Turning Japanese Again, Chris and Kaz's Wedding

I woke just before sunrise. I probably should have gotten up to look around, but decided that I’d rather sleep a bit more. I had a sneaky suspicion that it was going to be a long day.

I woke again around 7:00, when my alarm went off. Jen sounded like she was still asleep (though she claims she wasn’t), so I opted not to disturb her and went to go see what the area looked like with the rising sun.

Back up to the roof and the observation deck, I took in the morning glory of Irako, and the mouth of the bay beyond the tip of the peninsula. Smog lined the shores on the other side, it’s thick, brown haze unmistakable. (By noon, the brown would be replaced by a thick, white haze, obscuring the other shore.)

Koijigahama Beach, Aichi, Japan, 28 March 2004

We headed down for breakfast around 8:00. The buffet was a little different than the night before. Still offering miso soup and soba noodles, the selection also offered fruit, eggs, and a variety of Japanese and western choices. Chris convinced Garth, Jen, and I to try a Japanese plum, which is sour and salty. Garth liked it, but Jen and I found it less palatable.

Mind you, the same division in tastes exists among the Japanese. Like with several things (like natto), they either love it or hate it. Few just accept or tolerate.

Shinichiro and Riko appeared soon after Mr. and Mrs. May appeared. Tony would straggle down a little later, not looking much different than he had the night before. (As Tony put several times, life on Saipan is slow, so as a result, he’s slow. Take that for what it’s worth…)

Jen and I had come prepared for a little excursion down to the beach following breakfast, and took our leave of the others before they had finished. We took a steep set of stairs from an exit on the west side of the hotel down to a service road of some kind, which took us to the hotel’s driveway, and down to the main road that runs along the coast. Along one side is a cycling path, which guided us down and around the windy coastline.

It took a while to find a break in the dense tropical vegetation that would show us a path down to the beach. The time wasn’t poorly spent, however, since the walk was warm, and the sounds of songbirds were an absolute delight. But as we came closer to the surf, the rushing of the waves would become the dominant music.

The trail down to the beach was not maintained, formed over years of people trying to get down to the beach from the road. It’s about 100 feet in elevation, and you need to be a bit of a mountain goat to do it easily. Fortunately, both Jen and I do a lot of hiking, so the trail wasn’t an issue.

The beach is long — a couple of kilometres in total length, following the curve from the point to the bulge that the hotel sits on. The beach mostly disappears there, before reforming on the eastern side of the bulge. The section we were on is littered with tetrapods — concrete forms with four “legs” sticking out at 120 angles to each other. They form an interlocking pattern that creates a barrier against beach erosion.

We wandered the beach a little while, taking pictures and enjoying the sound of the waves on the shore. Jen played chicken with the incoming surf, looking for unique shells, while I walked around taking pictures. But we couldn’t stay long, and soon had to head back to get ready for the wedding.

I ironed out the wrinkles formed from packing my suit (thankfully minimized), showered, and shaved. Jen showered and dressed, then packed up our collective collection o’ crap and headed back down to the lobby. We had to check out prior to the wedding, and put our bags in a holding room for the day.

Tony and I had been drafted to greet incoming guests, having them sign their names, presenting them with drink tickets, and showing them to a waiting area until they were ready for us at the chapel.

Tony and I had a good laugh at this. Here were two gaijin white guys (one of whom knows enough Japanese to be dangerous, the other can say “hello”, “please”, and “sushi”) greeting people who know a couple words of English and telling them what to do. As Tony said several times: “Better to laugh, ‘cuz crying ain’t gonna do anything for you.”

At a little after noon, we were directed towards the second floor (one floor below the lobby), and out to the chapel. The chapel is a small building with a tall spire, just slightly separated from the hotel building. (The Irako View Hotel must do a lot of weddings.) The inside was nice, if perhaps a little austere. But it was small, so it didn’t seem too awkward.

We entered through a door on the north side of the building, and entered the octagonal chapel room. The western three sides had massive windows that overlooked the water and across the bay. (It would make taking pictures a little difficult.) Chris’ family and friends (totalling eight, including Shinichiro, who was doubling as photographer) sat on the left side of the room, while Kaz’s family and friends (totalling about 30) sat on the right side of the room.

The emcee was one of the hotel’s employees, who regularly performs this duty (it’s not hard to tell). She’s quite good, although her English is a little forced. While a very nice service overall, I was a little perturbed by the woman’s need to inject a bit of a sales pitch for wedding services at the hotel. Probably normal, though I couldn’t imagine anyone of us single, English-speaking folk really interested in getting married there.

With Enya playing over the speakers, the doors to the chapel on the east wall opened, and Mrs. May walked in her son to be married. They bowed at the door and entered. It’s not easy to take pictures when you can’t see for the tears in your eyes. They walked to the west side of the room, where they faced the audience over a white-draped table. A moment later, Kazumi and her father followed, bowing, and taking their positions next to Chris and his mom. The two parents then left the soon-to-be-newlyweds behind. The last ones through the doors were Kaz’s nephews (both about three years old), who brought in a small teddy bear with their rings. (As far as I know, the same rings they bought two years ago.)

No-one stood for Chris and Kaz. This is a bit of an odd service, at least by western standards. The emcee guided the audience through the ritual, which went as follows. First, the register was signed by Chris, Kaz, their parents, and then everyone in attendance. This is, I assume, to prove that the civil service was approved by everyone in attendance. Jen was a little confused at first, not sure what she was supposed to do. I just told her to follow what everyone else was doing.

Chris and Kaz, Irako View Hotel, Aichi, Japan, 28 March 2004

It was a little odd signing the register. I’ve never signed one before. At the time I was signing it, it was just me putting my name down. But as I rose to leave, Chris said: “Thanks, Geoff” That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t just a signature. This was an affirmation of the marriage, of Chris’ love for Kaz, and my love for him.

Following the registry signing, they exchanged rings, and exchanged vows, Chris reading in Japanese and Kaz reading in English. The ceremony was short, but simple. The married couple then walked down the aisle. I took pictures that I could not see.

I always seem to cry at weddings.

Once outside, we all engaged in attempts to take pictures of Chris and Kaz, before being directed to a pair of benches so we could take a large group photo. This was nigh-excrutiating, as we were not only looking directly into the sun, but were also subjected with a bright flash. My eyes felt like they were burning out of my head. I hope that my eyes don’t look too screwed up from trying to keep them open.

The enlarged family, Irako View Hotel, Aichi, Japan, 28 March 2004

After all this, Chris can actually say that I’ve gone to the ends of the Earth for him.

After the group shots were more photos, done with Shinichiro. We took a barrage of rather confusing instructions and eventually figured out where we were supposed to stand. Finally, we followed Chris and Kaz back into the hotel, and over to the wedding reception room for the family meal (Jen, Tony, Shinichiro, Riko, and I were considered extended family).

The reception was a little odd, being a little more dramatic than I thought it would be. Once we were all seated around the long table, the drapes were drawn over the windows looking out onto the bay, the lights dimmed, and a spotlight put on Chris and Kaz as they entered the room to their place at the head of the table. Then champagne was poured for everyone, and the two fathers read out speeches (Chris translated his father’s speech for Kaz’s family).

The drapes were reopened, and the meal began. And what a meal it was! Three dishes awaited us right away: a salad of seaweed and fish egg sacks, a lettuce-based salad, and one other thing I can’t remember now. Why can’t I remember? Because that was the first of about 10 rounds of food,including smoked salmon, lobster mousse, lobster with a chili sauce served in a lobster shell cut in half length-wise, sushi, clear soup, noodles, and two or three desserts, including the wedding cake. Garth, Jen, and I couldn’t believe that the food just kept coming.

Mind you, there really wasn’t a lot of food, all told. In total, it would have amounted to maybe four large courses at a regular wedding. Still, it was a lot more food than any of us were expecting.

And of course, there was drink. In addition to the champagne, there was beer. Tradition holds that everyone offers to fill the groom’s glass at least once. After a while, people start going around, filling other’s glasses. It’s impossible to tell how much beer one consumes over the course of the meal, but I think it safe to assume that Garth and I consumed far too much, mostly thanks to Shinichiro.

Family reception meal, Irako View Hotel, Aichi, Japan, 28 March 2004

During a break between rounds, Mrs. May and I talked a bit about the wedding, and she suddenly announced that I was next. Stuart and Therese got married in 2002, and now Chris. That means I’m the last one. Maybe in 2006…

After the meal finally ended around 16:00, we headed out to collect our bags (some changed into more comfortable clothes), gathered our bags, and boarded the bus for Toyohashi. We were changing to the Associa Hotel, and then going to a reception party in the city.

The bus ride back took a different route than the one going out, and though a little more direct, seemed to take longer. Tony and Shinichiro slept, and I swear Jen dozed once or twice. But it was a lot quieter on the way back than it had been on the way out.

Back at the hotel, we checked in, hauled our stuff up to our rooms, and then prepared to head out. Jen and I were down first, followed shortly by Garth. Tony was a few minutes behind, wearing the infamous monkey suit.

Downtown Toyohashi, Aichi, Japan, 28 March 2004

Yes, Tony has a monkey suit. It’s a costume he picked up a couple of years ago for a party. He has no qualms about wearing it, even to a large dinner party. He’s worn it on the plane from Saipan to Narita, and almost wore it on the shinkansen to Toyohashi. Garth convinced him to wear it for the dinner.

A little late leaving (Kaz wanted to wear her wedding dress), we arrived a little late at the Bali-Hai restaurant. Inside waited about 80 or 90 people, only one of whom I knew — Alex, a friend of ours from Calgary, who’s teaching English in Nagoya (about 20 minutes by shinkansen).

The dinner was a strange one, featuring several asian dishes I’d never had before. All quite tasty. We all played bingo, for some reason, which offered prizes to anyone who managed to get five in a row. The closest I got was four. Jen won a shampoo/body wash set, for which she was extremely happy.

And yes, there was drink. Quite a bit of it. Beer, mostly, though Shinichiro had me try so-ju, which Tony described as “watered-down vodka”. It tastes a little like mildly alcoholic oolong tea. And of course, there was beer. Lots of beer. Jen couldn’t stop laughing or giggling.

We had to leave before 21:00, as there was another reservation coming in. We all headed back to the hotel to dump off a few things, dress down a bit, and head out for an izakaya to have a little more fun. We had to wait a while, unfortunately, as Chris and Kaz lost track of time for a while.

This gave Tony and I a bit of time to try to sort out tomorrow’s shinkansen schedule. Jen and I are heading to Hiroshima, and we need to be in the city by noon. Shinkansen run fairly often, but the trick is to catch the right ones so we don’t waste too much time. Luckily, the hotel provided paper schedules that we’ll take with us.

Finally, around 23:00, Tony, Jen, Garth, Chris, Kaz, Shinichiro, Riko, and I gathered to go to the izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese public house, where people get together for a lot of loud talking, heavy drinking, and a little bit of food. The place, called Fuku, was already full when we arrived, but they managed to clear some space for us.

And yes, more drinking. Garth and I split warm sake, but the real surprise was Jen. Cold sake. A full bottle, all to herself. And about half of the second warm bottle, too. Her parents are gonna kill me. Surprisingly enough, she wasn’t too bad off, something I’ll attribute to body mass and metabolism.

Although we were not privy to most conversations (Chris is quite capable of holding his own when talking with others; Garth, Jen, and I talked amongst ourselves or with Shinichiro and Riku), we were periodically brought in by Chris when something interesting was raised. Such was the case when he suddenly told Jen and I to stand up. We did. (We assumed, correctly, that this was to compare heights.) Chris then asked those sitting near him how old they thought Jen was.

One said 28, another 27, and another would only go so far as “late-20s”. Chris then asked Jen to tell them how old she really is. She privately asked Chris first how to say her age in Japanese, which she then repeated to the three men. Their jaws dropped when they found out she’s only 15.

Last call came, and we all headed out into the cool night air to return to the hotel. Jen had a new souvenir, a “gift” from Shinichiro — one of the two warm sake serving bottles. Doesn’t matter what country you’re in, people like to take stuff from restaurants.

Jen and I need sleep. Tomorrow is going to be another longish day.