Lights! Camera! Wedding!
The fairy tale chapel in this subway ad has nothing to do with religion – it’s actually a new wedding hall outside of Yokohama! Traditionally, Japanese couples got married in a shrine with only immediate family in attendance, then threw a reception party afterwards at a restaurant or nice hotel. But recently, wedding halls and hotels have been catering to couples who want the full bridal extravaganza, from the “wedding ceremony” in a stained glass-lined “chapel” (performed by an actor dressed as a priest) to a lavish ballroom banquet with more mysterious silverware on the table than at the court of Queen Victoria.
The actual legal part of getting married happens when the personal seals of the bride and groom are stamped on marriage registry papers at the local ward office – something they can actually delegate to anyone they trust with their hankos. They’re front and center at the extravaganza, though, often making several changes of clothing during the festivities. The bride usually starts out in a white wedding dress for the “ceremony” then changes into a Cinderella-esque gown halfway through the reception, while the groom exchanges his morning coat for a tuxedo. Everything is rented, including the wedding dress.
During the feast, elaborate slide shows and/or videos chronicling the bride and groom’s lives are played, speeches are given by selected guests and friends perform various entertainments. Then the couple “cuts” the fake cake (a number of styles are available to choose from) and some other dessert is served. Finally, the bride must read aloud a letter to her parents (Official Moment Of Tear-Jerking) and present their mothers with armfuls of flowers. On the way out, guests are handed gifts by the bride and groom.
And who pays for all this? Actually, with careful planning, the guests. Accepting an invitation to a Japanese wedding means forking over ¥30,000 (about $325) if you’re a friend, and ¥50,000 (about $550) if you’re a relative, wrapped in a traditional envelope and handed to the elegantly clad friend manning the gift table as you enter.
Jonelle Patrick is the author of the Only In Tokyo mystery series, published by Penguin/Intermix.