Posted on 2006/12/11 14:43:43 (December 2006).
[Friday 8th December]
So today was the big day.
Even though the ceremony was not until 2PM, we had a fairly early start as it would apparently take a good while to sort out our costumes. So after a decent Japanese breakfast, we set out around 9:30 and were on the island by 10:30.
The shrine has a little out building which we had use of to change for the wedding, and upon arrival the various costume people and assorted assistants started busily sorting out Chie's costume, make-up and hair. I was told I wouldn't be needed until midday, so went for a bit of a wander to pass the time. I waited at the ferry port on Miyajima, and whilst there met a few early arriving guests. Everyone seemed to be a little surprised at how I was just casually sitting around watching the world go by - I'm not a fan of running around and panicking just for the sake of it.
I was back at the changing place promptly at midday, and was dressed in my hakama - the traditional costume worn by the groom at weddings in Japan. I have to admit I rather liked it, although the shoes were bloody uncomfortable.
By about 1 we were both ready, and headed out to the shrine. It turned out later there was a sort of shortcut from the changing room to the main shrine complex, but we deliberately were taken the long way round. It was really great how complete strangers reacted upon seeing us - all the Japanese people we passed said "omedetou gozaimasu" (congratulations), and the foreign tourists there all enthusiastically snapped away with their cameras. I felt a bit like we were celebrities or something.
Upon arrival in the main shrine complex there were of course a round of photographs. I had imagined beforehand I might find all the photos a bit instrusive - but our photographer (Nagaokun) was a really nice guy and it all seemed very natural somehow.
Half an hour before the ceremony started we were ushered into a sort of waiting room. Here we kind of held court for a while, sitting at one end of a room with Chie's family sitting in two lines in front of us. The Guji (Shinto priest) came along to explain the various parts of the ceremony to us, which was of course a little difficult as he was speaking in a kind of Japanese that I had no hope of understanding.
At 2 the ceremony began, and we headed out to what I assume to be the main hall of the shrine. Again Chie and I sat at the front of the room, with Chie's family in two lines, and the rest of our guests at the far end. Also at our end of the room were a couple more Guji, busily chanting etc.
A shinto wedding ceremony (or at least the one held at Itsukushima Jinja) seems to include four main components.
First is a sake drinking ritual. They have these flat cups (like saucers really) in various sizes into which sake is poured, which Chie and I then have to drink from.
Next there was a sort of ritual involving a branch from a tree. We are presented with it and have to rotate it round in a particular way before passing it back to the priest.
Next the vows - we had a parchment of Japanese text which we read out together. Luckily Chie had received a copy ahead of time and so we took our own version conveniently written out in phonetics. We did make a small mistake at this point. At the end of reading the vows, I rolled the parchment back up again, and then the priest came over and whispered in my ear "onamae wa?" (what about your names?) - our names were written at the end of the vows and we were supposed to read them out at its conclusion. Other than this minor hiccough though, it all went very smoothly.
The ceremony was concluded with a further sake drinking ritual, this time a bit less complicated but involving the family as well. Again I had to be helped out by the very nice priest here when I only drank half the cup - I heard another whispering in my ear "zembu nonde!" (drink it all!).
After this we emmerged from the ceremony hall to meet our guests, and naturally many photographs then ensued. Then it was time for Chie and I to be whisked off back to the changing room to get changed into our next costumes.
It only took me about 10 minutes to change from my hakama into a more western style wedding suit, and then I headed over to the ferry port. There docked was the good ship "Ginga" (Galaxy), which I have to admit to being rather impressed by the sight of - I allowed myself a small moment of pride as I stepped aboard thinking "this ship is here for our wedding!".
Not long after I arrived all but one of the guests were aboard - my friend Shig from work was nowhere to be seen, and I couldn't get him on his phone. Eventually Chie (finally) finished getting changed, and just before 3 we had to decide to leave him behind. This is the one snag of a reception on a boat - if you don't arrive on time then you can't get on at all... without a helicopter perhaps. Incidentally, Shig did eventually arrive in time to meet us when the boat arrived in Hiroshima.
There was an initial drinks and canapés reception on the ship, and my friend Tanaka-san from the office did an excellent job of entertaining the assembled guests with his wonderful skills on the piano. Once the boat had got under way, and everything was ready we all made our way up onto the top deck. Chie had arranged for all of the guests to release a balloon, to the sound of the ship's horn (me and Chie pulled the cord). It was a brief spectacle, but rather special nonetheless. Fear not those of you who may have environmental concerns over this - the balloons were made out of a kind of paper which dissolves in water and is highly biodegradable.
After the balloon release we headed back inside the ship for the main bit of the reception. After all the guests were seated Chie and I got up and made a bit of a speech, followed by a toast. I'd chosen the champagne myself - I'm rather partial to the old Veuve Cliquot - and this seemed to go down rather well. The master of ceremonies (or whatever you call it, it was in fact a woman) announced that this had been "smuggled on board" or something like that.
Then dinner was served. This time went in something of a blur - we'd decided in order to get round all of our guests that we'd have each course on a different table. This was really nice, but of course meant we were heavily occupied with conversation and somewhat too busy to eat anything! I don't think I ate more than half of any of the courses, and also left half a glass of beer on each table. Still I think we did manage to speak to - albeit briefly - with just about every guest there.
Towards the end of the meal the organiser came over and told me it was time for my song. I'm fully aware of the limitations of my singing ability but had really wanted to do something a bit special for Chie, so had decided, for better or worse, I was going to sing at the wedding. So with the accompaniment of Tanaka-san's ever excellent (although now slightly tipsy) piano playing, I stood up before all of our guests and sung "The Very Thought of You" - it's a song we'd heard sung rather beautifully by Liane Carrol on our first anniversary at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, back in 2001. Again, I know I've got basically no talent in this deparment, but as one of our guests later said "it was from the heart" - which was more or less exactly what I'd hoped for.
A few more speeches and toasts later and the boat was drawing into Hiroshima port, and the reception was at an end. It wasn't all that long - about three hours in total, but I'd enjoyed it immensely.
Still, the wedding was by no means over, as here in Japan there's usually a "nijikai" after the main reception - which is a more low key party that typically is more for friends rather than family. First off though we had yet another change of costume in store, so had to go by way of the costume hire place in the centre of Hiroshima. Again I was changed in next to no time, so headed on to the nijikai ahead of Chie.
The nijikai was held at an Irish Pub in the centre of Hiroshima - yes I know, not a very glamorous location to follow a shinto ceremony at a world heritage site and a reception on a luxury cruise liner... but given that we'd shelled out a fair bit for the first two events we wanted to be fairly modest for the last bit! Besides, it didn't really matter by this point, as long as the drinks were flowing and our friends were there we could have been anywhere really.
People seemed to arrive in waves at the nijikai. I was there just before 7, and at that time there were basically just my friends from work there (and yes, Shig had finally made it!). The girls especially seemed to take a huge amount of time to get there, as apparently a complete change of dress / make-up / hair were all necessary. Finally by about 8:30 though everyone was there.
As I said, a lot more low key than the ceremony and the main reception but very nice nonetheless - this bit wasn't scripted or anything like the early parts were, we just sat, drank, talked and enjoyed the company of our friends.
We were there a fair while in the end, but the party didn't quite rumble on into the wee small hours of the evening - lots of people had travelled a long way to get there in the morning, and so by just before 1AM the general consensus was that it was time to bring the celebrations to an end.
A lot of our guests were staying in the same hotel as us which was nice, so the final duty of the day was to visit people at their rooms just before they went to sleep and hand out wedding presents. In Japan it is common for the couple to give presents to their guests to say thank you for coming, as well as guests to give presents to the couple in the same way we do in the West.
So there you have it then. I was surprised in the end by just how much fun the day was - OK I got a bit nervous about the ceremony as there were Japanese traditions to observe, and of course there was a little apprehension over my song at the reception... but generally speaking I felt relaxed, blissfully happy and just couldn't stop smiling the whole day.
I like the look of Chie's father. Friendly face. He doesn't seem too depressed to marry his daughter to a gaigin (British, what's more). Perhaps he's good at pretending.
Otherwize the bride looks positively radiant. The groom, on the other hand...
Posted by Sheri at 2006/12/11 15:39:34.
Btw, Gaigin or gaijin?
Posted by Sheri at 2006/12/11 15:40:25.
Brilliant pictures!!!!!!!!! And I feel I've got a good grasp of a Japanese wedding!
However, it has to be said that any red-blooded male finds the wedding ceremony itself a very frightening prospect!!! You coped very well!!
By sheer coincedence I found myself converting the VHS video of Joc and my wedding to DVD, over the weekend. You could smell the fear !!!! :)
Anyway CONGRATULATIONS to you both!
Posted by Nigel at 2006/12/11 15:41:04.
Lovely photos John. A small question - the photo that appeared on the Maison shows another completely different outfit for Chie, or is she now wearing a top covering.
Posted by Mad Mumsie at 2006/12/11 15:51:22.
Brilliant photographs John and Chie .... strangely and wonderfully very moving ..... Bless you both....
I am almost in tears here .... I always cry at weddings !
Lots and lots of love
Posted by Dad at 2006/12/11 16:58:23.
Congratulations to you both.. Wonderful Pictures..
Good luck to for your future
Posted by Jerry at 2006/12/11 18:56:41.
Looks like your main contribution to the day was to import a shipload of British weather John.. Fantastically authentic.. Must have cost you..
Posted by Jerry at 2006/12/11 19:00:58.
Smashing photos, John, all the very best to you and Chie for your future life together!!!
Posted by Bryan at 2006/12/11 21:47:43.
What can I say? CONGRATULATIONS, and sorry for not being there again! :P
Posted by Lox at 2006/12/11 23:25:30.
Looking forward to congratulating you both when I see you next. I tried to Google what the Japanese for "Best Wishes For A Long And Happy Life Together" and only came up with:
Konbanwa. Watashe no hiru tokoro aremoska?
(which apprently means "Good evening. Is there room for me in this tub?")
Well... you get the gist... :D
Posted by Gavin at 2006/12/12 01:11:04.
Pictures are great! It must have been fun, although looking at them it seems quite a lot of an effort to get married!! 3 change of clothes, parties, salutations, pictures.... Aside from the second item (parties) it is exactly what I wouldn't want to do!!! :P Has it been particularly demanding on your side?
Posted by Lox at 2006/12/12 05:38:20.
Well, haven't been to your web site for a while and wow!!! Well done and congratulations to you both. Chie looks absolutely stunning - in all three outfits - as do you John. Really, really pleased for you both.
See you next year
Posted by Michelle at 2006/12/13 13:41:39.
Thanks all for your best wishes etc. Not sure if you noticed but I rewrote this entry a few hours ago (it was just a few lines until then) with a complete account of the whole day.
Posted by John at 2006/12/13 13:56:13.
Oh and by the way, we just went out for dinner with Yuka (Chie's sister) and she had some really nice pictures of the day on her camera. I'm hoping we can get a copy of those somehow or other in the near future.
Posted by John at 2006/12/13 13:57:59.
Reading the complete account now is a treat. Splendid stuff! And Veuve Cliquot et? I think you're going to have to ask your friend Tanaka-san to record some of his playing for you! Maybe he could do a CD for the Maison!!?
Posted by Nigel at 2006/12/13 14:44:05.
The full account is much better! I see that you actually enjoyed it! Good man!
Posted by Lox at 2006/12/13 15:01:22.
Just got back to the UK, couldn't look before. All my love to both of you. Chi'e looked breathtaking.
Posted by Mum at 2006/12/13 16:00:59.
You both make very a happy couple! Congratulations to you both!
Posted by dsp at 2006/12/13 16:13:37.
Fabulous full account of the days proceedings... Even though I don't know you chaps personally, I wish I could have been there.. Many many congratulations.. In light of the "Onamae wa" omission, does that mean you are now Mr. and Mrs Nondescript?.. Best wishes
Posted by Jerry at 2006/12/13 16:16:48.
Congrats to you both! Now when are you going to start a family?! LOL I have to throw that in there... since Jamie and I tied the knot in May we get this question ALL the time!!!!!!!! Welcome to married life!
Posted by Malinda at 2006/12/13 21:23:22.
Congratulations to you both. It looks like you had a brilliant day!
Posted by Jimmy at 2006/12/14 11:46:07.
Very many congratulations to you both. The costumes are amazing and you both looked very happy!
Posted by Alex at 2006/12/15 09:58:08.
congratz matey !!
I only found out today
Posted by Raj at 2006/12/19 16:39:55.
Congrats John and Chie, see you in London soon.
Posted by Dwain at 2006/12/20 12:02:53.