MY 2016: A LOVE STORY
2016 has been an interesting year so far, especially coming off an equally interesting and rewarding 2015 that saw two projects I wrote premiere to critical acclaim just as the year was rounding up the feature film Road to Yesterday and the GBV documentary Silent Tears. 2015 was a whirlwind of multiple projects month after month, so understandably by years end I was exhausted. I thought it was high time I took a break and attend to some much needed personal affairs. So, I packed my bags, told everyone I was leaving and took off to Japan for a couple of months.
Why Japan? Well, thats where the love of my life resides
Her name is Eri. Shes Japanese. We met nineteen years ago while in college in the US, and not up until May of 2016 could I officially call her my wife. I say officially because we already got married in 2006 it was a quick courtroom affair with two friends as witnesses. We kissed, the court clerk handed us our marriage certificate and we went home to celebrate. But I always felt it wasnt done right, especially since I didnt get to formally ask her parents permission and best believe any family member I told back in Nigeria wouldnt accept a marriage they didnt attend. I mean how dare I deny them the opportunity for owambe tins aso ebi, party rice and overflowing jugs of palm wine you know, the whole traditional nine yards and whatnot. All made worse on my return to Nigeria six years ago and my prompt rejection of every fine girl concerned” family members had brought for me to toast/shag/marry. Add to that, the nice young boy who left a Catholic over twenty years ago was now a Buddhist. The horror! Besides all that, the long distance thing was taking its toll on Eri and me and we questioned the credibility of what wed gotten ourselves into and if it was worth the trouble in the long run. We were living apart on separate continents. We were very independent people before we met and have remained so despite the love we shared. Now was the sink or swim moment; now was the true test of our commitment. So in January I made the arduous 21-hour journey from Abuja to Tokyo to do the needful.
The last time I was in Tokyo was in the summer of 2012 and I spent a whole month; this time I was going to stay for four, which I felt was more than enough time to sort out our relationship wahala once and for all. Fortuitously, my arrival came at the perfect time it was a few days to Eris birthday and Valentines Day was just two days afterwards, creating the perfect romantic atmosphere. We visited the famous Yomiuriland Amusement Park in Tokyo where we talked, celebrated and reaffirmed our commitment to each other. Now I had to meet the parents, who Id only met over the phone with my limited Japanese and their limited English. But first I had to return to Nigeria for a few weeks to attend the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) where Road to Yesterday got a number of nominations including one for Best Writer (moi) and then premiere Silent Tears on International Womens Day in March. No sweat.
I told Eris parents theyd have to wait a little while longer. They understood of course and would later confess to me that they were equally impressed and concerned about how Eri and I had maintained a relationship this long and what it would be like moving forward.
I returned to Japan in mid-March with an AMVCA win for Road to Yesterday as Best West African film (didnt snag the Best Writer award though *tsk-tsk*) and scheduled the best time to go visit Eris parents in her hometown of Okayama, which is west of Tokyo. But before that, I had some other things to take care of my birthday was in April and I upon a lot of reflection I decided to reaffirm the tenets of my Buddhist belief by spending a month in a Buddhist monastery as part of a yearly lay practitioner training program organized by my sect. Its considered a time of deep personal introspection; I lived in the temple for four weeks and for the first two all practitioners took a vow of silence. Why? I remember one of the monks telling me, We listen to respond when we should be listening to understand. Fair enough. We spent mornings and evenings in deep meditation, helped the monks farm and harvest the food we ate, and spent the following weeks discussing our role in the world. This by far was the most challenging thing Id ever done in my life and Im happy to say Im all the better for it.
In May came Golden Week, so-called for the number of consecutive Japanese national holidays occurring in one week among which was Childrens Day. This was the best time to visit Okayama so we took the bullet train from Tokyo, which was about 3 hours away. It was my first time on a bullet train so I was understandably geeking out. We made it to the small rural setting that was Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture and I got to meet Eris parents at the terminal. They welcomed me with open arms. I brought a few gifts from Nigeria for my in-laws, which included some native attire and knick-knacks. They were impressed with how colorful and similar Nigerian textile prints were to Japanese ones. After formally welcoming me into their family home I made the bold effort of formally asking them for their daughters hand in marriage. Id been practicing my Japanese and that particular statement for months now. My father in-law teared-up and hugged me saying in English, No need; we already consider you our son.
The rest of the week was spent sightseeing, meeting the rest of Eris family and eating the most delicious organic meals from the family farm. My mother in-law thought I was a little on the chunky side after months indulging my sweet tooth in Tokyo and promptly put me on an diet. Safe to say by the time I returned to Tokyo Id lost some considerable weight.
Next came the moment wed all been waiting for the formal declaration of marriage. Its a bit tricky getting married to a foreigner in Japan; there are all these forms to fill out and sign. Theres this one called the konin todoke, which puts our names on the official Japanese family registry. And since Im the foreigner I had to be added to Eris family as an in-law. So I had to take her family name. Wed already discussed this years earlier when I decided we should start something new with our union as husband and wife and have our names joined. Eri didnt object; she said it was a great idea and about damn time a man changed his name for his wife.
Next, we had to go over to the US embassy to turn in the konin todoke and get Uncle Sams stamp of approval for Eri marrying a US citizen. It all took about ten minutes after which we were declared husband and wife according to the laws of Japan and America. Thats two down and two more to go. There has to be a traditional Japanese and Nigerian wedding in Japan and Nigeria at some point. Eri laughed when she said, So well be married a total of five times!!!
Before I knew it my time in Japan had come to a close. June crept up faster than expected but I wasnt worried; Im planning a return next year for a longer indefinite stay. Id already made up my mind that Id found a new place to call home with people and a culture that opened me up to so many possibilities personally and professionally. It is my hope to set down roots in Japan and usher in a new wave of cross-cultural exchange in my capacity as a filmmaker. That or consider taking a position at the Buddhist temple teaching English. Id be content either way.
Since my return to Nigeria Ive already taken steps to create that bridge between our countries and Im just happy there are so many people who are willing to help. Friends and family are still getting used to the name change; my father really finds it hilarious but respects my decision. Its your life, he says, As long as youre happy. Now how about you give me some grandchildren? Gbam!
Yes, 2016 has been an interesting year so far and looks like things are shaping up for a more interesting year ahead. Ive been listening and hopefully understanding.
Emil B. Hirai-Garuba