This past weekend I attended the wedding of my cousin-in-law, Ayako. It was a beautiful wedding. There were both personal touches and grand symbolic gestures. I especially liked the trumpet player, and the two singers who had powerful voices.
In a country of Buddhists and Shintoists, most weddings in Japan are Christian ceremonies. It’s indicative of the eclecticism of Japanese religious attitudes. So while most weddings are Christian, funerals are invariably Buddhist events. Most cemeteries are on Buddhist temple land. Shinto shrines seem reserved for other life milestones, and to ask for good luck and fortune.
Although the weddings are Christian, the ceremony and reception have been adapted to Japanese tastes. So here are some observations contrasted with Christian ceremonies in the US.
This was the third wedding I’ve attended in Japan (not including my own which was more American in style). So I feel I can make some generalizations.
Despite Hollywood movies, most Americans to do not hire a wedding planner, but rather organize the wedding themselves. In Japan, the couple goes to a wedding place, restaurant, or fancy hotel, and the arrangements are all made by the venue, in consultation with the couple of course.
Men wear white ties. Black ties are reserved for funerals. But I usually wear a tie that matches T’s dress. I also wear cowboy boots which is probably a fashion no-no.
There’s no gift registry like in the US. Guests give 30,000 yen (or about $300) in crisp new bills in an elaborate wedding envelope. These are collected in separate reception lines for either the bride and groom. Koreans do this too, but without the elaborate envelopes. This is such a democratic way of paying for a wedding, it’s a wonder that American’s don’t adopt this.
In the chapel, before or after the ceremony, the fathers of the bride and groom introduce all their family members to the other family. It’s a big job since it means remembering names of 2nd cousins-in-law, their spouses and children. And rarely, does this go smoothly. But a forgotten or mispronounced name merely results in laughter. Everyone’s a good sport about it.
The minister is often a white man. They mangle a sermon in Japanese as best they can.
There are no best men nor maids-of-honor. Neither are there flower girls or a ringbearer. I think this is an improvement. The dozens of best men and bridesmaids that are now common in American weddings is out of control. Three of each should be the max. One of each is elegant. Also the politics of choosing them is an unnecessary ordeal for the couple. However, I like the idea of one best mate to keep you loose during the proceedings.
And as a former ringbearer, I would be more than happy to see this role abolished. I wore white stockings and Little Earl Fauntleroy outfits for several weddings when I was about 4 and 5, and I hated it. I think I was chosen because I never cried or fussed. All I remember from those years was that I was mortified to be dressed like that and be the center of attention while I walked down the aisle holding a lacy cushion with the rings atop. I’m still a little traumatized just thinking about this.
Family sit in the back of the reception hall. As hosts they’re expected to offer the choice seats near the couple to other guests. The closest seats are occupied by the bosses of the couple. In fact, they’re considered the guests-of-honor. Not only do they sit nearest the couple, they also give the main toasts. In my opinion, this is a terrible idea. But it shows you the importance of work in Japanese society.
Even more terrible is that there is no dancing. There’s no first dance, or any kind of dance. For entertainment, there is some elaborate skit done by friends, usually a series of inside jokes. And there’s the, now standard, slideshow. It’s cool to see the couple from infancy to them as a pair now. Still, a wedding needs drunken people dancing and making a spectacle of themselves.
No garter is thrown. But a bouquet is often tossed. In Ayako’s wedding, she gave her bouquet to her older sister, Noriko. It’s like the handing of the torch, chosen by the bride. Brilliant idea.
The most moving part of the reception is the honoring of the parents. The couple makes speeches about their parents while the parents stand by the entrance. Then they bring flowers to them. Finally the groom’s father makes a speech. At every wedding, the father cries, and that makes everyone teary-eyed. I’ve yet to see the father get through the speech unscathed.
And that’s a typical Japanese wedding. I’m not sure why or when the Japanese adopted the western wedding. Nor how the various elements got adapted into it. There are still many who get married in Shinto shrines, so there probably has been a hybridization process between the two types.
The wedding itself was as close to perfect as you can get. Like Ayako, it was a classic, but not cookie-cutter. Congratulations, Aya-chan!