19 May 2007

Mike & Miyuki's Wedding Day

My return to Japan was too short but so sweet. My deepest thanks go to my incredible friends Mike & Miyuki Musial. They are truly one of the kindest, most generous, coolest couples on the face of the earth and I feel priviliged to call them my good friends. They are like family to me and seeing them again was amazing, to say the least.

Their wedding day was incredible, and that's an understatement. It was an extraordinary celebration that matched the uniqueness of this wonderful couple. I've uploaded photos from the special occasion onto facebook (my latest addiction) and will soon be uploading them, along with more photos from my return to Japan onto smugmug.

A Japanese wedding begins with the kekkonshiki or marriage ceremony, which is held at a Shinto shrine. Mike & Miyuki's ceremony was held at the beautiful Usa Shrine. Miyuki looked fantastic in a pure white kimono or shiromuku, complete with tsuno-kakushi, a headdress which is meant to hide her horns of envy. Mike looked very kakui in his masculine black, white and grey kimono.

Shintoism is one of the two major religions practiced in Japan, and as such it plays a very important role in many Japanese customs, including marriage. As Shintoism is an “animistic” religion, it incorporates the belief of many different manifest spirits. These spirits are known as kami, and most major events in Japanese life include an element of purification, a process by which kami who may cause mischief are chased out while the ceremony participants seek the blessing of benevolent kami by cleansing themselves.

The Shinto ceremony is traditionally quite small. Only the immediate families of the bride and groom, the Nakudos, and perhaps some other family members usually attend. The ceremony itself is rather short but very symbolic. In this way, it reflects the Japanese traditions of perfection and beauty within simplicity. The bride and groom perform the ritual of san-san-kudo, or “three-by-three exchange of nuptial cups”. After the exchange, the attendants on both sides exchange sake to signify the union of the two families.

Miko (shrine virgins) play a key part in the Shinto marriage ceremony. These young girls have performed rituals of purification and are therefore appropriate ambassadors between the kami and the participants. The miko wear red and white dresses and are responsible for serving the sake.

At Mike & Miyuki's ceremony, we were also treated to a kagura (ceremonial dance) performed by one of the shrine virgins. Music plays a very important role in the kagura performance. Everything from the setup of the instruments to the most subtle sounds and the arrangement of the music is crucial to encouraging the kami to come down and dance. The songs are used as magical devices to summon the gods and as prayers for blessings. Rhythm patterns of five and seven are common, possibly relating to the Shinto belief of the twelve generations of heavenly and earthly deities. There is also a vocal accompaniment called kami uta in which the drummer sings sacred songs to the gods. Often the vocal accompaniment is overshadowed by the drumming and instruments, reinforcing that the vocal aspect of the music is more for incantation rather than aesthetics.

Here is a breakdown of the Shinto Wedding Ceremony:

  • First the couple are purified by the priest, meaning that they are made pure before the gods.
  • The priest reads a ritualistic prayer, announcing the marriage and offering a prayer.
  • Exchanging the nuptial cups of the marriage oath called sansankudo.
  • Exchanging vows with wedding rings.
  • The groom reads a vow aloud. The bride adds only her name at the end.
  • Bride and groom offer tamagushi (An object presented to the kami by a priest or worshiper, composed of a sprig of evergreen sakaki to which paper streamers have been attached) at the altar and bow.
  • At the end, the members of both families drink to indicate that they are now one family.

I am forever grateful to Mike & Miyuki and their families for allowing me to participate in this amazing experience with them. Arigatou gozaimashita!

Following the marriage ceremony, is the kekkon hiroen or wedding reception. Mike and Miyuki's reception was held at a picturesque, mountain-top reception hall and was truly a fairy tale brought to life. It was a very emotional and joyous celebration. Upon arrival, we were entertained by a trio of Japanese musicians, including a taiko drum player who played for us on the terrace overlooking the mountains. Sugoikatta! Then, we toasted the couple with a fruit drink consisting of orange, pineapple, lemon and passion fruit juices. Oishikatta! This "magical fruit" cocktail is meant to bring anyone who drinks it happiness and good luck. It is also said that if a couple drinks this together, their dreams will come true and they will live happily ever after.

The couple (Miyuki now wearing a highly detailed, colourful kimono) was escorted onto the terrace by an oni (Japanese mythological devil-like demon with long nails, wild hair, a fierce look and two horns on their forehead) dancer. Although once thought to devour humans, in more recent times, oni have lost some of their original wickedness and sometimes take on a more protective function. Men in oni costumes often lead Japanese parades to ward off any bad luck, for example. Therefore, having the oni present the newlywed couple to the guests was a purely symbolic gesture and represents good fortune, as the demon wards off any bad luck. It seems to have worked, because everything about Mike & Miyuki's wedding day was absolutely perfect!

The oni continued to dance around the reception hall, approaching guests throughout the first course of an outstanding meal (Japanese/French fusion cuisine). He terrified poor little Taiyo (Mark and Yumi's 18 month old son) who was sitting beside me. Between almost every course, each more delicious than the last, guests were entertained by a variety of events, including family speeches, the decorating and cutting of the wedding cake, Miyuki's changing into a Western style wedding dress and later a yellow Princess-like dress and Mike's changing into a silver Edwardian-style tuxedo, Miyuki presenting all of the single women (including moi) with gorgeous bouquets, Mike's former kindergarten class singing to and presenting flowers to the happy couple, etc. Here are some photos depicting some of these events:

The children decorate the wedding cake

Western style wedding attire

The cutting of the wedding cake

The bride presents the singletons with bouquets

The kids sing to the happy couple

The union of two wonderful families

Following the reception was a three-hour break for the couple and wedding guests. Everybody had a chance to get slightly refreshed (nap, shower, massage chair, hot spring bath, etc.) then change into more casual clothing. Later, the party continued with the nijikai or second reception at Nakatsu's Garden Bar. Here, we were joined with more of Miyuki's extended family as well as more friends. There was a buffet and open bar and an insanely generous game of bingo (we're talking iPods and a Nintendo Wii as prizes). I later found out that there was a cover-charge at the second reception, but mine was paid for by Miyuki's parents. I never got the chance to thank them for their incredible generosity. I got to spend time with many old friends and meet new ones and fun was had by all!

The party continued at Tropicoco Cafe, my old Nakatsu stomping ground. The highlight of this portion of the evening was when Walter (Mike's older brother) got up on stage, made a multi-lingual speech and announced the wedding dance. We all danced, drank and were merry into the wee hours of the morn. Good times!!!!

Miyuki was tired and left with her friend Kumiko by car while Mike, Marky, Marc, Nick and I ended the night with a drink (four beers and a chu-hi) at a stone table in the park where some of us used to play footie and some of us used to attend fitness with the Pads. We talked about old times and more good times ahead. The perfect ending to a perfect day. Shiawase!

This entry was a pleasure but took me several hours to complete. Please stay tuned for more entries relating to my return to Japan...eventually. Remember, I've also got the rest of the photos to upload to smugmug, two weeks left of work at Playskool, preparations for Switzerland and oh yeah...I better go get ready for my family birthday dinner that begins in less than two hours! Mata ne!