I experienced my first wedding in Japan this weekend. Weddings are big business in Japan, and after going to this wedding I can see why. Wow. In Nagoya, apparently weddings are even a bigger deal. I have several wedding halls in my neighborhood. The wedding I went to though was in Tokyo.
I met my friend Kentaro in a summer University program in France a few years ago. Yes, I am far removed from University, but our companies sent us to this program, and who can turn down a summer studying in France? We had a great time together and with the rest of the J-Crew – various Japanese, Japanese Americans, and Americans who know Japanese. We certainly have stayed in touch and I was able to visit him when he lived in Hong Kong. That too was a wonderful time and he introduced to a Hong Kong native who showed me around because she had some days off.
Ken invited me to his wedding and I was honored to attend. Weddings in Japan are much more formal in terms of invitation than in the US, and you are never expected to bring a guest. It is you and you only, so you hope you know somewhere there. Fortunately, I did know someone besides Ken or else it would have been VERY lonely.
Typical Japanese weddings have a registration period, then the ceremony, then the reception, followed by the nijikai (second party). The wedding and reception have obligatory business invitees, so the nijikai is where the rest of the folks get to meet up with the bride and groom. I have been to a nijikai before and had a good time.
Of course it was very hot because it was summer time in Japan. I was afraid I was running a little bit late, so I started sweating even more in my black suit. As I was waiting after registration, I was sweating like a pig!
When I arrived, there is an area where you register, and I handed over my wedding gift. The wedding gift is always money in a special envelope, done just right. I was staying with friends and one of them helped me prepare the envelope. The bills are supposed to be brand new but I didn’t have a chance to make it to the bank. Sorry Ken and Mayumi! After I handed over my envelope, I received a smaller envelope. I pocketed it did not open it. Later when I opened it I discovered travel money, and that made my gift seem pretty insignificant.
I met my friend Uchi at the registration – thankfully he saw me immediately. However, since I was the only foreigner at the wedding it probably wasn’t that difficult. I stuck to him like glue. We were herded up to the top floor to be able to walk into the wedding hall.
I should describe the building. The exterior is very gothic and is used only for wedding ceremonies. Inside too kept to the what I’ll call gothic-ight motif with suits of armor, a few swords, and a bit of a Disneyesque sense of decoration.
We walked down the stairs into the chapel and were greeted by at least a cello, maybe a string quartet. I was too busy taking it all in. Our ushers were dressed in robes with crosses on the front. They carried candles as they escorted us to our pews. In the front of the church was stained glass with images of Christ. Hmmmm. The hall chapel was dimly lit. Also in the front was a pipe organ and an alter. Looking around I noticed multiple cameras mounted at various locations. A DVD surely would be available.
Bells rang and the lights dimmed even more. A trumpeter and a trombone player emerged at the front of the hall and along with the organ flawlessly played a piece of music to introduce the groom. Ken walked up very regally to his spot where he waited for his bride to be. The live music started again and Mayumi, in a white dress with a very long train, was escorted to Ken by her father. Together they walked to the front of the chapel to meet the officiant, who was a silvered hair foreigner.
He welcomed us to, “This Christian wedding” with a voice that, when I imitated him, prompted my American work colleague to say today, “So Sean Connery was the priest?” I’m not sure if there was really any official Christian anything in the wedding, I think it was just someone playing a role. I have been approached to perform weddings in Japan. His Japanese was understandable and clear, but his cadence just felt a little strange. Maybe it is a patriarchal sort of way of speaking.
The wedding roughly followed the format of a typical Western protestant wedding. Sorry Bob and Annie, but there wasn’t any element of an orthodox wedding (although, typical of me, I did drop something when I had a role in the reception). There were hymns that were sung, prayers that were prayed, and vows that were exchanged.
There was also fantastic music performed at various points. Songs were chosen for their melody I think. As I said, the music was flawless. The acolytes turned out to be the soloists and chorus I believe. These were no average people off the street singing a song. These were trained performers.
The bride and groom were introduced as husband and wife and then walked down the aisle into a shower of flower petals. They then doubled back and got ready to pose for pictures with their families. The guest gathered in the vestibule to prepare for another “flower shower” that I think replaces the throwing of rice. They walked through the canopy of petals (silk and not really very exciting) and exited to some special place.
The guests headed down to the reception hall. It is tradition in Japanese weddings to give the guests a gift as well. Sitting at each chair was a Tiffany & Co. bag. Oh my. I’ve never said no to Tiffany. The guests were seated and then the bride and groom arrived. There was an MC maintaining the flow of the events. Like any wedding reception, Ken and Mayumi had no time to eat. There was a speech by Ken’s boss, a speech by Mayumi’s boss, a speech by Mayumi’s teacher, and a speech by the person that introduced them, the 仲人 (nakoudo). Of course there was a cake cutting ceremony as well. The parents circulated, making their rounds to each table. We also saw the slide show of Ken, Mayumi, and Ken and Mayumi. Also, Mayumi had to change clothes in the middle of the ceremony of course.
Part of the reception was for Ken and Mayumi to circulate the tables and each person was to give them a rose that represented something and make a small speech. That was my role – to represent the table. Ken asked me to make a small speech so I worked with Tomo and my translator to write a small speech. I found out that I was going to be the LAST speech. Oh darn. My speech was in Japanese as well which completely stressed me out. Being last just allowed me to get more nervous.
As the speeches started, I was shocked by how brief they were. I had prepared a little longer speech and now the cards and roses were flashing by. Maybe though the last person is supposed to speak longer? As they approached I whispered to Ken, “Do you want me to do the whole thing?” “Yes,” he said. So I had no choice. I started reading in Japanese into a microphone. Whose voice was that anyway? I didn’t sound like me. Instead of concentrating on what I was saying, I started noticing how I was sounding. I stopped getting nervous speaking in public a long time ago, and here I was like a nervous 5th grader. I almost got done and then I froze. What was next? I made it through the final sentence of my speech and then I was done. Except I wasn’t. I was still supposed to hand the rose to Ken. So of course in shuffling the rose, the card, and the speech I dropped the rose. Uh oh. I hope that doesn’t signify bad luck. Of course, I dropped my brother’s wedding ring at his wedding so this is nothing in comparison. Still, I felt my speech was an awkward moment – but I get the gaijin free pass I hope.
Ken entertained us all in France with his guitar playing and his singing, and I hoped that he would do so again at the wedding reception. He did, this time with a band. A few years of voice lessons have worked well for him. He could sing before, but he seemed a lot more comfortable singing this time.
The reception was closed out by the bride’s letter to her family. Then a speech by the groom, and then the groom’s family speech, one more speech by the groom, and then an exit to allow the receiving line. We watched a DVD of the ceremony (a very quick edit) and that was it. The reception was about two and a half hours only.
I should note the food was superb. Everything was perfect (except for a dropped rose and Kentaro’s dad calling him Shintaro – oops). I was honored to be invited.