Poor white dress shirt planning. That’s what it came down to. The occasion called for a black suit, white dress shirt, and white(ish) tie and I was ready. I traveled with not one but TWO white dress shirts (I’m not an idiot after all). Of course, it didn’t dawn on me until this morning that I happened to wear my back-up dress shirt on the flight over (Scratch that previous comment), so I had only the one. The one that fit comfortably enough until you fastened the top button. As a result, I wasn’t so much wearing a tie as I was sporting a tourniquet, intermittently loosening my collar throughout the day to relieve the pressure and restore blood flow to my brain. But far be it for me to complain. This was going to be my first Japanese wedding and I wasn’t about to make it about me. Until, of course, the reception.
For her part, Akemi picked up a smashing outfit for her sister’s wedding. Unfortunately, she learned too late that tradition forbade her from exposing her shoulders so she got to wear the new dress for all of the twenty minutes it took us to go from our hotel to the Hotel New Otani -where she changed into a much more modest kimono.
At the New Otani, I killed about an hour – and a chocolate parfait – cooling my heels while Akemi got her hair done and got packed into her kimono which is, apparently, a to-do.
By the time she was done, Akemi could barely breathe. And using the bathroom would be out of the question for the next seven hours so drinking was a no-no. But she did look great!
We met up and were shuttled into a room where “some” of the photographs were being taken. In fact, this room turned out to be the first of many, many photography rooms.
We were ushered out of the room and into the hallway to meet a dignitary and the wedding guest of honor: Genshitsu (Soshitsu XV), Grand Master XV, President of the Urasenke Tankokai Federation, President of the Junior College of the Urasenke Way of Tea at the Tianjin University of Commerce, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and President of the United Nations Association of Japan. At 90! Other attendees gathered giddily around him as if he was a rock star. When we were introduced, I felt like I was meeting the Stan Lee of Chado, the Way of Tea. Like Stan the Man who I met way back at the upfronts in Pasadena when SG-1 was celebrating its 200th episode, the Grand Master exuded warmth and charisma, giving me a surprisingly firm handshake and happily congratulating me – in Stan’s case, for the show’s 200th anniversary; in this case, for presumably dating the bride-to-be’s sister.
We were ushered back into our room and, following a short wait, a woman entered and delivered detailed instructions on the upcoming ceremony – which, according to Akemi, broke down as follows: “Bow twice, poom poom (clap) twice, bow again.”
“When?”I asked her. “Where? Who?”
She offered a shrug by way of response and then motioned me toward the other family members heading out the door single file. I joined the procession, following them down the hall to an antechamber where water was poured over our hands after which we were offered a paper towel with which to dry them. Then, it was into the adjoining room.
The bride and groom’s closest family members (and yours truly) were seated on opposite sides of a stage. Musicians played a flute and another instrument that wasn’t. The Shinto equivalent of the minister/priest/justice of the peace presided. He intoned. The music played. The bride and groom stepped up and bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed once again. We all did the same although I was, admittedly, taken off guard and missed the first bow. I hope no one noticed. I sat with my hands in my lap until Akemi motioned to everyone else seated with their hands on their knees, so I did the same – except not exactly, as Akemi was forced to demonstrate the proper technique. I followed suit, forming my hands into fists and laying them palm down on my knees. But that wasn’t right either. Again, Akemi had to show me and, finally, I got it, tucking my thumbs under my closed fingers. It took me so long to get this part down that I kept my thumbs tucked securely in my fists resting palm down on my knees long after everyone else on stage had relaxed.
The ceremony ended. The bride and groom left. And then everyone introduced themselves. One by one, they went through the groom’s family, every family member rising to let the room know a little about themselves and their relation to Hiroshi-san. My mind scrambled to come up with something I could say by way of an introduction. In Japanese. I was thinking something along the lines of: “Konnichi wa. Joe desu. Canada kara kimashita. Anime dai suki!” = “Hello. I’m Joe. I came from Canada. I love anime!”. In the end, Akemi’s father wound up making the introductions for the bride’s side of the family and all that was required of me was a stand and bow that I accomplished without incident – but, on the other hand, without demonstrating any real aptitude either.
From there, it was off the banquet hall where we handed over our gift envelope and signed our names. In hiragana. With a calligraphy pen. I’d practiced last night. But, evidently, not enough…
Then, it was into the banquet hall for the reception.
But first, some speeches. By a famed news anchor. By a business partner. By the Grand Master who extolled the virtues of green tea. And there was even a speech by the chef! An hour later, it was time to eat.
And, I have to admit, it was the best wedding food I’ve ever had. A couple of the highlights:
Throughout the reception, the bride underwent a series of transformations, changing outfits every half hour or so, going from the traditional Japanese wedding dress to a kimono to a contemporary wedding dress to a colorful wedding dress to, of course, mecha-robo, and finally to a wild ensemble that could have come from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set dec sale.
Unlike every other wedding I’ve been to, there was no dance music – much less any dancing. Instead, the tunes, a variety ranging from classical to J-Pop, accompanied the meal and various entrances. At one point, believe or not, they actually played the theme to Stargate SG-1. I like to think it was for my benefit – although I seemed to be the only one to recognize it.
Meanwhile, Akemi and I worked the room, meeting friends and relatives, all of whom were exceedingly kind and very interested in taking our picture. Whenever we approached a table, everyone would stand and bow. I would bow in response. They would introduce themselves and say “Dozo yoroshiku” which roughly translates to “Pleased to meet you.” And I would introduce myself (“Joe desu”) and say “Dozo yoroshiku” – at which point everyone would chuckle goodheartedly. “Why is everyone laughing at my dozo yoroshiku?”I asked Akemi who could barely contain herself. “Because,”she said. “You’re so cute.” I sincerely doubt that was the reason.
The festivities wrapped up a little before 8:00 p.m. (tomorrow’s a work day after all!) although, by the time the last guest made their way through the “what’s the opposite of a receiving line?”, it was closer to 9:15.
From there, we scurried back upstairs so Akemi could change and we could finally make our way back to our hotel.
I must admit, it was quite a wedding. Not sure how you top that!