such a momentous occasion we chose to visit with Mr. Sugiura in the ozashiki, a traditional tatami-mat room. This meant that we would all be sitting on our knees during our conversation. I had heard from Mikako that Mr. Sugiura was worried about meeting with us in the ozashiki. He was afraid that his feet might fall asleep and he wouldn't be able to stand up again! This was a possibility because young people aren't used to sitting on their knees these days.
We showed Mr. Sugiura into the ozashiki. He seemed very nervous and ill at ease. So did my daughter! First off, Mr. Sugiura and my husband formally greeted each other by bowing deeply with their hands to the floor and since this was the first time for the two of them to meet, they solemnly introduced themselves. (I had met Mikako's boyfriend two weeks earlier in Tokyo.) Then began a few minutes of small talk.
"Isn't the weather nice?"
"This is a very nice city you live in."
"Your job must be very interesting."
Suddenly Mr. Sugiura straightened up visibly and took the plunge!
"The reason why I am here is because Mikako and I would like to ask for your permission to get married. Mikako and I have been going out for about six months and we would like to become engaged."
My husband and I weren't surprised at this news because of course Mikako had already told us that they wanted to get married. My husband had already considered how to address this most important announcement.
"We have heard about you from Mikako and we are happy for the both of you. We are pleased to accept your decision in this matter." Another deep bow.
Both Mr. Sugiura and Mikako looked very relieved. Listening to the conversation, I had the slight feeling that we were all acting in a play and that the conversation had been written out beforehand. Even so, I felt very happy for my daughter and was impressed by Mr. Sugiura. It was a wonderful, happy moment for our family. Later we all went out to lunch so that we could get to know each other better. I heard from Mikako later that Mr. Sugiura was so nervous throughout the day that he hardly remembered eating and drinking with us during the lunch! (And no, his feet didn't fall asleep!) Next month Mikako will have the same experience when she goes to formally meet Mr. Sugiura's parents!
Later when thinking back over the events, I realized that this is a bit of an old-fashioned way to propose to someone even in Japan although it is the traditional way. When I was young, it was common and proper to ask the father for the daughter's hand in marriage in a formal setting, but I wonder how many young men propose to a girl this way nowadays. Not only proposing to the girl, but also formally asking permission from the parents.
A very modern young man and a conservative betrothal sounds a bit incongruous but my husband and I felt the combination was quite natural and we were happy to meet this young man in such a traditional way. There is a saying "So many countries. So many customs". I don't know what the correct way to ask for a girl's hand in marriage is, but for our family, this was a wonderful way and November 4th will always be remembered as one of our happiest days.