David Chart's Japan Diary

October 16th 2006

Well, that was a much longer delay than I'd hoped for. So much for getting back onto the normal schedule. In my defence, I did get married on the first of this month. I know that some of you will be under the impression that I got married almost a year ago, and that's true. However, in Japan it is very common to do the legal marriage and the ceremonial marriage a significant time apart. We did the legal marriage last year, and the ceremonial marriage on the first. A delay of slightly under a year is not, apparently, incredibly long, although I suspect that it is slightly on the long side. (I believe that people also do it the other way, having the ceremony but not bothering with the legalities. Not generally an option for international marriages if you want them to be stable, however, due to the visa situation.)

Preparation for the wedding took even more time than either of us was expecting. We both remarked several times that we didn't know how people managed to organise their weddings when they weren't living together, and were very glad that we weren't trying to organise the legal formalities as well (although I still haven't been to register the wedding with the British Embassy). In addition, of course, we had one or two international visitors around the time of wedding. As a result, I had to take the whole week leading up to the wedding off work, to be available to look after family members and friends. I'm glad I did, but writing a diary entry wasn't the highest priority.

Me and Yuriko, in the ceremony outfit Me and Yuriko, in our outfits for the wedding ceremony.

Quite a lot, apart from the wedding, has happened since the last diary entry, but for this entry I'll just concentrate on the wedding itself. We don't have the professional photographs yet, so I'll probably post about it again when they turn up. In the meantime, I have some photographs that Ray took.

The day fell into two parts. The first was a Shinto wedding ceremony, which was held at Yushima Tenjin, a shrine to the god of scholarship in Tokyo. For that, Yuriko wore a white kimono, called a shiromuku, which is one of the traditional outfits for a Japanese bride. I wore a formal man's kimono. So did Yuriko's father. So did my father, although he claims that it is the last time he will dress up in a skirt and pom-pom. I suspect he's right. Actually, my whole family dressed up in kimonos, and everyone looked really good in them, particularly Silver. I will make sure to put some photos of them up in a later entry.

A Shinto wedding is quite different from a western wedding, whether Christian or pseudo-Christian. (A lot of Japanese weddings are pseudo-Christian and, apparently, a lot of Shinto weddings are for couples where one partner is foreign.) For a start, the shrine does not generally close down for the wedding, so that there are crowds of people milling around. In our case, the local boy scouts were holding a fair behind the shrine, so when the photographer took us round the back to take our photos we got applause and congratulations from everyone, as well as quite a few people taking our photographs while standing behind the professional photographer.

Yuriko under her hood The smiling bride.

That was actually very nice, and I can understand a bit why people choose to have their weddings at major tourist attractions; you get congratulations from a lot of people. We got a bit more of that later, because another difference from the western ceremony is that the bride and groom lead the procession of all the guests into the shrine, rather than the bride entering after everyone is seated. At Yushima Tenjin, this procession goes over a bridge connecting the shrine office to the main shrine, and everyone rinses their hands to purify themselves before processing into the shrine. That means that the bride and groom have to wait on the bridge while everyone else gets done. Quite a lot of people took photographs of us at that point, too.

I don't have any photographs of the ceremony itself yet, because we asked our guests not to take them. The professionals took both video and still photographs, however, so we should get some in a couple of weeks or so. I'll explain the ceremony in more detail then, because there are quite a few bits that will be much easier to follow with photographs. For now, I'll just say that it went very well, and felt extremely dignified. Apart from the fact that I got a central part of it wrong. (No, not the wedding vows. I only stumbled a bit on pronunciation there.)

The second part of the day was the reception, at Happoen. Happoen specialises in weddings, although they also do other kinds of meetings and banquets, mainly on days that are not popular for weddings. As we had booked over a year in advance, we had a good time slot in a nice room; there were, I think, 25 other weddings in there on the 1st. Despite that, there were only two bits that felt a bit like a production line. The first was the group photograph, of the whole wedding party. They only have one studio for that, and there was a definite sense that they wanted to get a good picture as quickly as possible. (If it isn't raining, they do that in the garden. Unfortunately, it was raining. The garden still looks lovely in the rain, but a group photo is not really practical.) The other was outside the bride and groom changing rooms, in the waiting area. There were usually at least a couple of brides and two or three other grooms there, which made for a slightly surreal environment.

I got to see a fair bit of the waiting area, because we had a couple of costume changes. For the first one, I didn't have to change, but Yuriko changed into a gorgeous embroidered over-kimono called an irouchikake. When family asked me in advance what Yuriko was wearing, I didn't go into details, but I was able to assure the women that there was basically no chance of them out-shining the bride.

Me and Yuriko, opening a barrel of sake The Kagami Biraki, with Yuriko in the irouchikake.

We had decided to split the reception into two parts, the first Japanese-style, and the second English-style. Before we entered the room, a video introduction, built up from pictures of the two of us was shown. I was quite pleased with the fact that the the photograph that went with the text introducing me as from England was actually taken in Japan, while the photograph with the text saying that Yuriko was from Japan was actually taken in England, but no-one seems to have noticed. Oh well.

After we entered the room the MC introduced us both. We had booked a bilingual MC, and she did a very good job throughout the reception. There was only one slip, which I'll mention later. This was followed by speeches from our bosses. This is absolutely standard at a Japanese wedding reception, and the nearest I have to a boss, John Nephew of Atlas Games, had come over from the US to be at the wedding and give us a speech, in which he wished us a future free of giant fire-breathing lizards.

This was followed by the Kagami Biraki, or "mirror opening". This replaced the wedding cake; we didn't have a cake at all. Kagami Biraki involves breaking open the wooden lid of a barrel of sake with a wooden mallet. It's called "opening" rather than "breaking" because words like "break" and "split" are bad luck at weddings in Japan. The lid proved to be a bit tougher than anticipated. It did not break on the first blow, so we had to hit it a few more times to get at the booze.

The toast was then proposed by Yuriko's boss, Fukusaburo Maeda, the president of Art Fair Tokyo. He mentioned that, when Yuriko went to England, they were worried that she might be corrupted by some strange Englishman. Oddly, he didn't seem to think that that was exactly what had happened. Around this point, he and his wife told Yuriko to take the 2nd off work, so she did.

Around this point, the first food appeared, and we had to leave to get changed. I am told that all the food was absolutely delicious, and the few bits I was able to eat certainly bore that out. At least I managed a bit more than Yuriko, who was a bit too nervous and happy to eat much. We changed into western-style clothes to suit the second half, and so Yuriko got to wear a wedding dress as well as the kimono.

Most of the background music for the second half, including our grand entrance, was specially written for us by Silver. This was where the MC made her only slip. She explained this to everyone in Japanese first, and, of course, Silver didn't know what she was saying, at least until she realised that everyone was looking at her... In retrospect, it would have been better for the MC to mention it in English first, so that Silver had some warning. The music, incidentally, is fantastic. Much better than the pieces that Happoen had on offer, in my opinion.

The bride and groom Western style.

Our first "event" in the second half was the First Dance, music again by Silver. First, Yuriko and I danced together in the middle of the room, and then we brought our parents in to join us. Yuriko's parents had been quite nervous about the prospect, but in the end it worked out really well, at least as far as I could tell from the middle of everything. Quite a few people did comment on it afterwards, so I think it had an impact. The photograph sets I've already seen include quite a few photos of that bit.

Then we had a pause, and chance for everyone, including us, to eat. This, naturally, turned into a photo opportunity. Everyone wanted to take lots of photos of us and with us, which was fine, but I quickly decided that they would have to cope with me eating while they set the photos up. One of Yuriko's friends is a professional photographer, and brought her camera even though she was off duty. She put some of the photographs up on her blog, and even if you don't speak Japanese you can look at the pretty pictures. She's promised to send us the rest of what she took, so we're looking forward to that.

After that, we had Afternoon Tea. Happoen had managed to find tiered plates (they borrowed them from the florist), and the chef made scones, small cakes, and, wonder of wonders, cucumber sandwiches. With proper English tea, which was very nice indeed. I only got a chance to eat a bit of a cake, but that was good. While this was served, we went round all the tables to say hello to everyone, and have our photographs taken with all the guests.

With that done, it was time for speeches. First, we had a video letter from Keiko Yamada. Keiko is a mutual friend from Cambridge, the mutual friend who first introduced us to each other. She's now living and working in Shanghai, so she couldn't actually be at the wedding, but it was good to have the video letter. In the letter, she said that she said to Yuriko early on that she thought I was interested in Yuriko, but that Yuriko was sure she was wrong.

Keiko was right.

An aside about the video letter. It arrived while Yuriko was on the phone to Happoen the previous day to say that it hadn't arrived. We needed a video camera to play it from, and in the end we borrowed one from one of the staff at Happoen. Our wedding co-ordinator, Ms Kihara, put quite a lot of effort into finding one in time, and I'm glad they managed.

That was followed by the speech from the father of the bride. That is not a Japanese custom. In fact, in Japan, the family normally sit right at the back of the reception, as far away from the bride and groom as possible. We had them up on the front tables, western style. After the bride's father, we had a speech from the groom's mother. I know that isn't traditional, but I liked the sense of balance. And if Mum hadn't announced that it wasn't traditional, none of the Japanese people would have known. Oh well. Those speeches were nice, but far too embarrassingly nice to report in detail.

The next bit, almost the end, was Japanese style. Yuriko read a letter of thanks to her parents, and then gave them the physical letter. This is traditionally the most moving bit of the reception, and quite a lot of the people who understood Japanese were, I think, crying.

Finally, in a common custom, I gave a speech thanking everybody. Yuriko and I then stood outside, lined up with our parents, and said farewell to all the guests, handing out little packets of sweets. All the Japanese people knew that they should wait for Yuriko to give them to them, but the western guests showed a strong tendency to try to take packets out of the basket I was holding. I don't know, these foreign barbarians...

That was about it. There was still some final settling of accounts to do, but that was the broad outline of the day. I'm planning to come back and address some parts of what happened, particularly but not exclusively the ceremony, later. At this point, I'd just like to say that I was very pleased with Happoen. They weren't cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, but we really did get what we paid for. The environment was good, the service was excellent, and we got as near to the reception we imagined as was humanly possible. Apparently, they have a reputation for doing very conservative (and expensive) weddings, but our experience proves that they will do very non-standard weddings if that's what you want. Ms Kihara was very helpful throughout, even when our planning meeting went on until nearly 11pm, and I think we'll both miss the planning meetings a bit. We did manage to get back to Happoen on the second, to say thank you to Ms Kihara and take a small gift. I'm glad we did, because they put a lot into our wedding. Yes, we were paying them, but they really felt enthusiastic.

Well, when I started this diary I never dreamed that, three years later, I'd be writing an entry like this. If I had dreamed it, I would probably have tried to suppress it, in order to be more realistic; our wedding day really was everything the fairy tales say a wedding day should be.