The reception, or “hirouen” usually lasts about 2 and a half hours and there is never a dull moment. This means, there is little time for you to drink and chat (don’t worry, you can have a “nijikai” or second party, to actually talk to and drink with your friends!).
The guests take their seats, start to chat and have a drink, then the lights dim, the spotlights search, the music swells and tada! The doors open to reveal the happy couple, who bow to the waiting guests. You can have dry ice to add mystery or emerge from a giant vinyl “pearl” pumped full of air. Or, just walk in. Guess what we did? Yep, we didn’t feel like stumping up an extra $150 for dry ice mist or $300 for the “bubble”. We tried it out at a Bridal fair though, just for fun. The MC will introduce the couple and your attendants will help you to your seats. The couple gets a separate table at the front of the room, sometimes on a raised stage. Expect a lot of photos. The MC will then give a run down of how you met, where you’re from, your hobbies etc – you give them the info and have a meeting beforehand. It seemed a bit strange to me, but since about 40% of the guests had never met me and some of my friends had never met my husband, I could see the sense.
|This is the "bubble"! There's a secret entrance at the back and a kind of zip so it looks like you burst out of a pearl.|
There is usually a speech from the groom’s boss / professor / someone ‘impressive’. Hopefully it won’t go too long. The bride can also get someone to speak if she wants. Then another jolly fellow from the groom’s side will make a short speech and give the ‘kanpai’, accompanied by some rousing music. After that, the party can begin! One note: when someone comes to give a speech, the bridal couple and their parents should stand (crouching minions in black suits will indicate it’s time to stand or sit). The speaker will quickly say, ‘please relax, take a seat’. It’s good for your parents to know this – mine were confused by the endless standing and sitting.
|People in black will manipulate you - er - help you stand up and sit down on cue.|
The first course will be served and you can relax a little. Friends will come up to say hi, pour you a drink and have a photo, so eat if/while you can. Luckily we tasted most of the food before the party, because there was little time for eating on the day.
Then, it’s time to cut the cake! Some cakes are fake cakes (much cheaper) and the real cake is plated up in the kitchen. There’s a slice of real cake at the back to ‘feed’ each other. We opted for a “nama” or fresh cake. They don’t usually have a bride and groom on top. The MC will call everyone over to take pictures, so you’ll be holding that knife and pretending to cut for a long time. Then there’s first bite” – groom serves his bride, then (often with a giant joke spoon), the bride serves him back. Cake fights aren’t so popular. For one thing, that dress is a rental!
|Another option is a champagne tower. The waiters slice off the corks with sabres. Fun, but expensive! This was the room we had our party in, but this is at the Bridal Fair.|
After a short while, it’s time for the bride and groom to change into different outfits (this is optional). The bride goes first, led by her mother, to applause and appropriate music like Kimura Kaela’s “Butterfly”. It’s a good chance to breathe, maybe eat something and share a joke with Mum, who’s been stuck down the back of the room. While the bride gets changed and has her hair & makeup changed (optional), the groom’s friends are all plying him with drinks. After a while, he also exits to change or refresh. (Mum slips back into the party room). Traditionally, a bride exchanged her formal white shiromoku for a colourful kimono and some brides still do the same, or change from western wedding dress into a kimono or a “colour dress”. The advantage: you can relax a little about dropping food and drink onto your white dress, and you can wear something a little more relaxing. It also adds to the anticipation / spectacle as guests wonder what the bride will be wearing. But wait, won't the guests get bored with nothing to do while you get changed? Fear not, this is where the 'profile video' comes in - a slide show or powerpoint presentation set to nostalgic music. Pix of you both as kids "kawaii!!!" and your first date in Disneyland, etc. It's a chance to include your parents, who don't have much to do - you can at least have them in some of the photos. Some people go over the top and get mini movies made, complete with animation, for around $600.
The couple are ready for another grand entrance, to stirring music. We chose Amuro Namie’s “Fight together” – no, it’s not about fighting, it’s about sticking together, and it was the music for the animated series One Piece, last year. My husband chose that!
It’s time for the Candle Service! Actually, we were pretty keen on the “breaking sake barrel service” where you break a mini sake barrel at each table with a wooden hammer… until we saw how much it would cost! I don’t know where the candle service tradition came from, but it’s really popular in Japan. You have a long gas-powered taper that you use to light a candle at each table, and everyone takes pictures. Then you light a central candle, which they give you later as a memento.
Finally, you can sit down again and maybe have a bite of your main course, while assorted friends entertain. There might be funny speeches from friends, music, or skits – especially from the groom’s co-workers who are well sauced by now.
|Maybe one of your friend will sing after a few drinks!|
After coffee and dessert and cake, the party starts winding down. The parents are ushered to stand by the main doors and it’s time for the bride to read a heartfelt letter to thank her parents. I was a little reluctant to do this, but my husband said it would be the emotional high point for a lot of people, and they’d be disappointed if I didn’t say a few words to sad plinky piano music and maybe shed a tear. So I did, and dammit, I did choke up! Then we gave flowers to our parents and a father or the groom will give a closing speech thanking everyone for coming. The families exit and the guests gather up their gift bags, finish their drinks and make their way out. The families and the couple are lined up to say goodbye and accept congratulations, and the bride and groom give out small gifts. This was my one chance to give a bit of “Australia”, so I ordered a bunch of handkerchiefs embroidered with Australian animals and flora and wrapped them in little baggies with “thank you” tags.
And you’re done! No dancing, and for the bride and groom, not much chance to eat or drink. By the time we got to our second party, we were starving!
The nijikai is usually at a local restaurant or the same hotel in a more casual room. It’s usually a 2 hour all you can eat and drink affair which the guests pay for – anything from $25 to $60 each. By the time we got changed into normal clothes, had a moment to breath and counted out the money (more about that later!), we were an hour late and all the food was gone! It was great to just sit and chat and drink with friends, finally. You do feel a bit odd and isolated at your little bridal table. We finished our wedding day around midnight, grabbing McDonalds to eat in our hotel room!