The library teacher at one of the elementary schools I teach at invited me to her wedding, which was this past Saturday (March 15). In Japan, only family and possibly very close friends attend the actual wedding ceremony, but MANY others are invited to the reception, including co-workers, friends, distant family, etc. So sadly I can't comment on what a wedding ceremony here in Okinawa looks like, but boy, do I have some comments on the reception!! Hang on to your hats!! (Quick side comment: I sure wish I could give you more photos of this astonishing event, but the room was dimly lit most of the time, and it was such a large room that my little iPhone camera just couldn't keep up. If I'm able to see the bride's professional pictures at work, I will try to take photos of those and share if possible.)
FYIs BEFORE THE WEDDING:
- If you verbally commit to coming, you're expected to be there! There is no RSVP card in your invitation. Brides and grooms here have to speak to everyone on their guest list personally to know if they will be attending.
- Spouses and families of the guests aren't invited unless the bride or groom specifically invites them. As a co-worker of the bride, it was only me she was inviting. Eric had to sit this event out.
- Couples don't register for things here or have wedding showers. When it comes to wedding gifts, everyone brings money. And this is no chump change, either; everyone brings a minimum of 10000 yen (about $100) in a fancy envelope. With about 300 people at this wedding bringing these gifts, you can get a sense of why the couple was able to have such a fabulous wedding!!
OK, on to the reception itself!! I think my jaw hit the floor about ten times during the three hours I was there, so I'd like to try to convey that sense of confused awe by going with a stream-of-consciousness reporting of the sights, sounds, and HUH!?!? of this event.
- Oh, my goodness. The bride's dress is absolutely stunning. Her hair looks perfect and she looks like a beautiful princess. Her new husband looks like he just stepped out of a boy band photo shoot. They have to stand up there at the head table in front of tons of cameras (professional movie camera size and regular camera size as well) and smile and look awesome while they are announced by the professional announcer. Their faces appear on the four enormous video screens situated around the room. Done and done.
- Hey, I'm sitting at my table. At least I know these folks from school, and there's another assistant English teacher there, so one person speaks English! Yays. Hey, where'd the bride and groom go?
- OK, now I'm being asked to go backstage. Huh?! So soon?! I knew I was going to be drafted into a dance number, but right away? What? Everyone else has school shirts to wear? I have none... Guess I'll just wear my dress up there. Oh, they all know the dance and have been practicing but I couldn't because I'm only at that school one day a week? Well, OK, here we go!! Camera people, you getting all this?? (Our little troupe followed the mothers of the bride and groom, who did a traditional fan dance, and a big group of teachers who did an AKB48 number while wearing school uniforms and ties. After us came another traditional dancer. This is all before we've even been there 20 minutes.)
- A video is starting... What am I seeing here? People wearing masks of the bride and the groom are walking around the school doing adorable things. Since she's a library teacher, she finds him in the stacks and "checks him out" with the scanner. Awww!! I feel like I'm in a dance club... The music is constant and pretty loud. Oh, wait, now it's a video made by the students talking about how much they love the bride and how awesome she is!! Adorbs.
- Slide show time! Now we get to see the bride and groom as little kids, when they met, etc. This is something I can relate to; I've seen this before. Still with the music.
- The professional announcer is talking again; everyone's turning toward the stage. Wowie!! The bride and groom are back! He changed his suit and has a hat on, but I don't think I can adequately describe her new dress. Super frou-frou, long train, blue and pink flowered, cowboy-style leather belt and hat trim. Words fail me. They're walking from table to table, lighting a candle in the center of each. When they get to the front, they light a huge candle.
- Oh, here comes some food. Wow, looks great!! Lots of sashimi, a soup kind of like egg drop soup. Woah, this salad with a big shrimp with his eyes still in tastes really bitter! Think I'm going to leave that one. Oh, good, some meat and veggies, a fish pie in a pastry crust with a really good sauce. I'm holding my own in a convo with the teacher next to me! I've learned a lot of Japanese and can say more than just "the dog is under the table" now! Go, me
- The principal is giving the first speech. No one's listening really... Everyone just keeps on talking away. Next speech, a friend of the groom's. Same thing for him. More slideshows, more dance numbers, I think from former students... Guys doing a comedy singing performance...
- Hey, they're cutting the cake! Wow, they even feed little pieces to each other, too. (My fellow English speaker, who has married an Okinawan woman and lives here permanently and thus has been to many weddings, tells me that sometimes the cake you see is entirely fake except for the small bit the bride and groom eat! The real cake is in the back.)
- It doesn't look like we're getting any cake, though, because the room has turned really dark and the music sounds kind of Egyptian. Dude, there's a guy up front lighting a big fire and sort of juggling it!! Unbelievable. Now the servers are lining up behind him, and he's pouring fire onto each of their platters, which hold an ice cream dessert that goes up in orange-and-blue flames!! They're bringing the platters to us so we can eat our dessert en flambé. It's basically just vanilla ice cream and cake with meringue on top, but seriously. Wow.
- The bride and groom are giving speeches to their parents. Oh, people are getting teary! They're bowing to their parents and it's so sweet. (I later learned that the bride's speech was actually pretty funny, apologizing to her parents for being such a bad kid and giving them so much trouble!!)
- Oh, what is this?? Everyone is getting up! I'm being pulled back on stage!! Not another dance number!! Oh, I'm safe! We're just dancing around the bride and groom and waving our hands all over the place. No skill required. People are throwing the groom up in the air mosh-pit style!! Glad they're not jeopardizing the bride's dress by doing that to her!
- We're all lining up outside the banquet hall to thank the families and snap a quick pic w/ the happy couple. We also all receive a lovely gift to take home, which turns out to be five pieces of delicious baumkuchen, a German cake that's really popular here for some reason. Whew!!!
Well, I think this blog post is about as much sensory overload as the actual event!! It reminded me more of a high school prom than a wedding reception. It was just one thing after another, with no time to really talk to the people at your table and certainly no mingling time with the beautiful couple! I can't begin to imagine how exhausted they must have been afterward, if my own mental fatigue at the end of it is any indication. A few things I wonder, and if anyone knows, please do share: If Japanese couples really don't want to go this route (ie., the Super Bowl halftime route), do they have the social freedom to buck the system and do their wedding their own way? Or do family and societal expectations make it so this is kind of the only way to do it? And does what I've described differ much from mainland Japanese weddings??