Thursday, July 19, 2012

There is no plus one

The guest list 

There is no plus one, or two or three.

When I was planning our wedding, I read some of the forums on big wedding sites like The Knot. One of the most common issues was how to deal with cousins who wanted to bring their kids, friends who wanted to bring their latest boyfriend of a week, and worst of all, people who just turned up on the day with a "plus one". To those whiny people who didn't want to go to a wedding party alone, I wanted to shout "grow up! It's a few hours out of your life, filled with good food and free-flowing wine, paid for by someone else! It's not about you!"

At least, in Japan, you don't have that problem. It's understood by everyone, there is no plus one. Besides, guests, as I mentioned before, are expected to pay around $300 each, so I doubt that guy you met at Starbucks last week wants to pony up that kind of money. Even married couples rarely get invited together, unless they are both friends of the bride or groom.

At our wedding I invited one married couple because I was close to both of them. Even then, they had to sit separately, because one was a close friend who was giving a speech. She had to sit at the "VIP" table at the front, with my husband's boss and a few other 'important' people. The exception, of course, is family. You don't just invite your aunty and expect your uncle to stay at home. Close family usually pay between $500 and $1000 - as a group - so my husband's aunty and two of his cousins came together and paid about $500 (discounts for bulk!) One day, we may have to go to one of the cousin's weddings, and we'll basically pay back the $500. In Japan, you have to keep a mental tally of all these 'debts' you accumulate.

Because it costs money to attend a wedding (by the way, you don't HAVE to pay anything, it's just a social expectation, but you may be remembered and resented if you don't!), you should think carefully about the financial situation of your friends and family. My folks flew in from Australia, so of course we didn't expect them to then pay on top of their flights. We also paid for their hotel room and the rooms for other out-of-town guests (but this is not an expectation. People are happy to pay their own way).

The whole money thing can feel uncomfortable, if you were brought up in a culture where toasters and fondue sets are more common than envelopes of cash. Talking about cash can seem a bit... tacky. But it's a fact of life in Japan and considered normal, so deal with it. Some of my friends are school teachers, who obviously don't have a lot of free-floating cash. I wanted to make clear to them that any amount would be gratefully received and $300 was not an expected amount. Friends who were still students, or just starting out in a new job etc, gave about $150. A couple of friends who are talented musicians contributed to the entertainment, so they also gave less money. It also means you have to think carefully about you invite as they will feel obligated to pay. At most Japanese wedding parties, there should be a basic split of 50 - 50 in guests between the bride and groom. Having lived here only a few years, I didn't know heaps of people, so it was a little unbalanced; more like 60 - 40 to the groom's side. You can't just go inviting random acquaintances to make up the numbers and expect them to pay!

Some of your friends might want to contribute to the entertainment.

It's your choice to invite kids or not. You won't get a hard time from your Japanese relatives or friends if you don't - they will understand. I have a few friends with kids and I didn't include the kids - in fact these women were more than happy to leave the kids at home with their husbands and have a good gossip and drink! Since Japanese weddings tend to have a lot of speeches, young kids can get bored. I did include the kids of an out-of-town couple, as I knew they had no-one to look after them. I made sure to provide some colouring books and koala toys and consulted with my friends about what their kids would like to eat (the hotel gave a choice of kids meals, ranging from sandwiches to mini Japanese feasts). The staff really went out of their way to look after them - high chairs, lots of ice (the kids loved playing with ice cubes!) and seats near the exit for quick dashes to the toilet or time-out. There was also a family room where crying babies could be taken if needed.

You won't be expected to invite people's kids.

Before you send out the invitations, you pretty much know who is coming, because in Japanese wedding planning, you see, call or email your friends to let them know about the wedding around 2 months before and enquire gently as to whether they might be free to come (which means you can also have a secret "B" list). There's no nail biting wait till 2 weeks before the wedding to finalise the seating. If someone can't come to the wedding, they tell you pretty quickly and you don't have to send an invitation. When invitations cost about $5 each all up, reducing unnecessary paper can help keep your budget in check. And if they say the can come, barring sudden illness, they will come. The invitation also includes a stamped reply card, which is useful just to check off your list and double check people's name spelling. A few friends who couldn't come due to work or travel, sent gifts to our house instead, which was nice. Towel sets, cook ware and wine glasses are typical gifts, or you can send about $100 cash / gift card.

The actual invitation only needs to be sent out about 1 month before the event. The thing I found strange was the hotel wanted to know my relationship to all my guests. This went on to the seating chart, so you could see "this is the bride's former co-worker", "a high school friend" "his boss" etc. People here love to know the relationships and the social pecking order! My husband's co-workers could identify my parents and go congratulate them / try out their English (I also assigned a bilingual Japanese friend to be translator / run interference). It also means you know how to address people - should you use super polite/ humble language or just speak normally? But perhaps most importantly, my husband's single friends knew the relationship of "that cute chick over on table 4" to the bride, and plan an approach at the more casual after party(also saves the embarrassment of hitting on someone's aunty). 

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