The Prearranged Marriage Slip Up

My Japanese is so-so. I’ll be the first to admit that considering how many years of Japanese I’ve had, and how long I’ve lived in Japan, it should be a lot better. In my defense, I humbly submit the fact that when your major requires high level course work in genetics and molecular biology, Japanese homework tends to get pushed to the back burner. Oh, and I spent my entire exchange student career as a narcoleptic drunkard. At any rate, I get by just fine – it works for me, and being more than a couple years out of university, I’ve found that the urge to “hit the books” and start seriously studying Japanese again tends to come and go sporadically, usually with more emphasis on the “go” than “come”. So I’ve reached a certain dente’ with myself and my surroundings – I agree to occasionally make a halfhearted effort to memorize a few kanji here and there, and people around me agree to more or less get my point, and ignore the fact that I sound like a 12 year old girl most of the time.

random girl repping the house of panda

A random girl repping the house of the panda

The other day I was at on my way to one of my private student’s house, running late as usual because a stupid Uyoku (right wing extremist) van decided to block a major intersection for 10 minutes or so as it attempted to navigate the sea of tiny K-cars trying to squirm their way around its massive bulk (somewhere between the size of a large RV and a small 18 wheeler). When I finally rolled up, I headed in the door to be greeted by the man’s 18 year old daughter.

“My dad’s not here because he had to visit [his son, who was having surgery] in ths hospital”

“Oh… okay, we can cancel then.” I reply, more disappointed by the fact that I couldn’t partake of whatever today’s delicious taste treat sensation was than by the loss of revenue.

“Oh actually, he said you should tutor me instead.” she replied.

I hesitated a little bit since that meant that rather than just showing up and chatting with the student (his English is excellent and requires basically no preparation), instead I had to give an impromptu lesson to a kid with a passable – but by no means outstanding – grasp of English, which as any English teacher can tell you, isn’t exactly a walk in the park. On the other hand, it meant I could still have delicious (vanilla, it turns out) cookies and tea, which is quite the motivation for a hungry bastard such as myself. My internal dialogue resolve, I heartily aquiesed and head inside.

The lesson went okay, though one can only hear the adjective “nice” so many times before getting a bit of a twitch in your eye (“how was your week?” “nice” “What do you think (about a picture)? “It’s nice.” “Did you have fun at the party?” “It was nice.” rinse and repeat, ad naseum for an hour.) At the end, however, I was getting ready to leave, when I remembered I had brought a card to give to her brother (the student’s son, who was in the hospital for a somewhat serious injury sustained while mock K-1 ultimate fighting in a school playground. Ahhh, boys will be boys… *remembers when he broke his collarbone trying to do a handspring off of someone’s back on the concrete schoolyard back in 6th grade*). Pulling it out, I hand it to her.

I’d like to explain briefly. The Japanese equivelant of a “get well soon” is the “omimai” (お見舞) card. Unfortunately, it can be rather difficult to find at times for whatever reason. One of the problems is that right now we’re right in the middle of summer, which in highly season-conscious Japan, means that the store shelves are jam packed with “summer greeting cards” – (暑中見舞 – “syocyuumimai”, but completely different than the “get well soon” “mimai”). So after visiting three different department stores and coming up empty, I had to resign myself to purchasing a relatively blank summer greeting card and penning a makeshift “get well soon” message inside.

Since I was giving what was essentially a summer seasonal greetings card instead of the more appropriate “get well soon” card I wanted to explain and apologise to her. Something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry, I wanted to buy a “get well soon” card, but they didn’t have any, so I got this “summer greetings” card instead. Please pretend it’s a “get well soon” card though!

In Japanese, that would be:


watashi ha omimai kaado wo kaitakattan desukedo nakkata node syocyuumimai kaado ni natte sumimasen. omimai kaado da to omottekudasai.

Unfortunately – and to bring this back to the exposition – I make idiotic mistakes in Japanese from time to time, and now was no exception. What I said instead was:


watashi ha OMIAI kaado wo kaitakattan desukedo nakkata node syocyuu MIAI kaado ni natte sumimasen. OMIAI kaado da to omottekudasai.

This translates as:

“I wanted to buy a card inviting (you) to (a pre-arranged marriage), but they didn’t have one, so I got this summer version instead. Please pretend it’s a pre-arrange marriage invitation anyway.”

(more or less)

The dropping of one little teeny tiny letter in this case has tremendous repercussions as my inadverdent truncation had the net effect of transforming the innocent word “omimai” (お見舞い – greetings) into “omiai” (お見合い – “the formal interview for an arranged marriage”). Basically an “Omiai” is the incredibly awkward first meeting wherein two young people thought to be well suited to each other by whichever meddlesome relative feels the need to play matchmaker to stave off their increasing irrelevance in life (that was mean of me) are brought together for a horribly uncomfortable “date” (dinner, whatever) conducted under the watchful eye of both families, which as anyone knows is pretty much the fastest way to kill any potential for romantic interest. It’s the first critical step down the path of arranged marriage and while it’s not as fashionable in modern Japan as it used to be, it still does happen from time to time. Now not being exactly into the whole “arranged marriage” scene, I have no idea how these things are done or if there are such things as “omiai” cards or not, but judging from her reaction, apparently there must be something like that.

“..w.. wh.. what? For me?” she stammered.

“No, not for you. For you to give to your brother.” I replied, slowly emphasizing each word. Thinking back on it now, I’m fairly certain she stopped hearing right around “you” and missed the whole “your brother” part. Or maybe she didn’t but at any rate, she slowly took the card from my hand, looking very, very confused all the while, fidgeting and shifting rather uncomfortably in her chair.

Being not-the-most observant panda on the planet, I didn’t really notice her confusion, and got up to leave soon afterward. It wasn’t until later when I was listening to Starbucks Girl complain about her parents that it all clicked in place.

[S.G., gesturing furiously]: “… and it’s like they don’t understand my generation! They want me to get married by next year! I don’t even have a boyfriend – I think if it was up to my father, he’d set up an omiai right now!”

[Panda, wheels slowly starting to turn in his head]: “…ww..whh.wait, what? “omimai”? Isn’t that…?”

[S.G., pausing ever so briefly before resuming her tirade]: “Omiai… you know. like a… ah, I’m not sure in English, but like a marriage where both people don’t know each other and are introduced by their parents?”

[Panda, light bulb going off upstairs]: “Oh fuck….”

*sigh* What can I say, sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some. I’m fairly certain they figured out what I meant to say, especially when they opened the card and saw the “get well soon” message, but still, some part of me wonders if I’m not going to go there next week to be confronted by an angry father wondering why I told his daughter I was inviting her to a prearranged marriage.

More 5 Questions…


Continuing on with my theme of having massive writer’s block, I hereby present to you the lovely Karen, who is going to help me pretend like I have something interesting to say on the blog (not to mention put off doing her Japanese homework) by agreeing to play the “Five Questions” game.

Q1. If you could conquer the world in one way, what would it be?
I’d be like a secret ruler. I wouldn’t like the fame aspects… I’d like to be secret. Like a secret orchestrator. (“How would your agents act?“) I’m not sure. (“What about your headquarters?“) I’d have many… around the world. *laughs* I can’t tell you what my plan is… otherwise you’ll know it’s me when it happens! I want it to be secret!

Q2. What do you find most difficult about living in Japan?
Probably just being really far from my family I think, not being able to go home just for a weekend, having it have to be a big organized trip with time off. It’s an effort – you can’t just go at the drop of a hat, have to plan in advance… and it takes a lot of money, time, have to get permission to leave the country. (“Do you miss home?“) Sometimes. I miss people. I don’t really miss England.

Q3. How do you feel about the idea of a manskirt?
*laughs* Depends on the skirts! In principle I like the idea of people wearing what they feel comfortable in without having others judge them but I’d have to say that if I saw a man in like a frilly miniskirt or something… I might have to give you a different answer! (“Can you describe the ideal manskirt?“) I thought it looked okay when I saw pictures of men wearing long sarong skirts before. I’m used to seeing men wearing kilts. Kilts can actually be quite sexy, really *touches her leg* depending on the color. I’ve seen men wearing suit kilts – the kilts are like the bottom part, and the jacket is different from what it normally is, like the kind that goes with a kilt, but they’re black and they look really cool. But I don’t really like skirts sometimes anyway, even on girls. Some people have the figure for a skirt and some don’t have the figure and so it just suits some people but not others… so for the latter, women or men… they should just give it up.

Q4. What is the most striking aspect of Japanese fashion sense to you?
*sucks in breath* At first glance, the most striking thing is the individuality and people just wearing things that don’t seem to go … and not just individuality but the originality of putting things together that you just wouldn’t think would go, like different colors and patterns and fabrics… and… and…i like the idea that they just wear what they want. But then when I looked into it more, … the more i’ve seen it, the more I wonder if people really do wear what they want, because at first it looks individual but then you look more closely and you see many people wearing the same things nd you wonder if really is individual. You wonder if it really is just their fashion sense is prescribed through medias you just don’t see… like I really don’t look at Japanese magazines or watch Japanese tv, so I don’t know how much of what they wear is suggested to them through magazines like they do in the West, through articles, like “this is cool”, like in England people wear the same thing from the same shops, but here they look so individual, from what I’m used to, but I mean I still just wonder. They definitely seem more experimental than we are in the West. I like the use of accessories. Actually, I need some accessories!! (“I’ve heard wood accessories and accents are hot this year back home…“) What, like a big wood block? Wood bling? *laughs*

Q5. Tell me about the most horrible person you’ve ever interacted with.
The person that springs to mind first, is… I don’t suppose she’ll ever read your blog. A girl I met in France, in my course, I’ve told you about her before – she was so completely, you… you call it self obsessed? and… she thought that she was so great, she was really good looking, that all the men fancied her and after… a few months or so, we all knew all there was to know about her life… but she still struggled to name all of our surnames, that’s how little she asked about us… but she would always turn the conversation around to talk about herself… I suppose though it must be nice for her since she was so oblivious to what others thought about her, because she just always thought about herself… like it must be nice to think so highly of yourself, to think you’re so wonderful. Like an unflaggable self esteem?

Now listening to: “The Futureheads – Hounds of Love”

3 Reactions

  1. momolo

    man, i don’t know how many times i’ve accidently proposed to people…wait, that’s never happened before.

  2. coolnahalf

    i like the day in the life of panda installments. you should do more. but more concise. like the hour in the life of panda. and then do 24 of them. like in that show. 24. yeah. like that.
    what are you doing for summer? what’s your email address?