After visiting Tokyo Skytree again, there were just two days until New Years and just over a week left in my one-month trip to Japan, so we spent a lot of time with my fiance’s family in Tokyo.
My fiance’s older brother and wife were staying at his parent’s house for the holidays, while we were staying at my fiance’s apartment. I was glad for the arrangement, because Japanese homes are rather small, and six people in one house would have been really crazy. Also, living in the same house for even a week would have driven my future mother-in-law and me both crazy!
My mother-in-law is, like most mothers, particular about the way her house is run. I quickly learned to clean up after myself the way that she preferred when I ate dinner at her house. It’s not as bad as it sounds, I was just expected to clean up after myself by washing dishes, wiping the table, and making sure to wipe off extra water in the sink after I did dishes. I think that’s pretty normal for most daughters-in-law. I also put in extra effort by clearing away and washing up everyone’s dishes, but I take care to stay out of the kitchen when I’m not needed, because again the house and thus the kitchen is rather small.
I think many Japanese mothers do not like to be helped in the kitchen while cooking because the kitchens can be so small. They have a particular recipe and having too many people trying to make a dish can get frustrating. Whenever I wasn’t sure about whether or not I should help, I asked. I always asked if she needed help preparing dinner, and a few times she asked me to help her do something, but for the most part I only did the cleanup.
I was nervous about meeting my in-laws before I even came, which I think is pretty normal, but it pretty much went as I expected, and if anything I’d say it went better than I expected. They appreciate that I was respectful, which is important in Japanese and most other cultures, and since I’m a pretty normal person they generally approve of me.
It helps that we can communicate, but even if I didn’t speak Japanese, they are very kind and they would have done their best to help me feel welcome. Friends of mine who have met with language barriers when communicating with their in-laws still were made welcome. Aki’s parents have been abroad and they are open-minded, and they have been supportive of our relationship from the beginning.
Since we were staying in my fiance’s apartment, we spent most of the daytime out and about in his Tokyo suburb, going back to the game center to play more Gundam Build Fighters. Even though many stores and public buildings and museums start to close as New Years approaches, there is one thing you can count on to be open – the game centers. Game centers are big business, similar to the pachinko parlors (or casinos) but with slightly less gambling, and they definitely wouldn’t want to miss the business from students, NEETs, part-timers, or salarymen with time off.
Surprisingly, the game center still wasn’t very crowded for a Tuesday near a holiday, so I assumed that it wasn’t a day off yet, or maybe the crowds had gone into Ikebukuro or a bigger part of Tokyo to game. That meant that I could try out some of the more popular games since the students weren’t playing them, and I could try the UFO catchers without feeling too silly (I’m pretty bad at them).
By the way, I didn’t get the Youkai Watch 妖怪ウォッチ zipper pouch, because I ran out of cash and decided it wasn’t worth it…
After we spent the day at the game center, we went back to my fiance’s parents’ house to visit with his brother and his brother’s wife. That night, we went to a Chinese restaurant that is his mother’s favorite, and met up with the family friends who gave us a wedding gift of high-quality beef. They have known my fiance since he was a baby, and because they are a bit eccentric, we had a hilarious conversation at the dinner table that might have been a bit inappropriate and that drew a few looks from the other diners. It was mostly other large groups talking loudly, and we had a private room, but we could still be heard by the nearest tables.
After a gregarious evening, we walked back to the train station continuing our conversation, and on our way we were able to see the Tokyo Skytree lit up at night. I saw the Skytree close up from Asakusa, but it’s visible from pretty far away in Tokyo. This surprised me because in many parts of Tokyo the buildings are so tall that it’s hard to see much past your immediate surroundings, but through the buildings you can catch glimpses of the Skytree. At 634 m tall, it shouldn’t be hard to understand why you can see it from so many places!
Even though we were not supposed to be celebrating New Years because of the recent passing of a close relative, we received a taiyaki たい焼き – a baked pastry in the shape of a fish, usually filled with sweet beans or other sweet custard-like concoctions. This taiyaki was the largest and most elaborate one I’ve ever eaten, complete with a glaze. I was surprised that we were able to receive it because the word “tai” たい, which actually means a sea bream fish, is often associated with “omedetai” おめでたい, which means auspicious. It’s common at times of celebration, such as weddings or at New Years. I am happy that we were able to accept it, because it was delicious!
At the train station we said our goodbyes to Aki’s family friends. We went back to our Tokyo suburb together with his parents, his brother, and his brother’s wife, and got a ride back to his apartment from his father. I enjoyed spending time with his family, but it was nice being able to relax and do our own thing, rather than having to take care while living with his family.
Do you have any interesting experiences staying at or visiting with your mother-in-law? I’d love to hear them in the comments!