Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A North Korean Wedding

I went to a lovely wedding on Saturday at the Buena Vista in Matsumoto. Japan. So I got the nationalities wrong? Nope! There is a vibrant and resolute community of non-Japanese in this country, a carry over from Japan's colonisation of the Korean peninsula at the beginning of the last century. Hundreds of thousands of Korean nationals were brought to Japan as cheap or slave labour, and worse.

I am proud to have been involved with the local community here in Matsumoto for the last 13 years or so, since my very good friend Yong Mi asked me to help her teach English at the North Korean school here in town. I and my school have been associated with the school ever since, and every single one of my teachers over the years has thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the school. There is something palpably different and cheerful about the children there which I wish we could bottle.

Thirteen years ago there was a 'troublesome' class of lads none too keen to study; on Saturday they were on centre stage celebrating the fifth wedding from their small class. I attended because I have taught every single one of the family of the groom over the years, at the school and at Luna, and I was delighted to have been invited. Both bride and groom studied to become English teachers...so Yong Mi and I both felt maybe we  contributed a little bit.

The well-matched couple changed no less than three times, punctuating the meal with sashays into the room. I don't think they ate at all. There were drums - old Matsumoto Mongrel football team members will remember Chi Hiro as our star player years and years ago (his year - class -  had too few boys to make a team, and besides they were not allowed to join the local school league anyway)...front & centre!

There was Karaoke; I remembered the night years ago the groom's father took me out to sing Beatles songs in Korean (I'm fluent?!) and spent Y50,000 in an hour. The hostesses still stole my favourite hat! All the men in the room joined the chorus, while the poor bride looked a bit lost.

There was dancing - I was going to wish the happy couple well but got collared into an arm waving dance instead. For once I was the most sober in the room! The groom's mum was a picture of elegance in her Choguri. Her two daughters were later described to me (by my daughter) as 'princesses'. I always thought so, especially O.R. whom I have known since she was knee-high to a grasshopper.

My grasp of Japanese is ropey, and my Korean is non-existent, but it was obvious everyone enjoyed this union immensely. I chatted to the bride's sister & her fiance in English, and hope to meet them again in Matsumoto soon. A couple of the lads from the class have really made something of themselves & are getting ahead in the world; there were children everywhere which means a healthy next generation to teach at the school.

It was refreshing to see the speakers at the end get heckled! Broke the ice a lot. The bride's father made a great speech and had everyone in his spell, both mums tearing up and not really a dry eye in the massive audience either. Sometimes you don't need to know what is being said - the context and the emotion does the trick. This was a wedding I was very glad I didn't miss.