Last Sunday, we attended our first Japanese wedding. For my part, I was excited and a little nervous– and not just about keeping a toddler and a newborn happy during the ceremony, but about celebrating appropriately Japanese style.
So, I thought I’d share about our experience. Our friends do speak some great English, and so there was a bit of an international feel to it… as compared to a super traditional wedding at a Shinto shrine….
The venue was a beautiful little cove in the heart of one of the ritzy areas of downtown Tokyo. This place specializes in weddings, and it seems that many such places have full-service packages– from the invitations to menus to flowers to the bride’s dress(es).
Yes, in Japan, most brides rent their dresses. When I was engaged and living in Japan, I wanted to do some dress shopping but no one could point me in the direction of a place that actually sold dresses.
So, the bride and groom were able to choose everything with simplicity (from what I heard). Besides having a number of women who seemed to be coordinators running around, there was also a make-up artist who kept the bride and groom looking great (no, the groom didn’t wear make-up, she just made sure his tie was perfect during pictures and such). As far as attire, the B&G were dressed western style, and later changed to something very slightly more casual half-way through the service; the parents of B&G were in tuxedos and kimono– it was very charming
One highlight for us was that our oldest daughter had the chance to walk down the aisle with the groom. It seems that in western style weddings in Japan, there is no tradition for the groom to walk down the aisle with his mother. He said that his mom was too shy to do such a thing as well. So our daughter had the honor, and for an almost 3 year old, I think she handled herself well!
A notable aspect was that they announced everything. For example, each person coming down the aisle was announced beforehand (similar to an American reception??) and during the reception, there was a MC, who announced all the participating parties and some of their details. The bride and groom’s background info was also shared. Even the menu and wine menu were announced.
Reflecting on these various announcements, while teaching at the elementary school (rabbit trail: many of the groom’s students– he’s an English teacher at a middle school– showed up in their uniforms to watch the ceremony), often before I began my lesson, the teacher would signal a student to stand up and announce the previous period of study had ended and from now, we would begin to study English. Everyone would respond with “We begin!”. Lunch menus are also read before serving lunch and everyone confirms what they have on their plates. To me, it seems to show an inclination for organization in events, where clear beginnings and endings are defined and proper recognition is given.
During the reception, a number of speeches were given. The groom gave a welcome at the beginning, the employers of both B&G spoke, a few friends spoke, there was a quick interview from one guy about the groom, the bride gave a speech to her parents and the father of the groom gave a speech… and perhaps others. Near the end, giant bouquets were given to the parents and there was a lot of formal bowing from the B&G and their parents to thank us for joining them.
The B&G’s friends also prepared a very short piece of entertainment for the company. The groom’s friends- a short skit; the bride’s- a cutesy dance.
On to gifts. If you are invited to a wedding in Japan, the gift to give is money (crisp bills) in an envelope inside a special envelope. As a foreigner, be careful to confirm it’s a wedding envelope at the store and not a funeral envelope– they can look similar. How much do you give? Hold your breath, it can vary but the customary amount for a friend is about $300 USD (Three $100 bills). Yup. Employers typically give $500-$1000 and for family members, it depends on the area whether you give or not, it seems. Two and four should be avoided because they are unlucky (4 and 2 put together in Japanese sounds like the word for death). Even numbers should also be avoided because they can be associated with being split or divided.
In Japan, it’s custom to give a gift back. In America, we give party favors. However, on the guests’ seats (one per couple), was a bag with two beautiful gifts inside. One had an assortment of pretty desserts (not quite cakes, but more like breads? and some cookies) and the other contained a catalog. A catalog from which you could choose a gift that would be delivered to you. These were gifts similar to what you would give the B&G as a wedding gift in America and ranged from kitchen pots or pans to towels to make up bags or special jams or teas.
Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaatttt? Yeah, that was my expression when I opened it. I’m not sure if that’s how it generally is here (I know that the gifts are usually very nice), but I was floored.
Each kid also had a sweet coloring book and a nice pack of crayons and snacks at their seat. As we left, we received tiny little boxes with cute little heart cookies inside. And Rosalyn received a beautiful little bouquet. Speaking of leaving, the MC closed the reception at exactly 2pm. Like on the dot.
Amazing, huh? Very different than an American wedding. Literally, every detail was thought of. Everything was sweet and beautiful and carefully prepared. It was a highlight for us, and celebrating their marriage over course supersedes all these details. We are excited to see what God has in store for them together!
I’m sure that there are many variations on weddings here, but the fundamentals will likely be the same. Fascinating! So, if you ever have the chance to go to a Japanese wedding, you have some idea of what you might encounter!