a) jet lagged
b) busy getting my Japan lecture series ready (come to the YWCA of Alliance April 9th 6:30-7:30)
c) just kind of in a funk right now.
So in Fukuyama there is a huge middle ages' style cathedral looking building that I wanted to go to. My friend Katie had previously been and explained that it was not really a cathedral but more like a themed wedding chapel and so it wasn’t open to the public. Needless to say, I wanted to go even more. So while I was in Fukuyama I decided to check this place out knowing that certain fabrications would be in order. I walk up and it is called “Holy Zion’s Park Saint Valentine” PERFECT!
I walk in the front door already having a basic outline of my master plan. A young woman comes dashing out to tell me it isn’t a church and I can’t be here. I smile at here and tell her not to worry, I already know. Soon - I explain - I am going to get married to this woman… BOOM I flip open my cell phone to show my background as the ever-adorable Cathy. Before I left Japan the first time she took a picture of me and made me here cell phone’s background so I did the same, and it really paid off. The St. Valentine worker looks at Cathy’s picture and I smile longingly trying to put so much twinkle into my eyes that it can be seen through my shades. Cathy, I explain, is currently in Himeji looking at places to get married there. We will then meet up later tonight and compare notes. Which is why I am alone.
I go on to invent a back-story. I snap my phone shut and smile at the woman. Now thinking I may be in the business of using the cathedral, the woman calls more women over in that typical Japanese collective mind power. I’m speaking my patented Japanese/English hybrid so it helps to have more people around. With the picture of Cathy’s Thai features safely hidden away in my pocket it’s time to weave the rest of the tail, I figure it will get me props if my bride-to-be is Japanese so I tell the woman that Cathy’s name is “Ayana Nishikawa”, but I call her, “Nishika-waii!” The ladies all laugh and chortle with good will. I laugh too. It is going very well. I drive the nail in, I tell them sure she may be my little “Nishikawaii” NOW but after we get married I am afraid she may become “Nishi-kowai” this is met with uproarious laughter. Mild sexism goes a long way here. Now they are sold. They love me. They love my bride. They love us both, and they want our money. So the tour begins.
[This is an explanation of the above play on words. To include it in paragraph would have broken up the flow. This is a bit of a painful play on words on my part. The name Nishikawa means West (Nishi) and river (kawa). The word for cute is “kawaii” my nickname for my fictitious bride is Nishi-kawaii. It is important to hang on the “ka-“ to really explicitly get them listening, “Nishika----waii!” It’s kind of a joke you have to hear out loud to get. The second half of the joke is that the Japanese word for scary, “kowai” sounds a bit like the word for cute, so I made another play on words that indicates she may become scary when I marry here. This is kind of a Japanese “theme” in general. Political correctness is absent here, so when in Rome...]
They tell me things in broken Japanese/English. There is a limo that can pick us up. There are fresh flowers and the fountain. They want to know more about us, so I have to start spinning away some more. I decide if your going to do it, might as well do it right. I still haven’t seen the inside of the building, and, damnit, I’m in it to win it!
You see Nishikawa and I are both teachers. The tour began to slow down. This place must be expensive, and teachers don’t make that much money. I offhandedly throw in that her family are long time Osaka business people – the tour picks up again. Everyone wears a smile and is quick to laugh at my jokes again. Love conquers all it seems, except capitalism. The ladies are back into my frame of reality. They love me again. They love Nishikawa again. They want our money again. I continue to talk about Nishikawa and my past.
As I’ve said we were both teachers. We taught at the same school and began to fall in love. ALAS! School policy forbids us to date. For a year we work together exchanging only quick sideways glances and small talk hinting at the love beneath. We would pass in the busy hallway letting our hands brush against each other. It really helped that I JUST read 1984 before I came. The lovely ladies at St. Valentine are eating this up. This is the general theme of romance anyway. Forbidden romance is always the best – she’s a slave owner, he’s a slave; she’s a mobster, he’s the D.A.; she’s a vegan, he works at a slaughter house; she’s an Israeli, he’s a Palestinian, she’s something, he’s Hugh Grant… the point is forbidden romances, romances that cannot be, and romances that has an obvious unbreakable barrier are always the best kind, and mine and Nishikawa’s was no different.
So here Nishikawaii and I are, desperately in love trapped in careers where we can never express our feelings. When suddenly she is transferred to a new school. At first we are devastated. We cry in the backroom together, openly holding hands. We will no longer be able to see each other everyday. Heartbroken, it dawns on us -- Miracle of Miracles! -- we will not be in the same school anymore, we can date each other! We make our first date plans that very moment.
The ladies of Saint Valentine at this point are swooning. This is like the most romantic thing they have ever heard. They are happy and smiling. I am smiling too. This is fun. We are walking around all love drunk on this fabulous story of me and my Japanese fiancé that doesn’t exist. We are drifting through the high arches and vaulted ceilings. We are all caught up in this dream of me and my beautiful Japanese bride - whom on close inspection does not look at all like a Japanese person, but nobody cares. We are collectively eating wedding cake and smiling rainbows.
So we are walking around love drunk, when we passed another couple touring the chapel. They were smiling and holding hands. The Japanese are not too big on public displays of affection. But here seems like a safe haven for handholding. They smile at me while they pass, and then go back to looking into each other’s eyes. My smile fades. I’m suddenly very sober. It’s like when you buy the poster of a famous work of art in the gift shop and then see the genuine article in the museum. Suddenly, the poster just doesn’t do it justice -- it seems cheap and tawdry. It seems like what it is, a two-bit replica. Suddenly I wasn’t so love drunk. I looked around and the place wasn’t a kind of cheesy nock-off of a cathedral anymore, it was a cathedral – maybe god was in it, maybe not, but where it really counts, the symbolism that it was the zipper that drew two sides together to make one was there. It wasn’t the place I was degrading, it was the starry eyed optimism and love of those that came here to get married. This was a place where people go get married. And here I was lying my head off just so I could take a few pictures to laugh at later. I couldn’t even remember if my fiancé’s given name was Ayana or Ayaka at this point. The whole story wasn’t so romantic anymore.
Before we could enter the building I politely told the ladies of Holy Zion’s Park Saint Valentine that I had seen enough! I loved it. They smiled at each other. I told them I would share my pictures with Nishikawa and get back to them. They have a lovely facility and they should take pride in that. They thanked me, and I slinked away from the cathedral feeling very much like an ass.