Monday, May 14, 2012

Where do you go to, my lovely?

The venue

Ok, where are you going to do this thing? You can go to your local City Hall, do the paperwork, then meet your friends in the park, go to your favourite restaurant or have a party at home. Actually, the really traditional wedding was just the two families at home, after a brief Shinto service.

But we’re here to talk about typical Japanese weddings. So there are three basic choices, all with their own pros and cons:

Most of the fashionable restaurants around Tokyo offer wedding ceremonies either on-site or at a nearby chapel, with the party at the restaurant. They’ll organise the dress, flowers, invitations, etc.

Pros: the food is top quality, you can have the whole restaurant to yourself and the atmosphere can range from very fashionable to a friendly, family occasion.

Cons: restaurants can be very expensive (you’re paying for a ‘name’ chef), you’re restricted on numbers depending on the size of the restaurant, you may need to travel from the ceremony to the reception, parking may be restricted, you still need to find accommodation for overseas or out-of-town guests.

Popular restaurants for weddings: Nobu, Aso, XEX, La Rochelle, Hiramatsu

Ristorante Aso, Daikanyama

The food at Ristorante Aso

Nobu, Tokyo

All the major hotels and many smaller ones offer weddings and they usually have an on-site wedding planner team to make everything go smoothly.

Pros: they have a range of banquet rooms to suit size, budget and atmosphere, everything is in-house, including hair & makeup, dresses and suits, flowers, the chapel and of course, the food and beverage service. There’s usually a choice of cuisines. You can stay at the hotel, which is great for out-of-town guests and reduces stress for the couple. Parking and transport is easy.

Cons: some banquet rooms are bland or ugly, the choices of costume can be restrictive, bigger places can feel impersonal and some put on too many weddings on the same day, so they have to rush you in and out.

Popular hotels: the most expensive are The Peninsula, The Imperial Hotel, The Four Seasons and The Hotel New Otani (beware the room charges – the couple often gets a ‘free’ stay, but guests might be paying US$400 to $650 per night). Second-tier hotels can offer great value for money.

The New Otani has a spectacular garden with waterfall

The Peninsular has a modern, luxurious feel

Guest House
There is a range of purpose-built wedding venues for “at-home” style weddings. You can invite your friends to your grand “Georgian” house, beach shack or traditional Japanese garden.

Pros: everything is designed for the wedding party, and you have the whole place to yourselves for several hours. Most of these venues are new and beautifully decorated with pools, gardens and lounges; designed for photo opportunities.

Cons: they can get very expensive; due to a shortage of available land in Tokyo, some are a bit far out in the suburbs; you’ll still need to find accommodation.

Popular guest houses: Camelot Hills – a huge ‘fantasy’ place with fake gothic chapel, etc a bit far out; Take & Give Needs wedding company are building grand palazzos across Saitama and Kanagawa (you might have seen them in TV dramas like Hana Yori Dango) and Happo-En garden.

T&G Wedding palazzo

A resort-style venue in Kanagawa

Camelot Hills

The main appeal of Happo-En is the gorgeous garden and modern-oriental decor

The mood and formality of the venue will depend on how big your wedding party is and who is coming. At first, we thought we might have a fairly casual wedding with friends and family and there were some nice hotels with roof gardens and airy, warm restaurant spaces. However, it soon became apparent that we’d have to invite my husband’s big boss and all his co-workers (this is normal in Japan), so the tone became more formal, and the casual place I found was deemed too casual, a bit run-down and not elegant enough.

Our first choice was the Pensee restaurant in the Hotel Grand Tokyo...

The smoky, rundown lobby and outdated guest rooms nixed that idea.

In the end, we went with the Mielparque Hotel Tokyo, based on the newly updated banquet rooms, the spacious lobby, lounge areas for our guests, friendly staff and of course, the cost.

Important lesson: in Japan, the wedding is not about you (well, a little), it’s about your guests! Every planner and every bridal magazine here will tell you, you should first consider your guests’ comfort, convenience and entertainment. After all, they’re paying to come. Bridezillas, beware.

You need to think about: where are the guests coming from - is your venue convenient for trains and not too far to walk from the station (or will the venue provide shuttle buses)? We live in Saitama, but a lot of our friends live in Tokyo and Yokohama, or came on the Shinkansen, so we chose Hamamatsucho as a central location. Are there places for guests to get changed (a lot of women want to change out of their kimono for the second party, or just to go home. The Okura Hotel has excellent guest change rooms)? Is it an outdoor venue in the middle of summer or rainy season? If there's time to kill between the ceremony and the party, is there a lounge area, and are the guest toilets nice? Smoking area? If there are kids coming, is there a room they can go to play or just chill out, if needed? And so on, and so on.

Also, ladies, when choosing a venue, ask about the dresses straight away, before you decide – most venues provide the wedding dress or dresses, as part of the package, and you don’t want to be stuck with a yuck dress. More about that next time!


  1. Wow this makes me want to get married again, just to wear the Japanese dress!
    - Anne Marie FD

  2. The wedding kimono are really beautiful, but not so comfortable! You should have heard my in-laws moaning about how their obis were too tight and they couldn't really enjoy the food! Maybe I should try the "kimono diet".

  3. Come on, you'd have to go the Hanadan place. And then invite guests that don't like each other so you have the Dynasty style fight around the pool.