A week after Tomo and John’s wedding in Sydney I was on a plane making my way up to the Northern Hemisphere. I was excited about returning to Japan but my thoughts were also with another couple who were getting married on Saturday. I always feel honored to be asked to share a couple’s special day and I truly wished I could attend both weddings. But making the decision to continue my travels in Asia meant I would miss Yamil and Judy’s wedding in Chicago. This post (a rather long one) is about Tomo and John’s wedding but first, I send Judy and Yamil my heartfelt congratulations and wish them all the best. Lots of love to you both!
As for my friends in Tokyo, they’d chosen Togo Shrine (東郷神社 Tōgō-jinja) in Harajuku as the venue for the second wedding. Even though I’d been to Harajuku and Omotesando many times before I never knew this shrine existed. It’s less than 5 minutes away from the Harajuku station and the shortcut to the shrine is through the famous Takeshita Street (where Harajuku girls shop and hang out). The quiet and tranquil grounds of the shrine feels a million miles away from the crazy and hectic neighborhood of Harajuku, but I love that about Tokyo.
The weather forecast wasn’t very good for Saturday so we all hoped and prayed that the rain would hold off until after the wedding. I arrived at the shrine on time but fumbled a bit looking for the attached wedding reception venue where the guests were to check-in and sign the register before the ceremony. I was also a bit worried about having prepared the wedding envelop correctly since it was my first Japanese wedding. I did some research, took advice from my friends (and bridesmaids Kayo, Miki, and Yuka), and in the end Miki helped me with getting everything done- writing my name in the right place, which envelop goes where, which side faces up or down, lining up and affixing the tags, etc. Kayo told me I could find these wedding envelops at any convenient store (and I did) but I wish I had gone to Tokyu Hands or some fancier stationary store to get a really nice one…
What I learned from friends and internet research is that 1) the money goes to the bride’s parents to offset the cost of the wedding, 2) the amount depends on your relationship with the couple- on average: work colleagues and friends give ~¥20,000/$200, close friends give ~¥30,000/$300, family give ~¥50,000/$500, 3) the physical banknotes should not be in a number that’s easily divisible (i.e. you should have three banknotes instead of two so you’d put in three ¥10,000 notes or you want one ¥10,000 note and two ¥5,000 notes, etc), 4) the banknotes should be new, without any creases or folds to signify new beginnings, 5) the envelop is collected by the attendants at the wedding before the ceremony or before the reception as you sign the register (the couple or the parents don’t touch or see them). Whew! It was definitely a lot more involved than Bryant and Elaine’s Chinese wedding…
When I arrived, John and Tomo’s family and friends were all gathered in a room on the second floor. We mingled and took photos (could even have a drink if we chose to) before we were ushered outside. The wedding started at exactly 11:40AM.
Once outside, we were asked to separate (groom’s family and friends vs. bride’s) and line up along the path. We did as we were told and all of us gaijins (foreigners) prepared to take lots of photos… this is when I noticed all of my Japanese friends fidgeting with their cameras and smartphones just like us. Every single one of them told me this was their first Japanese/Shinto wedding as well! It’s no longer common for the Japanese have traditional wedding ceremonies because the bride wants to wear a western style white wedding dress. And in most cases, western weddings are more affordable so even if the family isn’t Christian, they’d get married in a chapel or they’ll book a wedding hall… So it wasn’t just us foreigners who were careening our necks and tiptoeing to see what was happening. The locals were also getting ready to snap, snap away.
It happened all very quickly but this is what I saw… First the head Shinto priest in white walked out, followed by men playing wooden flutes, then two miko (female assistants to the priest) dressed in beautiful kimono and head pieces. I could see John and Tomo in their wedding kimonos next. They were flanked by a guy in dark green who held a large red umbrella over the couple and an older lady who helped Tomo along. Behind them were Tomo and John’s proud parents.
Here they come!
Starting from the back of the line, one by one we followed the wedding procession towards the shrine.
We were asked not to take any photos inside the shrine so I have none to post. But the ceremony itself didn’t last very long (maybe 20 minutes?) and we sat in two groups- bride’s friends and family on the left, and the groom’s on the right. I think normally a Shinto wedding is a very small-scale affair with just the immediate family and the couple’s closest friends, but we had a rather large group.
The ceremony began with the priest conducting a ritual purification and giving a short speech (I couldn’t see very well but I think there was a tree branch??) I didn’t understand at all what the priest said except for the commands for us to sit or stand (which we did a couple of times). My quick search about Shinto weddings said that some prayers are offered by the priest for the couple to have happiness and for kami-sama (nature spirits/god)’s protection. Then the two miko came up to the couple and did an elaborate pouring and presentation of sake – I think they are supposed to each take three sips and I’m sure they did. And finally John read the words of commitment. I know that he was nervous about saying it correctly in Japanese but he really did a good job (Tomo later whispered to me with a smile that he only made one mistake). One thing I did notice was that the bride kept quiet during the ceremony- I accepted that as being part of Japanese tradition… When everything was finished we shouted “omedetou gozaimas,” vowed twice, and clapped twice in unison.
We then hurried outside for the official wedding photos. It was quite a process and a spectacle, in a manner that was so very Japanese. With the bride and groom front and center, we all gathered around as normal. But then under the direction of the photographer, several assistants ran around the group sorting out individuals based on height and whether he/she could be seen without any obstructions. This went on for at least 5-10 minutes before a single photo was taken. No one physically touched or moved us, simply with a lot of smiles and polite words we were asked to move a step up or a step down, move 5 cm to the left or right, people were switched from this side to the other, etc. It was amazingly Japanese. When we were all sorted out, dozens and dozens of shots were taken in a span of about 30 seconds by multiple photographers and with different cameras. THEN, in a move that could only be Japanese– one of the assistants whipped out a large yellow hand puppet, stood next to the photographer, and yelled over to us to smile. The entire wedding party burst out laughing! Of course more photos were taken then. Only in Japan!
Non-family guests were led away from the shrine and back into the reception hall to have cocktails while the family remained for extra photos. Inside, I opened the beautiful Japanese paper envelop I was given earlier to see the names of all the guests and their seating arrangements for the reception, as well as the description of the nine-course menu we were going to be served. We were in for a treat!
I was seated at a table with some of Tomo’s university friends including Miki, so I felt very much at ease and had a great time. I knew that Tomo was going to make several costume changes during the day but I didn’t know the first one would come so quickly. When she and John made their entrance, we all ooooh’d and ahhhhh’d.
There was an MC who made introductions and announced guests who made speeches during the course of the afternoon. We were periodically asked to pose for photos and took turns going up to the couple to congratulate them (and pose for more photos). There were all kinds of yummy things to eat and drink, and our table decided to try them all.
We started with beer and shochu, but when we saw that others had champagne and wine, we asked for those too. We toasted to the couple with sake in beautiful lacquered containers.
The food! It was just too pretty to eat… This two tiered box was waiting for us at the table when we sat down.
To start, we had the small green square in the black ceramic bowl (steamed sea urchin, tofu, shiso, wasabi, and soy). In the boxes we found- sea bream sushi with pink ginger; five colored pickle, sole, salmon roe, seaweed, cucumber, and capsicum; boiled arrowhead, cucumber stuffed with cream cheese, plum flower shaped quail egg, wheat gluten ball, cheese omelet, fish cake and seaweed, stewed black beans.
Next came, in my opinion, the most beautiful dish of the day- savory custard, rope shaped radish and carrot, mushroom, green vegetable, sillaginoid fish (Japanese whiting), and gold leaf. Somehow they intertwined slender tubes of carrot and daikon radish to make them into a rope shape, and the fish was also tied into a knot. All I know is that it was gorgeous to look at, and was equally delicate and tasty.
Sashimi course- tuna, prawn, sea bream, radish, carrot, Japanese pepper, wasabi, soy. Loved the vessel it came in and how beautifully it was presented.
Besides the food, we had a lot to keep us occupied during the reception. When our table went up to the couple to congratulate them I had a closer look at Tomo’s beautiful kimono and her hair (she was wearing a wig). She said it was quite heavy!
Our gorgeous Japanese meal continued with this grilled fish dish, which again brought out everyone’s cameras. Grilled fish with yoke, crab roll with radish, pink ginger, basket shaped dried seaweed, deep fried scallop.
Fillet steak, eggplant, leeks, lemon stewed sweet potato, wasabi yogurt sauce. And more drinks.
Here is Tomo with her third outfit of the day. This kimono was from her family (her Grandmother’s) as opposed to the earlier ones, which I believe, were rented.
The bride and groom together.
This was the moment Miki was preparing for and was nervous about all day… her speech was full of love and some happy tears.
More Japanese gorgeousness… Tomo’s sister Junko handmade these pillows/holders for the couple’s wedding rings.
We’re now almost at the end of the reception and our meal… Porridge with bonito stock, sour plum, and yuzu.
It had begun to rain and we thought that was the reason why the staff came around and pulled the curtains over. But it was for a big unveiling of….. the dessert course! The balcony was transformed into a huge buffet of mini cakes, tarts, pies, puddings, custards, and fruits.
After 4+ hours of fun and a ton of food, John and Tomo made their final speeches by thanking their parents and presenting them with beautiful bouquets of flowers. When the MC announced the end of the reception, John, Tomo, and their parents lined up outside in the hall to greet everyone as we left. Each guest was presented with a gift bag and a flower bouquet to take home. I just realized yesterday that the bouquets were made from the center pieces at the reception; towards the end of the reception I noticed the center pieces being taken away and at the time I didn’t think much of it. But looking at the photos again I now know that the center pieces were taken apart to make individual bouquets. Wow. I was really curious about what our gift bags contained but I saved that mystery for the next day. So I’ll do the same here and post that separately.
It’s hard to believe but this wasn’t the end of the wedding festivities. Later in the evening we went to an “after party” where Tomo put on her western wedding gown and for the “after-after party” she changed into her last outfit of the day, a flowing white dress that finally allowed her to move about freely. I should also mention that her hairstyle changed with her wardrobe changes as well. It was an amazing day for us but what a long day for the bride and groom! All I can say is ありがとう for letting me part of your special day.
Tomo and John, おめでとうございます!
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Togo Shrine (東郷神社): 1-5-3 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan