Last weekend, I was unusually fortunate and attended a Japanese wedding. It’s rare for foreigners, even foreign people who live here for years, to get the chance to attend a wedding between two Japanese people. I should give some credit to my predecessor because it was his “Japanese mother” who invited me (on only my second night in Kitami) to go to her nephew’s wedding. Of course I said yes, but I thought that maybe she’d forget. However, I ran into her again just a few weeks before the wedding and she confirmed my attendance. I was so excited! But the big question remained: what would I wear?
That problem was solved the night before the wedding when the aunt, mother, and cousin of the groom stopped by my house to give me more information on the wedding. I had three choices: red, black, or blue. Instantly, the three of them said that I should wear the red dress. Confident and excited about the wedding, I put together my outfit.
The next morning the aunt, uncle and cousin picked me up. At the hotel, we went up to the groom’s family suite where they had snacks and drinks (non-alcoholic at this time) for the family. Then, as a group, everyone headed over to the chapel across the street.
The chapel was beautiful! But it’s a modern chapel and built specifically for weddings and serves no other purpose.
has a small Christian population, but in general people are Buddhist, Shinto, or some form of agnostic. However, for brides who want a Western wedding, this chapel is perfect, and when I mean perfect, it was so perfectly proportioned and the ceremony so perfectly timed that it felt a bit peculiar to me…almost unreal. There were at least six non-family workers at the ceremony who were constantly scurrying around, timing things, telling people where to go and how, that it felt like a show more than a ceremony. And everyone was so serious! No one smiled during the ceremony, not even the bride and groom! But, that seems to be the Japanese way—they take their ceremonies seriously. In the end, it was probably as close to flawless as a wedding ceremony could get. It probably helped that there weren’t any flower girls or ring boys. Japan
The ceremony itself was pretty normal, for a Western wedding. It was interesting, however, because the couple are not Catholic yet they had a real Catholic priest who gave a real sermon (in Japanese so I couldn’t understand it) even though it’s not what they believe. Later, the groom told his cousin and I that he almost passed out during the sermon because it was so boring.
After the ceremony, the guests were taken to a beautiful little garden area where we tossed rose petals at the couple as they made their way out to ring a huge bell as a symbol of good luck. Here the bride tossed her bouquet. As some of my friends know, I’m good at catching the bouquet, but I did not want to catch it here. By this point, I noticed that I was the only non-Japanese guest AND the only one in red. No one else wore red, orange, yellow, pink, or any bright color. I really stood out, and even though I kind of got pulled into the group (and it would’ve been really easy to get it) I held back. I didn’t need to stand out any more than I already did!
While at the pre-wedding family reception and the ceremony, I noticed a really cute little boy that I caught staring at me a lot. After the wedding, he runs up to me, and in English says “Hello my name is Sekai I am eight years old goodbye!” and runs off. So cute! As he got more confidence, he came closer and tried talking to me more frequently. I even taught him the fist bump and a few English words.
After the bride and groom drove off in their fancy car for a short drive, it was time to go to the hotel for the reception! Typically people pay over $100 each to attend the wedding, and in return they get a lavish reception with the bride and groom and a gift, but once again, the family generously declined my offer.
At the reception, everyone is seated and the bride and groom make a grand entrance. I’m serious when I say it was a grand entrance – there were people directing the whole thing, an announcer, and spotlights! Soon enough the couple came into the reception wearing their wedding kimonos. They walked around all the tables before sitting down to begin the reception. There were formalities, readings of the bride and groom’s biographies, and the boss of the bride and the boss of the groom got up and spoke of the couple’s terrific work ethic and punctuality. THEN we could eat.
The food was terrific! It was served in the traditional Japanese family style with a large circular tray in the center of the table that you moved as needed. As we ate amazing traditional Japanese food we saw the bride and groom take photos (with those lined up at their table), cut the cake, change into two more outfits (another white dress and a blue prom-like dress for her), read letters to their parents, and light candles at every table in the room.
It didn’t take long for Sekai to find my table. He brought with him a few of his little friends and they enjoyed trying to get my attention. He even got to show off his fist-bump to his friends. Of course he was super cute and couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. It made me wish that I taught elementary school! I mean, I was automatically cool in their eyes. I had fun throughout the ceremony with the kids.
Meanwhile, our job at guests was simple – be a good audience. The poor bride and groom though, I don’t think they ate much if at all because they were so busy! Even when they had a chance to sit down at their main table people lined up instantly to get pictures with them and to have the privilege of pouring a drink for the newlyweds. Luckily for them the ceremony lasted almost exactly two hours and the whole thing was officially over by 5pm, though there were several after parties.
One other thing that I noticed about the reception, but is true of all of
, is that there was a lot of smoking. It only took twenty minutes for there to be a haze in the reception hall from all the smokers. I hope Japan catches onto the smoke-free idea soon! Also, it is considered rude to pour your own drinks. You are to always make sure that your neighbors have full glasses and in return, they will make sure your glass is always full. Also, it’s considered an honor to pour a drink for someone who is ranked higher than you, or in the case of the wedding, the newlywed couple. They probably drank quite a bit considering how many people lined up with bottled of champagne to pour and that it can be rude to decline a drink. Japan
At the end of the reception, the bride and groom patiently said goodbye to each guest and graciously invited me over to their house for dinner sometime. I hope they mean it!