While everyone is aware that White Day happens on March 14th, most foreign people would struggle to name the other romantic celebration that occurs on the same day. However, it could be argued that the international community are celebrating the wrong event as the other event is International Marriage Day, a celebration of the first weddings between Japanese and foreign people.
Of course these days, international marriage is so commonplace that it is strange to think that there was a time when it was unusual enough to be worthy of note. This becomes easier to understand when you consider that this day was created in the middle of the 19th century.
At this time the Japanese government was only just starting to become accepting of foreign influence.
Any non-Japanese people who wanted to marry into the secluded country in those days required a special permission. Of course with Japan’s love of bureaucracy, things were far from simple. In order to marry into a Japanese family, the foreign person was usually required to renounce their own nationality. Imagine that, in those fiercely patriotic times, being asked to renounce your nationality to marry!
So who were these early marriages who willing to give up a part of their identity to marry? Not all the records remain, but one of the notable ones is the story of Kyo Shitai. He was one of the early farmers brought over from China to tend fields in Hokkaido, the harsh northern part of Japan.
These days, Hokkaido is a place of skiing and ice festivals, but in the days before heated ski lodges and luxury tours, it was a dangerous challenge. Kyo himself would see his group of ten men whittled down to 2 people after a third of the group died and the remainder gave up. Despite these hardships, Kyo was determined to stay in Japan even when his first attempt to naturalize was turned down. His tough experience in the cold north had taught him perseverance and he kept applying until he finally succeeded.
After finally becoming a national, he finally had enough time to meet and fall in love with a girl called Ishi. Despite being the daughter of the legendary samurai Zenyata Segawa, Kyo’s resilience impressed the family and the wedding was granted. By all accounts their marriage was successful. Together they would play an important role in internationalizing Japan by promoting the enrollment of Chinese school kids in Japanese education.
One of the most important early Western marriages was between an Englishman, Joseph Ernest De Becker, and a Japanese commoner, Ei Kobayashi. Similar to Kyo, Joseph would be turned down many times, but would eventually be granted permission to stay in Japan if he became a Japanese national. He embraced his new identity by taking the name Beika Kobayashi which he used alongside his original name. De Becker would eventually write a number of important legal works that helped codify Japan’s complicated criminal law.
Overall, March 14th offers something for everyone in Japan. If you are married, you can celebrate International Marriage Day and remember the people who struggled to make international marriage a reality. If you are a single, you can celebrate White Day and the chance to make a fluffy marshmallowy gift to the person in your life.