Wednesday, May 14, 2003


The Day of the Suit arrived cool and cloudy. Together with the white shirt and the tie, the suit itself hung waiting in the country closet, empty arms and legs ready to be filled at any moment with yours truly, as the residents of the house and its visitors hustled and bustled through makeup and shaving and hair rituals in preparation for the big event, my father-in-law's beiju ('rice celebration' at being 88 years of age).

My mother-in-law, a relatively youthful 86, dressed smilingly in her traditional finery and pearls; her husband, long-time educator and woodcarver now carving out his 88th year, casually donned his own suit and tie as I experienced the long-ago familiar feeling of buttoning a white shirt tight up around my neck to that familiar point so reminiscent of thralldom before slipping my legs into pants that don't really work as I plumbed my memory trying to remember last-minute how to tie a double-Windsor; but it turned out that my hands hadn't forgotten, even if I couldn't find the instructions in that mess in the attic.

Then when the knot was tied and it too had been tightened around my neck as a steady reminder of some greater power whose name I did not know but had damn well better respect, and when I had slipped my arms into the arms of the utterly impractical double-breasted jacket with the particularly useless lapels, suddenly among these short elderly folk stood the magical transformation of an unsuited guy into: Suited Guy, a six-foot foreigner slightly elderly himself, but now looking like a mogul of questionable resources in a black double-breasted suit with white shirt and gold silk tie beneath standard face, long, very white ponytail and two gold earrings.

When after the blur of the ride-- with 2-year-old granddaughter Kaya cute as a bunch of beans in her flowery kimono in the back seat, my daughter Kasumi driving (!) and her husband Tatsuya by her side-- we arrived to join the others at the Hamanoyu, a very fancy Lake Suwa beach hotel with an indoor waterfall and varicolored carp gliding through the clear waters that coursed the lobby, heads turned at the bizarre sight of this distinctly foreign personage entering with this otherwise Japanese family. Were they together? Yes indeed.

In a layout like the banquets of the old daimyos, great foodly delicacies and diverse toasts followed in great profusion through great moments with great folks in a worthy celebration. A lot of photographs were also taken, so somewhere there must be a picture of Suited Guy from that memorable afternoon, but darned if I know where it is. Here's one image though: whenever I was in the men's room (the drinks were also great), one of the godfather's hip cronies kept suddenly being in the mirror, that each time I had to realize was me. It was that unusual. The suit and shirt and tie and I survived the encounter; they are now hanging quietly in the closet with all their implications intact while I run free and functional, nude of any implications but my own. Maybe I'll wear the suit again at my own beiju.

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