Planning a wedding in Japan

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But I didn’t actually have time to drink it…

This post has been 5 years in the making. My hubs and I threw our wedding in October of 2012. But, it was an experience that will remain etched in my mind forever.

It became very, very clear to me from the moment we announced our engagement that our wedding was not for us–it was for our family, our bosses, our friends–all the people who helped get us to where we were at that moment. I’m no Monica. I never really thought about my dream wedding, but as I grew older I began to imagine something small, maybe in a favorite restaurant surrounded by a few close friends and family. Nope, nope, nope. In the car on the way home from my surprise engagement ceremony (surprise for everyone, including my MIL who put the whole thing together in one day, a story for another time…), my extremely giving MIL begin listing who we’d invite and what I’d wear, and the kimono I’d been wrapped into that morning felt a little tighter with my labored breathing.

We were engaged in December, paper married in January, and immediately began planning the ceremony. First stop was the local bookstore for the dictionary thick Zexy magazine. This was before I could properly read Kanji, so I mostly thumbed through looking at the advertisements for wedding venues in Tokyo. We made an appointment at the Recruit offices, the producers of Zexy. They have wedding advisers that introduce places that fit your profile and price range. They even make all the phone calls and visiting arrangements for you for free. Scorrrrre.

We visited 4-5 places, but only one really appealed to us–so we made a contract, chose a day, and began planning. Sidenote–did you know there are traditionally lucky and unlucky days in the Japanese calendar? Taian are the lucky days, and that is the day everyone wants to get married so they are wayyyy in demand. Butsumetsu are bad luck days. No one wants them, so you can get pretty good deals. My hubs’ family is mediocre conservative though, so we had to go Taian.
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We decided on the Riviera in Ikebukuro, not prime wedding territory, but we got to add lots of little surprises for the guests to make up for it. Most venues offer three choices for the ceremony: Shinto, Western with a Foreign “Minister”, and Western without a minister at all. We went for Shinto. I’m pretty sure his family would have been cool with whatever, but I really wanted to wear a white kimono and drink sake. Also, btw, you almost never see weddings where “kiss the bride” is a thing.

The dress(es…)–It is common for women in Japan to make multiple outfit/hair/makeup changes throughout the wedding. Basically, this means I didn’t get to eat any of the expensive food or have more than a sip of the champagne. Typically, they wear a white kimono/white dress for the ceremony, change into a color kimono for the party, change into a white dress (not all the party goers attend the ceremony, so it’s a chance for them to see it), and then change into a colored dress, a la princess prom dress. I opted out of the last because I had my fill of frilly prom dresses. Oh and, my hubs came with me to all my dress fittings. nbd.

The seating arrangement–We spent 2-3 meetings prior to the wedding just going over the seating arrangement. The cute office girl had to be seated next to this certain boss, this table of coworkers needs to be closer to the front because they are higher up than that one, etc. etc. Funnily, family is always placed at the rear.

The presents–As hosts, you are required to prepare a number of presents for your guests to take home. Some higher level guests get more expensive presents. Guests who have traveled far get “kurumadai” literally car money, but more like a travel stipend. The presents include one big present usually around 3000 yen-5000 yen ($30 to $50 US), one smaller present of cake or cookies, and one present you physically hand to each guest as they leave the party. This is a way to say thank you for celebrating with us, but also a return on the $$$ they doled out to be there. You don’t give presents to the newlyweds, instead you give mon-nay, always new bills 30000 yen ($300 US) if you’re single and 50000 yen ($500) if you’ve attended with your family.

My wedding was not at all how I’d imagined it. It was better. Our guests enjoyed it & we still hear friends and family talking fondly about the day. I’d say that’s a pretty successful way to start a marriage…

I know this isn’t everyone’s experience getting married in Japan or elsewhere. They say big spectacle weddings are on the outs. So, I’d love to hear other people’s wedding stories. ❤

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7 thoughts on “Planning a wedding in Japan

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  1. What a great insider post! I give you huge credit for your patience with the seating – I remember the first time I stood with my Japanese relatives for over five minutes in the middle of a fancy restaurant (in America, so eek) while they negotiated who was more honorable than whom. Did you have to publish as booklet for each table? I went to a Japanese cousin’s wedding once where they listed who was at every table, plus their relationship to either the bride or groom. I realized I’d better not make any horrible faux pas, because even in a casual scan of the room, it would be pretty easy to pick me out as the only female guest whose name appeared in romaji lol

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    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, we had to provide seating maps, maybe so people can assist drunk patrons back to their seats? I kid, I kid. I was most nervous about getting the kanji correct for each name, because imagine the insult if it had been wrong!!

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  2. What an interesting read. I’ve seen lots of traditional weddings here in Tokyo, and could only imagine the meticulous planning that went into it all. Amazing. Great that you still enjoyed it yourself, even with all the rules you had to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Once I relinquished the fact that my wedding wasn’t about me it was much easier to go along with the rules. Tbh, I really didn’t want to listen to 5 speeches and have a teary eyed, touching moment with our parents for all to see, but it happened & was only a small part of the whole experience.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! I assume then you had a wedding in your home country? How was that? I’m grateful I had a wedding here because the idea of picking bridesmaids makes me sooooo anxious. Japan, no bridesmaids, no problem. 🙂

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