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Javan culture brings couple together

by Mami Maruko

Sumiyanto, 31, born and raised in the Klaten regency of central Java, and Ayako Nezu, 39, from Kawasaki, met in 2002 in the central part of the Indonesian island while they were studying at a national traditional arts college in Solo.

Nezu was studying Javanese dance, while Sumiyanto was a student of music, majoring in Javanese gamelan. He went on to become a professional player.

The two first met when they both happened to go to the same gamelan concert. Later, they became friends when they performed gamelan music and Javanese dance in a group of about 20 people at a mutual friend’s wedding.

On the way home, they sat together on the bus, and Sumiyanto asked Nezu if he could visit her apartment, and did the following day. Later, he rented a bike and took her out on a date. On their way back, they were involved in an accident with a car and both sustained injuries.

Although they recovered soon afterward, the incident brought them closer together. About six months later, Nezu returned to Japan, and the couple had a long-distance relationship for more than a year. Following her wish, Sumiyanto came to Japan in 2005, and the couple married on Valentine’s Day the following year.

The couple now live in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, with their 3-year old son, Genki. The name, chosen by Sumiyanto, is a combination of the kanji “gen” (strings) taken from the gamelan, and “ki” (“kagayaki,” or brightness) taken from the name of the chrysanthemum “fujino kagayaki” (glowing Mount Fuji), the flower that he loves and deals with in his daily job.

What do you do for a living?

Ayako: I work for an environmental organization under the Environment Ministry.

Sumiyanto: I have a job cultivating chrysanthemums in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. I started out as a part-timer, but now I’m full time there. I cultivate chrysanthemums that the garden exhibits every November.

At first, I only had gamelan. I wanted to spread Javanese gamelan in Japan by playing or teaching it (Sumiyanto has taught in the Czech Republic in the past), but I found out there was very little work in Japan, so I gave up my career as a gamelan player.

Ayako: Although we don’t do it professionally, we have formed a Javanese gamelan and dance group, Sumilir, and we do live performances from time to time.

What language do you speak to each other?

Ayako: In the beginning, we spoke in Indonesian and English.

Sumiyanto: Now we speak almost all Japanese.

What language do you speak to your son?

Ayako: Unfortunately, almost all Japanese. I want him to speak Javanese and Indonesian, too. We have taught our son some basics, but he has to make a great effort when he speaks in those languages.

Sumiyanto: When he gets older, we want him to learn to speak those languages. Those are the only languages that he can use when he communicates with my parents.

How did your parents react to your marriage?

Ayako: My parents, especially my father, was against the marriage at first, as Sumi didn’t have a job in Japan. My father advised Sumi to learn Japanese first, as he believed that Sumi would not be able to get a job in Japan unless he spoke Japanese.

Sumiyanto: Most people don’t plan in advance in Java. Planning ahead is not my thing, and I didn’t think much about the future then. But following my father-in-law’s advice, I learned Japanese intensively for about half a year.

Apart from going to language school, I went to the library almost every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and learned about 20 kanji a day. My father-in-law would test me on them daily. (The couple lived together with Nezu’s parents at the beginning.)

As for my parents, they thought that I went to Japan to work, so they didn’t even dream that I would get married here. In the end, they agreed to the marriage, and my mother told me that when I get a job in Japan, I should take it seriously and put my best efforts into it.

What kind of wedding did you have?

Ayako: We didn’t have a wedding in Japan. I didn’t have any desire to wear a wedding dress. We just registered for the marriage at the ward office. It was an ordinary day, and I went to work, and Sumi went to language school after that.

Sumiyanto: I was surprised, because it was very different from how people get married in Java. It’s very simple in Japan. In Java, the whole family gets together, and the local official comes to the couple’s house to formalize the registration.

Ayako: We decided that we want to do something special later, so we had a joint wedding this year in Java with Sumi’s sister, who was also getting married. We wore traditional Javanese wedding costumes.

What are your dreams for the future?

Sumi: I don’t have any special dream or plan. It’s fine the way it is now.

Ayako: Really? From my point of view, I thought that your dream might be to buy a house in Java. Maybe when we’re much older, we can live for a little while in Java. Time will pass by slowly there, and it might be nice to have gamelan in our daily lives.

As for our son, if he wants to do something that has to do with Indonesia in the future, that’s good. If not, that’s OK, too. It’s up to him what he wants to do.

Sumilir can be accessed at sumilir.seesaa.net/