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The Staple of a Good Marriage

white bowl of japanese rice on a brown wooden table seiya-maeda-qM8PlclZGg4-unsplash

Below is the second edition of “When East Marries West.” Always I would work on several column ideas at once and send them to The Japan Times in completed batches of six or seven. My editors selected from among these, with the result being that I almost never knew which column would end up in print next. This bread-and-rice column was their choice for edition No. 2.

Most Japanese serve rice at every meal, even more so in decades past. Many feel a meal is incomplete without such a serving. Many also assume that Westerners think the same way about bread.


The Staple of a Good Marriage - April 15, 1998


If you are like me, one of the things you like to do least in life is to fight with your spouse.

For me, fighting with my wife ranks up there with poking myself in the eye with a lighted cigarette. Or stapling my nostrils shut. 

No fun at all. Even more so because I never win.

My wife and I always fight in English. More than a testament to her linguistic skills, it is a matter of timing and momentum.

I find it difficult to keep a keen edge of anger if I have to consult a dictionary every few minutes to find Japanese terms for essential argument vocabulary, like “bonehead.”

Then there is the fact that my spoken Japanese sounds roughly like someone beating a xylophone with a live duck. 

Both my wife and I find this sound a barrier to serious anger. So, when we really want to fight and the gloves come off, the English comes on.

Which leads me to reminisce about our very first marital spat. It happened like this:

We were wolfing our way through supper because we’d been invited for drinks at a friend’s house. My Japanese bride took two chopsticks full of rice and melted with ecstasy.

“How yummy! Finally, I have some rice. It seems we’re always eating bread.”

Hmm. Was that a shadowy lament about being wed to a foreigner?

My own approach to food was still that of a bachelor. Meaning I ate anything I could get my hands on. Rice, bread, tree bark – it didn’t matter.

My wife served bread because she assumed I wanted it. Even with that, we always had our noon meals apart. 

“So, “finally having some rice” meant my wife had at most “struggled” through only six hours without her favorite food.

As a sensitive and caring husband, I knew I had to point this out.

“Okay. We don’t have to eat bread anymore. Ever. Or drink coffee either. Green tea, bean paste, seaweed – bring it on. I’ll jump through any Japanese hoop you want. Just name it. Heck, I’ll even root for the Giants.”

My wife didn’t respond. With words, that is. But her eyes shifted from newlywed mode to madwoman-in-the-icehouse-with-a-chainsaw mode. Subtle, but I noticed.

She reached across the counter, grabbed a pack of sandwich bread and set it in front of me. Hard. The china cabinet across the room rattled with the blow.

“Eat up. After all, your happiness is all that matters.”

My move.

I ripped the cellophane off the bread, yanked out three slices at once and began shoving them in my mouth.

“Oh… oh… how (swallow) yummy! I haven’t had bread for (swallow and glance at my watch) for six hours and ten minutes. How have I survived?”

Back to her. 

My wife threw down her chopsticks, shot to her feed and screamed with a volume that shook down shingles from our roof.


She then dashed to our bedroom and slammed the door, leaving me sitting at the table with half a slice of bread hanging from my mouth.

I realized I must act. Instead, I sat immobile for fifteen minutes. 

At last, I spat the bread and moused my way to the bedroom door. I cleared my throat and tried to speak coherently.

“Uh… you see… well… actually…  you know… maybe… So… What do you think?”

Not a bad start. At least I knew what I meant. A little anyway. How about her?

I heard something whistle and crack against the door. Right where my head was. Then this:


Right where my heart was.

At this point, the phone rang. Doesn’t it always?

It was our friends wondering where we were. I tried to remain calm, to show no signs of my agony.

“Gosh, I’m sorry. We were almost out the door, but then realized our clothes were dirty. The rinse cycle has just begun so it won’t be much longer now.”

A pause.

“So… you guys having a fight, or what?”

No, we were not having a fight. We were having a war.

Which I now moved to end by rushing back to the bedroom door and apologizing. This time, whatever it was that flew at the door seemed to stick in the wood.

When I woke up in the morning, I felt like I had slept in the living room under the kotatsu. Which I had. 

My wife was in the kitchen. Making toast.

She glared at me. I apologized. She glared more. I apologized more.

This continued for two days until we came to an amazing and mutual understanding.

We couldn’t remember what we were so mad about.

We smooched and hugged and did all those other newlywed things.

And while we have since had many fights, we have never repeated the mistakes of that very first combat.

That’s right. We serve both bread and rice at every meal.

©Tom Dillon

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