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The following articles were originally published in The Shelbyville News in the column “Letters Home:  A Hoosier in Japan.”



Send questions and comments to me at toddjayleonard@yahoo.com.

Book Description

Letters Home

What types of holidays do Japanese people celebrate? What is the educational system like in Japan? What are Japanese festivals like? What are some of the customs and traditions of the Japanese people? Professor Todd Jay Leonard, writing from the perspective of living and working in Japan, provides in this fascinating book the answers to these and many other questions.
Letters Home: Musings of an American Expatriate Living in Japan delivers a firsthand account of daily Japanese life through the eyes and personal experiences of Professor Leonard who has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with Japan and the Japanese people for nearly twenty-five years. 

This anecdotal book of essays, written in the style of personal letters, offers commentary on a wide range of topics and issues including culture, history, education, language, society, and religion of modern Japan from the point-of-view of an American expatriate who has made Japan his home. 

The author’s friendly, down-to-earth, yet authoritative, style of writing will transport you to modern Japan, where you will learn about the customs and traditions of this most fascinating country. This book can be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in learning about Japan and its people.http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Home-Musings-American-Expatriate/dp/0595283098/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299907225&sr=1-2

Japanese wedding receptions can be costly


In my previous article I outlined the rituals of a Shinto wedding in Japan. This article will concentrate on the reception party that follows the wedding.

Whether the couple opts for a traditional Japanese-style wedding, or decides to have a Western-style wedding in a church with a minister, they always hold a reception following the ceremony. The reception that immediately follows the wedding ceremony (both Shinto and Christian) is often held in the same hotel where the wedding ceremony took place.

Normally, the number of guests invited to the actual ceremony is strictly limited, but the reception guest list is much larger, including close family members, extended family, friends, neighbors and work colleagues.

Being invited to a wedding reception is an honor, of course, but as a university professor, I cringe when the telltale thick envelope arrives in the mail. Not because I don’t want to join in the joyous celebrations of former students, but because after 16 years of teaching here, I receive a lot of invitations.

With each invitation, then, is the obligatory attendance fee (oiwai) that guests are expected to pay for attending the wedding party. The amount is dictated by how close the family member is to the couple, as well as how high the guest’s social position is.

Wedding receptions in Tokyo, of course, generally command a much higher fee. Also, if the status of the family who is hosting the reception is fairly high, the reception can then become an opportunity for the guests to network between meal courses and speeches, making it an opportune time to make business contacts. So, in Tokyo, the fee can be anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per person.

This sounds outrageous, I know, but everything in Tokyo is more expensive, and wedding parties are no exception. Where I live, the cost to attend a wedding party is at the bargain price of around $200 to $500, again depending upon one’s relationship to the couple and one’s social status in the community.

This “attendance fee” is in lieu of giving a gift to the couple, and it goes toward paying for the lavish wedding reception and sumptuous meal served to the guests.

In appreciation, the couple then presents each guest with a “thank-you gift” for attending their reception. Recently, it has become quite trendy for the couple to give each guest a catalogue from which to choose a gift of their own liking. A postcard is included that the person fills out with three possible selections in the order of what they want most. The catalogue company then processes the order, and the item is delivered to the guest’s door within a week or two.

In the past, the couple would select a gift to give the guests. The problem was that often it was something that may or may not be useful in a practical sense. This new system allows guests to choose things that they may really want or need. Recently, I have selected an electric wok from one reception and a toaster oven from another. The “guest’s gift” is usually valued at around $50.

As the wedding reception begins, the bridal couple is ushered into the banquet hall, where all the guests are seated in assigned seats. Much care and discernment is taken in making the seating arrangements so as not to offend those in attendance.

The groom’s company boss and bride’s work supervisor are usually given the seats of honor at the front of the hall; next are the bridal couple’s university professors, who are seated in seats of honor. The status and relationship of the guest to the couple are then taken into account, as each person is seated from front to back — the front being the choice assignments, and the back being the least preferred.

Unfortunately, the families of the couple are normally seated all the way in the back, next to the kitchen door that is used by the hotel staff to serve the guests. By offering the choicest seats to the guests, the family demonstrates humility and a sense of humbleness.

Wedding receptions in Japan are notorious for their formality and stuffiness. The bride and groom, still dressed in the traditional costumes from the wedding ceremony, are seated on a platform at the front of the hall with the “nakoudo” — the “go-between” couple who traditionally were the ones that arranged the marriage.

Today, “arranged marriages” in the traditional sense are much rarer than they were just 20 years ago, but the custom of having the matchmaker assist the couple during the party endures.

Next are the speeches. The honored guests, company bosses and university professors make rather long speeches to the couple, giving advice to them about their future and wishing them a lifetime of wedded bliss. The speeches often have standard themes that encourage the couple to have children as quickly as possible. This always amuses me, because the couple hasn’t even gone on their honeymoon yet.

Once the toast is made, then the party may begin. In between courses, the couple is escorted out of the hall, where the bride changes into several different wedding outfits. From the white kimono, she may change into a red kimono, leaving her wig and makeup on from the traditional ceremony. Next, she will often change into a formal evening gown with a hoop (the groom changes into a tux with tails). Finally, the wedding couple changes into western-style wedding attire at the end of the party.

While the couple is away changing, oftentimes friends will entertain the guests with musical numbers, perhaps karaoke, or a professional band will play music. The guests meander about, beer bottles in hand, offering to refill other guests’ beer glasses.

In Japan, it is customary not to fill your own glass with a beverage, but to wait for the person next to you to fill it for you. If your own glass is empty, and no one has noticed, all you have to do is to offer to fill the other person’s glass. That person will then reciprocate by filling your glass. Also, it is polite to go to the platform and offer to refill the bridal couple’s glasses of beer to show one’s approval of the union.

The wedding reception lasts several hours, and when it is all said and done, the total cost can be around $30,000 to $50,000 for the wedding reception. Of course, the more guests that are invited and the more changes the bride makes in and out of the rented gowns, increases the total cost.

Hence, when someone is invited to a wedding, the envelope never says “and guest.” It would bankrupt a family of four to attend a wedding in Japan, not to mention upset the sitting arrangements. Only the person invited attends the wedding, leaving his or her spouse or significant other at home.



Monday, September 26, 2005