Wedding at Kibune Shrine
Captain Tanaka was getting married at Kibune Jinja as a bee clung to a purple flower that bobbed slowly in front of two stone horses. Cameramen, one for photos one for video moved around to gain position, wearing suits, as an old bald man, who seemed to be in charge of things, tried to make the couple smile. They weren’t unhappy. Yumiko was the friend that always got everyone together for coffee and giggled because it was such an event to take the train and at home they only got instant. Her face was usually white anyway. White and round. But today it was more so under the makeup and the white hood with the white dress. Her teeth were awkward and long and stuck out a little when she smiled with her small mouth in her round face. Her mother stood to the side in a brown kimono looking stern and put upon.
Mr. Tatsumi in the river that ran beside the street below, cleaned the stones with a pressurized hose as the first week of October was the transition between the summer restaurant season with the yuka decks placed over the river, and the fall koyo season when the tourists flocked to the small town in the mountains above Kyoto to experience the changing colors. Down stream people would wonder why the river looked murky today. “Maybe it is a sandy river, and, even though it is pretty, it can look a little clouded.” They speculated and nodded and kept walking. Mr. Tatsumi had a few hundred more rocks to go as he waved at Mr. Kitatatsumi, who was no relation and actually from somewhere to the south-Osaka maybe- drive by in his blue kei-truck, crossing the river on the gravel road to unload some more wooden decks he had taken from over the river to dry.
Captain Tanaka was older than Yumiko by ten years or so. He didn’t particularly like her. This wasn’t meant to be dramatic. He didn’t think he had to like her very much to get married to her. He thought she giggled a little too much and spent too much time with her friends. But he also liked it when she wasn’t around, as long as she had the laundry done and his lunch made. Captain Tanaka had joined the self-defense forces as an extension of his love for replica air-guns. In college, a small college in the city that you might have heard the name of but wouldn’t know where it was, Tanaka and two other friends had often climbed to the roof of the club-kan and shot cats that ran around the cemetery next door with their air-rifles. They could have shot rats and been useful. They could have shot squirrels and been adventurous. But they shot cats and indulged a petty kind of cruelty common in the weak.
Upon entering the Self-Defence Forces, Tanaka found his obsession with guns diminish. Not with air-guns, but with real ones. They were heavy and loud and you had to take them apart and clean them. Once he had to carry one around in the woods and dig a hole and sit in it. A tank parked over his head and he was stuck in the hole with a guy who smoked for the whole night. He decided to move to an office job and order parts for cars that broke down. Tanaka was good enough at tests to get into to the Self-Defence Forces, but he was never considered smart, not even by himself, but it wasn’t something he thought about or would have felt bad about. He liked to watch TV at night and read manga. He like kimchi with his rice and he wanted to buy a van. He passed the years that way until he was captain and his parents told him to get married and someone introduced him to Yumiko but he doesn’t remember who as it really isn’t that important because theirs isn’t a love story. It isn’t a sad story either. It is just boring in the satisfying way that life is when two people who don’t want that much find it and keep it.
Captain Tanaka’s jaw wasn’t square but it wasn’t weak. He didn’t look young or striking but he looked competent and appropriate. The man holding the large video camera was 40 with a young man’s hairstyle and large white teeth. His legs were skinny and strong. The night before he had gone out drinking with his friends and paid for sex in Kiyamachi. He took a shower and went home and slept in the futon his wife had laid out for him. He woke up early and they ate breakfast together. He had a good laugh that made people feel comfortable. His daughter wore pink pajamas and watched cartoons. His other daughter had died in the hospital as an infant and he and his wife still cried about it some nights, but usually seperately. After he had eaten breakfast with is wife in their small, but nice apartment, the man with the still camera picked him up at the station and they drove thirty minutes north into the mountains.
The wood the shrine was made out of looked more white then brown. It shone amid the tall, dark cedar trees which glowed slightly red on a warm fall morning. It was the same color on the outside as the new tatami on the inside as the girls in white and red robes rearranged cushions. People threw coins into the bin and clapped their hands twice and prayed but there was no bell to ring. A group from the college who volunteered with handicapped children had gone on a hike together and now bought mikuji at the stand by the hill. You could lay the paper on the water that ran down from the mountain and pooled on the stones and your fortune would appear. One of the young men was consciously trying to project that he liked hiking all the time. He had a North Face backpack. He really did like hiking, it was just that he never went but he tried to buy North Face when he had the money. He was trying to figure out if any of the girls in the group would go hiking with him some other time and then they could stop at an onsen and maybe they would fall in love. He couldn’t figure out where to buy the mikuji and someone had to tell him.
The mother of the groom stood off to the side, looking uncomfortable. She didn’t have any other children and she didn’t really care for this one. He wasn’t bad. She didn’t hate him. It had just turned out that she was one of those people who wasn’t crazy about children, even her own. She didn’t really like her husband either but she assumed that was the way it was supposed to be. His white tie had been expensive but it looked nice with his suit. He had a small camera and bent over the railing to see if there was anything worth looking at. The cameramen would take care of all of the wedding stuff. That’s what they had paid them for. He hadn’t figured out yet if he was trying to avoid Yumiko’s mother or if she just wasn’t that approachable. She wasn’t approachable. She looked older than she was and didn’t like people in general. If she could have made sense out of not approving of this wedding she wouldn’t have just to keep herself entertained. But Captain Tanaka had a steady salary. He was boring and would take care of Yumiko. Yumiko’s mom hadn’t always been seen like this. 30 years before she had loved to go to discos and was known amongst her friends, which she still had back then, for going home with younger men. She had loved to drink until her friends had to hold her up and she was strong enough to make it to work the next day. But somewhere between marriage and kids she had become a jerk and decided to stay that way. She new people didn’t like her, but she really didn’t like people so it worked out. She looked like a brown twig that someone had tossed into a parking lot and there it had dried out.
Mr. Iwafuji began climbing the stairs to Kibune. He often came here on the weekends from his home in Kyoto. As a young man he had traveled the world training as a boxer and working on cargo ships as an engineer. In his thirties he settled in Kyoto and ran a medical parts business. He didn’t watch boxing much anymore but he was glad he had tried it. He didn’t go to the sea but he liked walking in the woods where he could hear the murmur of water and his wife was glad to have him out of the house on Sundays even though she was happy when he came back. He was small and thin with a big smile and a wide, floppy hat. His clothes were hiking clothes but they were an old man’s hiking clothes. Climbing stairs didn’t hurt him and his knees were still good. His skin was a dark brown and had been as long as he could remember.
At the top of the stairs a girl in her twenties remembered promising her mother that she wouldn’t get pregnant before she got married but she had felt sick all morning and was almost convinced she was going to have a girl. Her boyfriend was from America and was trying to disguise the fact that he was taking pictures of the wedding party. The mother looked lonely and he framed her standing in the gate. As they passed by on the stairs, he wanted to say “Omedetou!” But everything seemed so cold and heavy. A breeze blew up the old, stone stairs on this warm, fall morning.
Yumiko’s father died almost two years before her wedding. He had been a company man and drank too much and smoked too much and his heart gave out in his early sixties. Yumiko sat in her room and cried and cried. Her mother told her she was childish and that it was time to move on with her life. Yumiko used the money she had saved to get a small apartment outside of Osaka. She worked in a medium sized auto parts office answering the telephone and making tea. When she and Captain Tanaka had a kid, he would turn out chubby and not well liked at school. He would see that there was a tape of his parents wedding but he would never watch it. They all lived in an apartment in Uji and Yumiko was happy. Captain Tanaka would have beers after work with his friends and not get that drunk. He would buy a van and buy air-rifles and never show them to his son. He wouldn’t have any affairs but he would sit in the parking lot and watch porn on the TV on the dash of his van. The van was white and had a big sliding door. They got it new with a loan. But, that was still in the future.
Mr. Iwafuji got to the top of the stone stairwell, just at the gate. He saw the mother of Captain Tanaka standing by herself. “Which one is yours?” he asked. “The groom.” Mrs. Tanaka answered smiling for the first time that day. “He’s in the army then?” “Yes.” “You must be very proud.” As Mr. Iwafuji said this, his eyes danced under his broad hat and his slightly crooked teeth seemed brighter in the shade of the cedars. Mrs. Tanaka stood by herself as her husband snooped around the railing. She looked down the stone stairwell at her son in his uniform and her new daughter in law in her white, hooded dress. Mrs. Tanaka wore a tan dress, like a business suit with a corsage. She turned to Mr. Iwafuji and said, “Yes, so very proud.”