It is December 23rd, 9 o’clock in the morning and I am soaking in the bathtub. My parents are getting dressed and arguing because Dad says he wants to wait until the last minute to put his tie on. My future husband is looking for the umpteenth time at the wedding agency schedule, his mom is busy with breakfast and his dad is already taking the car out of the garage making everybody think we are running late.
I should be the most nervous of all the morning of my wedding day but I am strangely relaxed. Somebody else will take care of my hair, my make up and my outfit, I have nothing to worry about at the moment except indulging a few minutes more than usual on my hydration routine.
Thirty minutes later we are out of the house riding the family Toyota to the wedding agency. It is a public holiday in Japan so there are not many cars on the streets, the sky is cloudy but I don’t dare asking about the weather forecast.
At the agency
The agency is a few minutes away, we choose Watabe wedding. Actually, to tell the truth, my in-laws choose Watabe wedding because my husband was in Tokyo and I was in Milan so they took care of that for us. We met our wedding planner, Nishikawa-san, twice before the wedding day and she arranged everything for us, kimono, photo shoot, taxis, everything.
In Italy it is becoming slightly more common to have a wedding planner but it is still considered an expensive optional and many brides organize everything themselves, like I did. In Japan you just cannot be without a wedding planner. Everybody relays on an agency for their marriage whether they choose a traditional or a western style ceremony. I admit it was relaxing to have everything settled and somebody else worrying about the guests riding the right taxi but still I enjoyed taking care of the tiny details and talking personally to all the suppliers while organizing the Italian ceremony. I was lucky I could experience both.
We arrive at the agency at 9.45, Nishikawa-san is already waiting for us. She is smiling brightly and she waits patiently while I hang the dress I am going to wear at the reception after the wedding and look for the shoes and the white shrug. Then I am escorted to the upper floor where there is a room with my name on the door and inside Mei, my “wedding day guardian angel”, waiting for me. Mei takes care of my hair and make up and then helps me wearing my kimono, she will also come with me at the shrine to adjust my kimono and make up if needed.
In the meantime my future husband, my young cousins and some friends are also wearing their gorgeous kimonos in other rooms. My mum arrives while Mei is tightening my obi, she is bright with her fresh make up and looks curious at the process while chatting with Mei, who speaks a pretty good Italian. I look almost constantly in the mirror at my transformation that is going on, impressed by the results. I look like a character from a Edo period tale and I feel overwhelmed by the rich silk I am wearing. It takes me some time to find myself under all the garments and the make-up.
The robing process is almost finished when the photographer comes in to take some pictures. Behind my photographer comes my husband, perfect in his black haori proudly showing his family crest.
We take some pictures together and, as I start feeling more comfortable with all the layers of my kimono, it is suddenly time to go. I wear my zori, they are definitely not the most comfortable sandals I have ever worn but I try my best to walk properly taking tiny steps.
At the entrance everybody is waiting for us and we step out the agency towards the taxi among applause and congratulations, even some people in the street stops to congratulate and take a picture. Must not be so common to see a western girl dressed like an Edo princess.
At the shrine
It is raining a bit when we arrive at Kamigamo Shrine but a few tiny drops won’t wash away my happiness, probably nothing would wash it away in this moment.
Other friends and relatives arrive just after us and we reach our waiting rooms. As I explained in another article the bride and the groom wait in separate rooms with their respective friends and family before the ceremony.
A few minutes before the beginning of the ceremony a shrine maiden gives us further explanations, she lets us sign the declaration of wedding my husband is going to read before the gods. Then she shows us the right gestures for the tamagushi the traditional offer of a sakaki-tree branch to the gods that we will perform during the ceremony. I am almost certain I will forget the movements anyway.
Finally it is time to meet again outside the waiting rooms and line up for the wedding procession. At the head of the procession there is the priest, behind him the shrine maidens. We bow at the priest respectfully before lining up behind the shrine maidens. Behind me my ever smiling dad, my mum and my family and friends. At my side, for the last time, my boyfriend.
It is still raining a bit and we are given umbrellas, the bride has the privilege to have an attendant holding a big red umbrella just for her. Inside the wedding hall there are other priests and they start playing the flute as the ceremony begins. The celebrant sings blessings for us and prayers for the gods. The most important part of the ceremony is the san san kudo, the exchange of ritual sake cups, the groom and the bride drink both three times from three cups of sake. I try to be as elegant as possible but it is almost impossible to bend my back and drink properly with the obi so tight and drinking sake on an empty stomach it is not the most pleasant experience either. After the san san kudo we move closer to the shrine to perform the tamagushi. I try my best to hide my clumsy movements and I am proud at least I did it right after watching it just once but I wasn’t elegant at all.
The ceremony lasts twenty minutes and ends with further blessings and prayers. We leave the wedding hall and walk to the inner shrine where we pay our respect to the god. In the meantime it has stopped raining. My father in law says it is the hare hito hare onna power. Hare hito hare onna means sunny guy, sunny girl, my father in law likes to say that when me and my husband are together the sun always shines. The funny thing is that it is actually true almost all the time, we have always been lucky with the weather.
Mei fixes my kimono for the group picture with experienced gestures and she and the photographer explain us and all the guests how to sit or stand in order to take the perfect picture. My family and friends are a little undisciplined and it takes time to put everybody in the right position for the picture, even some visitors of the shrine stop by to watch the scene. Our determined photographer was satisfied only after the tenth attempt.
After the photo shoot the guests take the taxi to the restaurant we choose for the banquet and me and my husband return quickly to Watabe to take off our kimono and wear western clothes for the banquet. Usually relatives are invited to the banquet and friends are invited to the second party after the banquet. The bride wears a more colorful kimono for the banquet and a western wedding dress for the second party.
We organized things in a slightly different way. Since my friends and relatives came from so far away I wanted them to be with us all the time not only at the banquet or only at the second party. My husband was also happy with the idea of having his friends with him also for the banquet so we decided to have a less formal banquet and invite everybody to both the events. Also I decided not to wear a wedding dress for the party because I would wear it already for the ceremony in Italy.
We choose a restaurant with a magnificent view on the Kamogawa and instead of offering kaiseki ryori, the traditional multi-course Japanese meal, we offered wagyu beef sukiyaki that met easily everybody’s taste and was perfect also for my relatives. The room for the banquet was arranged with seven round tables for the guests (seven is a lucky number) and in the middle of each table there was a pot to cook the meat and the vegetables that the restaurant maidens kept bringing us. On the floor there was a tatami mat and everybody was sitting on short leg chairs. It hasn’t been possible to personalize the place as much as I wanted but we managed to use some fan shaped placeholders and put on the bride and groom table a bouquet of white and blue roses which matched my blue dress.
While our guests enjoyed the meal me and my husband went around the tables to chat and take pictures with everybody.
It is traditional during wedding banquets to make speeches to thank family and friends. My father in law prepared a speech to congratulate us and I translated it in Italian the day before. Until the last minute I hoped I would not have to make a speech myself but I was wrong. I tried to complain with my husband and I also promised to wash the dishes and bring the garbage out for the rest of our married life but he was irremovable. Don’t get me wrong, I was not afraid of speaking in public, that has never been a problem. I was afraid of being too emotional reading those words out loud to some of the people I cherish the most in the world and, as I predicted, I was already crying at the second paragraph. I really had a hard time arriving at the end of the speech but I must confess I was happy I could say everybody how much grateful and blessed I felt that day.
To give a touch of Italy we decided to give as wedding favor to our guests a small box containing confetti. White confetti are the traditional wedding sweets in Italy, they are sugar covered almonds. The bitterness of the almond and the sweetness of the sugar coat are symbols of the bittersweet married life. Usually five confetti are given as they represent richness, health, happiness, fertility and long life.
The second party
For the second party and the cake cut we moved to another restaurant, the Platero. To go to the Platero we walked through the narrow alleys of Pontocho, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Kyoto. The owner of the Platero reserved an entire room for us and we had very good food and the wedding cake. It wasn’t the classic wedding cake. Since it was almost Christmas my husband choose a sponge cake covered with whipped cream and strawberries that is the traditional Christmas cake in Japan. It was decorated with our names and the date and, needless to say, it was delicious.
Almost at the end of the party also my husband’s best friend made a speech to congratulate us on our wedding and wish us all the best for our future life together.
That’s the end of the story about my Japanese wedding day! If you have comments or questions or you are curious about something leave me a comment or write me, you can find my contacts in the Meet Me page.