So when I first came to Japan, I was a high school student and I found a summer language program with AFS Intercultural Programs that allowed me to stay with a host family. I was placed in a city in Fukuoka Prefecture called Kurume and loved every minute of it. As an only child, it was really nice for me to learn what goes on in a household with siblings. I lived with a host mom, dad, and two younger sisters. Occasionally, my host brother visited but he lived away from home near his university.
This past weekend, I got to attend his wedding! I was really lucky to have been placed in Fukuoka Prefecture on JET as well, so I don’t live too far from them. I met up with my host brother and his now wife a few months after settling into my apartment, and the three of us went to dinner and karaoke. A few months back, I got an invitation to his wedding and was so excited to experience a wedding in Japan for the first time.
Japanese weddings are usually small-ish affairs and guests mainly include family, good friends, and co-workers. After an ordeal (barely but successfully transferring trains twice and finding the free taxi to the venue) I entered the wedding hall to see my host mom in a black kimono. We went inside and took pictures with my host sisters and host dad, and some of the family members I met on my time as a homestay student remembered me and I felt really included.
When it was time to go inside the “chapel” (the venue was built as a wedding venue so it’s not a real church) my host dad insisted that I sit in the front pew with him and my host mom and host sister. The chapel was small and intimate and there was an organ player, two singers, and a “priest” (again, just a white guy they pay to read the vows, usually not a real minister – you can read more on the subject at Tofugu) and they really emphasized that it was a “Christian wedding”. The priest guy spoke in English and had translations written down for him in Japanese. We even sang two hymns, one in Japanese and the other in English, which I appreciated even though I would bet money that no one else in the audience was actually Christian.
I felt like a lot of the ceremony was just for show and not as genuine as other American weddings I’ve attended. They held their kiss for pictures, and the staff were always going around the bride fixing her dress to make it look nice. I’m sure they wanted to make the most of the photo opportunities, as does any couple, but it felt overly rehearsed. The ceremony was really cute, though, and my host sisters and the mothers cried. There was also a cute moment when she couldn’t get the ring on his finger, which lightened the mood.
After the couple left the chapel, we were given rose petals to throw as they walked down the courtyard. Before we could do so, however, they made me and a few of the other young women stand in front of the chapel to catch the bouquet. It went right over the head of the girl standing next to me and plopped on the ground. Everyone had a good laugh and the girl beside me picked it up, excited she “caught” it. We went inside and gave the staff our money envelopes, which I had a really hard time figuring out how to do on my own, but thankfully lots of people on the internet explain it with pictures. Then we had to wait until the reception hall was ready before we could file in.
I was seated at the family table with my host parents and sisters and my host sister’s fiancé. I felt really cool sitting with them and it was nice being treated like another family member rather than just a normal guest or co-worker. In the seating chart, my name was written wrong (it always is – even in my own country) but I was listed as the “groom’s best friend” which made me smile. My job makes me travel around several schools and a board of education, so I’ve never really felt like I “belong” anywhere and I am usually treated like a guest. It’s actually discouraging but going to the wedding really lifted my spirits.
The reception was in a big beautiful dining room that looked out onto the courtyard, which was filled with palm trees. there was even a tiny staircase that the couple used to make one of their three or four grand entrances. Yes, they sat down for the speeches, but were usually on their feet greeting people or changing. The first speeches were given by each of their bosses, which I think is really Japanese. In America, I don’t think most people would ever invite their bosses, but I think most of the coworkers were even invited. Then, there were speeches by the best friends and we got to eat. The wait staff were extra kind and did a great job getting out of the way of pictures and video cameras while making sure everyone had enough to drink and eat.
At one point, we were all given a non-alcoholic cocktail coordinating with our birthstones. I think that was a really nice touch because everyone got to feel special. I got a diamond since my birthday is in April, so I got a clear drink (that was still really tasty), but some of the more colorful cocktails looked really vibrant and pretty. The bride and groom changed into traditional Japanese wedding attire for a portion of the reception, but eventually my host brother came back out in his original white suit and the bride had on a blue dress that was almost bigger than the first one. There were really cute events for the two of them, like when they poured a liquid into a glass heart sculpture and it turned pink, or when they showed videos of the two of them singing Disney songs.
They did sentimental things as well after the funny quiz and hilarious dance (performed by the groom’s friends) such as making speeches to their parents and the parents’ making speeches to the rest of us. My host brother even vowed to quit smoking, which is really common among Japanese men and even some women. We got to eat delicious food and of course fluffy wedding cake, and a lot of the music was Disney, so I had fun humming along. We were also given wedding gifts, which is the custom because guests pay a ton of money to attend, and we received beautiful Mickey and Minnie plates! I also took a Polaroid with my host family and got to keep it, and we took one for the guest board as well.
Overall, the wedding was a really special memory for me, and I was so happy I could share the experience with my former host family. Though I live on my own now, they continue to check in with me and treat me like no time has passed since I left their house many years ago. I think their wedding suited both of their tastes and blended the dream of a Western wedding most Japanese women have nowadays with splashes of tradition and formality for which Japanese culture is known.