Her wedding took place at the Atsuta shrine in Nagoya on May 27th,2006, a traditionally good day to get married. And we saw many other wedding groups pass by throughout the day. Japanese-style weddings always happen in Shinto shrines because Buddhist temples are reserved for death, and they’d rather not combine death and marriage.
We started out by walking in a procession that was supposed to be arranged according to people’s relation to the couple, but ended up a confused blob with people sticking with those they could comfortably chat with along the way. At the head of the confusion was my best friend, being helped by an attendant as she walked over the gravel in her traditional white kimono and headdress.
The Shinto Priest led us in prayers for the couple, at least that’s what I assume he was doing since my Japanese isn’t that good. The bride and groom meanwhile were directed to hold a pair of branches in various different ways until the Priest was satisfied.
The next part of the wedding was sitting in a room and sipping tea as we waited for our turn in the shrine for the main ceremony. At this point we noticed a general assumption by the staff of the shrine that as Caucasians my crew belonged with the groom’s party. I admit to some resentment. But as he only had 3 members of his family there and the bride had at least 10, it did even the sides out a bit.
The actual wedding ceremony involves spending a great amount of time watching the bride and groom drink very small sips of sake. The most interesting part was when some men played very loud, sharp sounding instruments while two women in red and white Shinto dress did an elaborate little dance with the ever-present tree branches.
The poor groom, who does not know Japanese, did a fair job of plowing through a speech in that language about marriage and the home, at which point the bride gets off easy and only has to say something like “I am wife,” and the rest of the party finally gets to drink their own little saucers of sake. Up until that point I had thought the clear liquid they were pouring was water so I was a bit surprised.
The reception is not so different from a western wedding, complete with embarrassing dart games. Except if it had been an American reception, I might have missed out on my boyfriend using the karaoke machine to sing an interesting rendition of “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You.”
But it was at the reception that all the cultural differences finally fell away. The groom’s parents (who were from Michigan and as different from my family and the Japanese) followed up their first ever karaoke song with their first ever taste of raw fish. The groom’s brother connected with the bride’s uncles over copious amounts of whiskey. And I found my mother crying with the bride’s aunt and a friend of the family over the fact that the bride’s mother had passed away a few years ago and could not be here to cry herself.
At the end of it all there too was the part of the wedding where the guests get to fumble awkwardly on the microphone and wish the smirking bride and her polite groom a healthy life together. This wedding benefited from the bride’s very drunk uncle’s (later nicknamed the “drunkles”) monologues that made no sense even for those who understood the language. My very brief “Omedetou Gozaimasu” (“congratulations”) was tame by comparison.
Of course we eventually had to leave the room to allow the next wedding party to use it, and we gathered in the lobby to say our last goodbyes and slowly make our exits. We were all still enjoying talking together so this took some time.
Though the ceremony was beautiful and I enjoyed seeing my best friend wed, I think I still sided with her in the end. Should I ever get married, I’d opt to run off to Vegas.