Last year, one of my friends and co-workers, Chihiro, announced to me that her fiancé had finally passed his teaching license/ certification test. For some reason that was never entirely clear to me, this meant that they could officially get married. She assured me that I would be invited and, in fact, attending her wedding was one of the reasons I stayed a fourth year. Chihiro sits next to me at work and she hopes one day to be an English teacher, so she and I often talk in both English and Japanese. I help her with her homework and she helps me with mine. As a result, she’s probably one of my best at-work friends.
So I was pretty upset when she showed up to work one day with a new ring on her finger and she announced that she had gotten married over the weekend. I approached Chihiro and asked her what had happened, sure I was missing something. Apparently it is not uncommon for Japanese couples to sign the official marriage documents one day and not have the actual wedding ceremony/ party until months later. In fact, Chihiro and her husband did it in this order: official documents, three months later a honeymoon to Australia, and three months after that the ceremony/ party.
The ceremony took place on October 9th, a Sunday on a three day weekend. The whole thing was very interesting. First, Chihiro had organized a bus to come to our school to pick up a group of teachers who didn’t want to drive or take the train. It was pouring outside, so the ride to the capital wasn’t particularly interesting, but was thankfully uneventful (unlike the last time I took a bus in a rain).
The ceremony was held in the hotel lobby, which was a little strange as guests could walk by and sometimes had to weave around the event. There also weren’t enough chairs for all the guests, so I had to stand for the entirety of it. To top it all off, there was a random foreigner who worked for the hotel leading the ceremony while wearing a Catholic priest costume. The whole thing was fairly stiff, with the bride and groom kissing on the cheek and not the lips. Apart from how beautiful Chihiro looked, the ceremony was not a great experience for me.
Thankfully, the reception more than made up for it. After the ceremony we all moved to a private reception hall. Modern Japanese weddings have a lot of similarities from modern Western weddings, from what I’ve seen. There were speeches, delicious and expensive food, and assigned seating.
Of course, there were a lot of differences as well. First, Japanese weddings have an opening video. Chihiro was having trouble deciding on a theme for hers, so she first asked me to make her a Harry Potter-style opening sequence to show. Apparently she changed her mind after a few weeks and the couple decided to make a in-flight safety video instead. It was cute and clever, and Chihiro asked me to help her with the English script since all major airlines in Japan now do their safety videos in both English and Japanese.
Second, Chihiro changed dresses three times. In Japan, it’s more common to rent your dresses than to buy them, so while it’s still expensive to have multiple dresses it is more feasible than in the US. First she and her husband showed up to the party in a beautiful traditional wedding kimonos. Then she disappeared after a while and reappeared in a pastel dress that left me with a mental image that I couldn’t shake of a rainbow bath bomb. Finally, she disappeared again and re-emerged in her Western-style wedding dress she had worn at the ceremony.
There was no dancing. Well, not by the majority of the guests. Two guests happened to be dance teachers and they put on special performances for Chihiro and her husband. A former student from our school sang a few songs as a tribute as well.
Another interesting difference was how the bouquet was handled. First, the MC called the single ladies up. Then each woman held the end of one of ten ribbon that were attached to the bouquet. On the count of three, the women pulled and whoever held the ribbon that stayed attached got the bouquet. It’s definitely a better way to handle the bouquet in a confined area.
Also, though there were speeches given, they were not by the parents of the bride or groom. Instead, Chihiro and her husband’s sisters both gave speeches. The principals from both of the schools where Chihiro and her husband work also gave speeches. The whole event took about 5 hours and at the end of the party, we watched a video that the photographers had somehow put together of the wedding we had just been sitting at for the past five hours. Watching a slideshow from an event you literally just sat through is a Japanese tradition that I have never quite figured out.
At the end of the party, all of the centerpieces and decorations were up for grabs. After managing to escape the throng, all of the teachers from my school got together and took a picture.
As you can see, we are each holding massive gift bags which are filled with all of our goodies from the night (which I will explain shortly). But first, I want to tell you about the ride back to Hyuga. I had a very nice and long talk in Japanese with a few (Japanese) members of the Miyazaki Singaporean Association, including their very drunk head honcho (a word which, if you didn’t know, comes from Japanese). It was an entertaining conversation that made the ride back much nicer.
Now, back to the gift bag of mystery. My swag from the wedding includes:
“A gift catalogue?” You ask. Well, don’t worry, I heard you through the magic of the interwebs. Guests at a Japanese wedding get a catalogue of different gifts they can choose from.
There is a huge range of items to choose from and I still have no idea what I’m going to get. Thankfully I have until April to decide.
I know that not a lot of people get to experience going to a Japanese wedding, so I definitely feel privileged to have been invited.