Sunday, August 17, 2014


We did it!  In Japan!

Leave it to us to book our vacation and then decide to drop a wedding right in the middle.  A wedding in a country where we can't speak the language, no less.

No big deal.

We depended on wonderful Japanese friends to find and book the shrine and bridal salon for the ceremony part, as well as to arrange things at the municipal building for the legal part.  Our wedding could not have been possible without the phone calls, emails, translations (both on paper and live, in person), and guidance of Mari, Miya, and Scott.  We are forever grateful to these beautiful souls for helping us out.

Even before we'd decided where/when/how to get married, there was a ring.  I worked with a designer in NYC to select and set the stones.  I wanted to play with shapes, sizes, and colors for something that would look organic, unusual, and--I'd hoped--timeless. What you see here is one European cut round stone, one miner cut round stone, one trillion, and one champagne diamond.  Pictures don't do this ring justice, I love it so much.

So now that the ring's out of the way, I'll explain a little more about what getting married in Japan entails.

First, there's the legal bit.  Friday July 18th was our day to do that, as well as visit the shrine and bridal salon to make arrangements for the ceremonial part.  (We are thankful to Scott and Miya and baby Juna for giving up their day to take us all around.)

First, we had an appointment at the US Embassy in Tokyo to notarize a paper that basically said we were allowed/competent to be married.  This paper had already been translated into Japanese by Miya and Scott.  Then we took the notarized papers, along with a translation of our passports (?) to a municipal office, where we basically sat and looked on while Miya filled out loads of paperwork under the scrutiny of these two ladies.

They would be intimidating if they weren't so cute!

When Miya was finished and had put her personal seal on the papers, these little ladies took our money and came back with a large and detailed certificate, as well as a smaller more plain certificate (we paid for both) stating that we were married.  Woo-hoo!  We were now legally married!

They put the certificates in a fancy croco-embossed document holder, which B is holding here.  This is our first picture as a married couple.

I wore this pretty vintage Edwardian seed pearl pin from my mom's friend Sharon for luck.

Then it was on to the shrine, where Miya and Scott translated as the priest told us about the history of the shrine and explained about the ceremony.  We got married at the Akasaka Hikawa shrine, which is very old and incredibly survived WWII intact.  (Many of the shrines in Tokyo had to be rebuilt after the war.)

When we went back on our ceremony day, we entered at a different part of the shrine and found these adorable fox statues in their nice red bibs.  


Love that baby fox!

People leave their intentions or thanks all around the shrine, on folded papers in the trees or on wooden plaques.  It's really lovely.

This one must be a marriage one.  Everything in Japan is so cute!

Next stop was the bridal salon to pick out our attire and discuss the ceremony on Monday.  (Huge thanks to Mari for arranging this.)  By the time we got there, it was late in the day, we were all tired and I thought I'd prefer just a simple kimono--nothing too heavy or overwrought.  Below is just ONE of the walls of kimonos, so I felt a little overwhelmed.  They encouraged me to at least *try on* one or two of the fancy kimonos, so...  

I picked out the four below, two heavy/elaborate ones and two thin, more simple ones (the ones with black grounds).

Well, the moment they put the one to the far left on me and wrapped it closed, I was smitten!  That was my kimono!

Here's a detail of the beautiful crane jacquard fabric.  Love, love, love!

Mr. Biro picked out his pants and jacket, as well, though there weren't as many varieties to choose from.

By the way, it is normal for the Japanese to rent their attire when getting married in a traditional/Shinto ceremony.  It seems strange for us to rent wedding wear, but it does make sense.  Are you really going to wear such an elaborate costume again?!  Our friends said that in recent years most Japanese folks our age and younger have been opting for Western-style weddings in churches and with big white dresses, anyway.  I wonder if they rent those dresses, too?  There's certainly not space enough to keep a big ol' wedding dress around if you're living in a small Japanese apartment.

After we finished at the bridal salon, we went with Scott and Miya to Tomo and Asami's house, where we relaxed for a bit with this little guy:

(Yes, he is wearing a diaper belt.  Love the curls on his mane!)

Juna got to chill and eat her dinner (eating is her favorite thing!), and then we all went out to a local izakaya.  More pics from that in another post.

On Monday (July 21st), we returned to the shrine for our wedding ceremony.

They were ready for us.

We had a room for getting ready and there were two lovely ladies who did my make-up and got me dressed.  Mari, Hana, and Ren were there to help translate and keep us company.

Here's Hana at the vanity with me.

I don't think it's possible to put on a kimono without professional help.  This is just the under layer, which is really beautiful on its own and looks quite bridal as is.  These two women were wrapping and pulling and belting and folding, until I felt like a stuffed sausage--but thankfully looked beautiful!  Mari warned me that the kimono would feel tight--like a corset--but that this was normal, though I should tell them if it was pinching me or if I felt faint.  Yowza!  And this on a hot and sweaty Tokyo day!

Here's Byron waiting with Ren while they squeezed me into the kimono.  

Here I am in the prep room with the big kimono on top.  Then it was time to take some photos on the grounds of the shrine.

We felt like celebrities, as the two ladies came everywhere with us, posing us and powdering my nose.  People would stop us and congratulate us as we walked around the shrine.  Our photographer could speak English, so that was a help.  And then we had Hana and Mari following us taking the photos you see here.  (We get the professional photos in couple of weeks, so I'll probably add some new photos then.)

My parents asked if Byron was wearing athletic shoes in the photos, but we are both wearing white toe socks and thong sandals.  Inside the shrine, we only wore the socks.  I love this photo with the parasols!

Our photographer also made us do these funny photos, where Byron is pointing to something-or-other with his fan, like some kind of shogun.

Our photos from the ceremony didn't turn out so good (we're waiting for the professional shots), but here's an image of our procession in.  We had two priests--one old, one young, two shrine maidens, and some musicians.  I now notice that there were some shrine visitors out front, watching us process in.  Aww.

You can read more about the ceremony here.  It was nice to have a ceremony that didn't feel overtly religious but was more about our new union.  There were fruits and vegetables on the altar, so that felt very "us."  We shared a small bit of sake (sipped in a very ceremonial way--two small sips and then one big sip) with each other and then with our guests.  There was also a part where I had to put my thoughts into a comb and then B had to receive my thoughts in the comb.  Oh!  And there was a bit with a leafy branch that was quite choreographed, in that we had to take it with left hand here and right hand here, then move right hand and turn around branch and blah blah... I just looked at B to make sure we were doing it in unison.  But the best part was B speaking our vows in Japanese.  It sounded great to me (and thanks again to B for taking this one for the team--I was too busy getting ready to practice the Japanese), but hopefully he didn't actually say anything funny or offensive.  Even if we didn't understand the words the priest was saying, the rituals and actions we took felt very meaningful and symbolic.  It was a beautiful ceremony.

Afterwards, we changed and gave gifts to our guests.   

Miya and Juna.

Hana and Ren.

It was a great day!  Thanks to our little wedding crew.  (By the way, look at Juna's baby kimono!)