Love and Marriage, Revisited

1. Introduction

My daughter’s in Australia for the next two weeks, so I guess this time around I’ll wish all my friends in the southern hemisphere, a mild and refreshing winter!

Except for during the summer, I’m not usually a big fan of winter. But I wouldn’t mind a tiny bit of winter right now!

In community,

2. Love and Marriage, Revisited

I saw Okada-san again today, and it turns out she’s been telling some of her friends about our conversations. She’s elevated our time together to the realm of “interviews” and apparently she has a couple of friends who would love to tell their story. It doesn’t take but a moment to agree on meeting her friend Shimoda-san the next day.

I arrive at our favorite coffee shop to find the two ladies already there. Okada-san handles the introductions, telling her friend I’m kind and gentle, and that she should feel free to speak her mind. Shimoda-san bows profusely as she apologizes for taking up my time. “At 85 years old,” she wonders aloud, “Do I really want to hear from such an older woman?” When I tell her that at 62 I’m not so young myself, she places her hand over her mouth in shyness, and tells me I’m two years younger than her youngest child.

It takes a few minutes for Shimoda-san to settle in, but once she does, she really gets going!

“Like Okada-san,” she says, “The first time I met my husband to be was when both families got together to discuss the details of the wedding reception. Not only was my opinion not asked for, but they spoke as if I wasn’t even in the room. I was just 19 years old, and young girls weren’t meant to have opinions. Even if the topic at hand was their forthcoming marriage. My mother had already told me her and my father had picked a suitable husband for me, and that I should not be selfish. That my marriage would benefit both families.”

“I have no idea what my mother meant with such words.” Shimoda-san said. “I say this because still to this day, I feel that I was given over to my husband’s family more so as a slave, than as a wife. And my parents didn’t even receive any payment in return!”

“Excuse me if I sound harsh.” Shimoda-san said. “I don’t want to appear selfish or negative, but it’s important you understand my circumstances. I was 19 when I married and my husband was 24. He was already an alcoholic, and as the oldest son in his family he was used to always getting his own way.”

Beyond my husband’s bad habits, his family owned a restaurant in a very busy tourist area, and the restaurant was open 360 days a year. This was the life I was thrust into. Working seven days a week, fifty one weeks of the year, and having a five day vacation once a year in August.”

“If this isn’t slavery,” she said, “Then please tell me what is. I worked for the family business a minimum of twelve hours a day, seven days a week, while bearing and raising four children. I don’t have the words to describe how challenging my life was. Being on my feet for hours and hours every day, while being pregnant, and sometimes carrying my younger child on my back. There’s nothing worse than being eight months pregnant in August in Tokyo, with the temperature at 90 degrees, and the humidity at 90%.”

“Maybe the worst part of it was,” Shimoda-san said as she wiped some moisture from her eyes, “That neither my husband nor anyone in his family appeared to care. Everyone just seemed to assume I would do whatever was necessary, with no regard for my pain and suffering. With no regard for my feelings.”

“My husband passed away twenty years ago from cirrhosis of the liver. Since then I’ve been making donations to various organizations working to help women in third world countries. In this way I hope my suffering has not been in vain.”

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