So, it’s final. In September I’ll be a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding in Brussels. My plans for attending the wedding have been in the works for months, but finally I’ve booked all of the plane tickets and hotels, which makes it official.
After almost a year of not traveling, I’m finally going to Europe!
Yet, as I started thinking about wedding preparations I found myself at a loss…
Are French/Belgian weddings the same as American ones? What is considered a ‘good’ wedding gift? How do they work? Is it ceremony and then reception, or is there some sort of legal service in between?
It made me reminisce back to my days in Japan and when I had to attend multiple Japanese weddings. Talk about culture shock…
Wedding Gifts… AKA, Show Me The Money
When it comes to wedding gifts in the States, a toaster, a blender, or even a set of measuring cups could be considered a decent wedding present.
In Japan? It’s all about the custom envelope–and the money inside.
“I got invited to my very first Japanese wedding, but I don’t know how much to give,” I asked my Japanese friend from college. “What’s the average amount?”
“$300!?” I choked. In America, a really nice gift would be a $50 panini maker, or perhaps a $100 grill if you were feelin’ real generous. But $300!? I don’t even think my own parents would give me that much on my wedding day!
“Would they mind $200, maybe?” I pleaded hopefully.
“No that wouldn’t work,” my friend said sternly. “In Japan, the number 2 is bad luck for weddings. It means separation. It’s bad luck to give anything in 2s, even if it’s $2,000.”
So it was give $100 and look like a cheapskate, or fork over $300 for a bride I didn’t even know that well.
In the end, I played the dumb foreigner card and gave $200–because hey, it’s better than $100, bad luck or not (by the way, this couple is still happily married with two kids).
Later on, I learned that almost nobody gives $100 in Japan since, well, it’s chump change for a wedding gift. The minimum for a wedding gift is $300; if you’re really good friends with the bride or groom, then be prepared to fork over $500 or even $600 bucks.
Yeah. I know.
The Ceremony (fake priest included)!
Japanese wedding ceremonies have become very westernized, and getting married in a fake church by a fake priest (yes, there are foreigners that get paid to be a priest) are pretty much the norm.
The layout of a Japanese wedding is now very similar to a western wedding. The bride wears a poofy white dress, stands at the altar with the groom, and promises their eternal love before the (fake) priest. Afterwards it’s off to the reception, which is usually at a fancy hotel.
Sadly, fewer and fewer Japanese couples have a traditional Japanese wedding at a Shinto Shrine. The white dress and altar have become their new wedding dream. One of my goals is to attend a Shinto wedding, so I’m crossing my fingers that one of my single Japanese friends will go back to their roots.
The Fancy Reception
Japanese receptions are usually held in a super swank hotel. The tables are covered in heavenly white table cloths. The best silver is out. Only the best Japanese and Western food is served. Servers are of course in impeccable suits with perfect posture, walking around with wine, champagne, and foie gras for all of the honored guests.
The Japanese sure know how to do receptions right.
Imagine my surprise when I found a beautifully decorated bag sitting not only on my seat, but on every guest’s chair. The bag contained thoughtful gifts such as a photo album, a photo frame, a hand stitched handkerchief and a box of delicious sweets from the local area. I was stunned. Later I found out that it is customary to give a gift to each wedding guest as a thank you token. At another Japanese wedding I attended, I was given a $200 L’Occitane gift set. The same price as the wedding gift I gave them.
The rest of the reception was similar to a western wedding, awkward chatter included. At every Japanese wedding I’ve been to, I was the only foreigner and stuck out like a sore thumb. Most of the guests eyed me with awkward curiosity, while others tried to avoid me altogether.
Luckily, the Japanese keep the reception busy so guests don’t have to interact with each other too much. While the weddings I’ve attended were quite mild, many of my other friends have attended Japanese weddings where games like twister were played, the wedding party danced Gangam Style or there was the usual photo album presentation with choreographed music and speeches.
Throughout the reception, the bride is extremely busy. It’s common for the bride to wear the white dress at the beginning of the wedding, but change into a kimono midway through. At the end, she changes again into more comfortable wear. At one wedding the groom went back to his roots and wore the traditional ‘hakama’ wear–which I thought was awesome.
Japanese Wedding Rules
“May I have your name please?” the woman working the check-in list asked with a warm smile.
“Me-a-ri,” I said slowly. My name was the only foreign name on the list, but I suppose she had to ask for manner’s sake.
“Ah, yes, Ms. Mary,” she pulled out an envelope with my name written on the front. “Please enjoy the wedding.” She bowed.
I opened the envelope expecting to find the schedule or seating chart, but instead found two crisp 10,000 Yen bills–in other words, $200 bucks (with the exchange rate back then, anyway). It was compensation for my “troubles” in traveling to the ceremony location (which I only paid $40 bucks for, by the way).
In Japan, it’s customary for the wedding party to pay for a portion of the transportation burden for guests who come from afar.
Let’s just say, I felt really embarrassed about my $200 wedding gift after that.
I had a Japanese friend who decided to get married in Shanghai, and thus was required to fly all of her friends and relatives to the ceremony. Not only did the guests get reimbursement for the flight, but they demanded my friend use only Japanese air carriers. They also ordered the bride to book Japanese hotels, too, which was much more costly than the Chinese or even American hotel chains. As she told me horror stories about how she had to pay double to fly her guests in on All Nippon Airways, I had to lift my jaw off the floor.
While it is a nice gesture, I think it’s a little much.
Another quirk of Japanese weddings is that only the person invited is allowed to go. Not even their spouse or child may attend as a guest. This is a strictly enforced rule. In Japan, the +1 rule just doesn’t exist–which, I’m sure, helps cuts a lot of costs overall.
Overall, Japanese Weddings Are a Good Time
I mean, seriously, you get money and presents and awesome food! What’s not to like? And the fake priest and church? Oh man, talk about entertainment!
The Japanese are also exceptional organizers. From start to finish, the wedding ceremony and reception is like a dream. Everything is picture perfect. From the arrangement of the silverware to the design of the bride’s kimono–everything is planned out to the utmost detail in order to execute the ideal wedding.
But yeah, paying 300-600 bucks as a wedding gift does suck.
If you want to read more awesome wedding stories, check out Autumn’s blog. The retelling of her wedding could be made into a motion picture. No, really.
Do you have any good wedding stories? How do Japanese weddings compare to weddings you’ve been to? Would you pay $300 bucks as a present?