Why Nick shouldn’t be invited to weddings

27Jun12

The happy couple in a photo I stole off Emma’s facebook page.

Lisa took me along to attend my first Japanese wedding last Saturday.

Shin and Emma held a traditional wedding in a Protestant church in Tokyo. It was the perfect ceremony. Shin was a classmate of Lisa’s at Wharton. He is an honorable, sincere man who I am proud to call a friend. Emma is one of the sweetest, most darling women you will ever meet. Omedetoe gozaimasu!!!

Anyway, enough about them. Let’s talk about me, which is what this blog is all about.

I am possibly the worst wedding guest ever. It’s not that I make a huge drunken scene or pull a stupid prank like put tape on the bottom of the groom’s shoe. No, I do all the little annoying faux pas that drive a bride crazy.

I never meet the RSVP deadline. I turn in my tux measurements a week before the wedding. I show up 5 minutes late to the service and open the creaky doors at the quietest part of the ceremony (usually when a harp is playing). At the reception I park next to the free keg until it is empty. I crowd the dance floor, bumping the bride out of the way to showcase an off balance running man.

I’m not afraid to speak into the microphone, even if nobody asked me to give a speech.

I’m still there when the lights turn on and the DJ is playing “Closing Time” and the bride and groom are smiling through clenched teeth just wanting to go to bed listening to me bellow “One more song!”

Needless to say, I love weddings.

For one reason: free booze all day.

Japanese weddings, thankfully, follow this near and dear tradition.

Actually, I was relatively surprised how similar Japanese weddings are to American weddings. Of course, this wedding was held in a Christian church, while some Japanese weddings are Buddhist in nature. They even sang “We have a Friend in Jesus” at the opening of the service, except they sang it in Japanese.

American or Japanese, I still can’t carry a tune.

The church itself didn’t have any ornate religious decor. There was an organ, a pulpit and a cross. That was it. No stained glass windows. No statues. No banners. No pews – but they had really nice comfortable leather-bound chairs.

The service was average in length – just about half an hour. Emma wore a gorgeous white wedding dress with a long train carried by a flower girl. Shin wore a tux with a black jacket and gray vest. Some Japanese brides wear kimonos, but Emma went with the princess look.

A few of the female guests wore kimonos, but most of the women wore standard wedding garb. However, it is customary for men to wear black suits and white ties. Lisa bought my white tie back in Philadelphia. I noticed some men wore off-white or even silver-striped ties.

Probably the biggest difference at the wedding is that there were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. Not even a best man or maid of honor. Also, guests are not supposed to bring a date unless they are specifically invited. I noticed that on the bride’s side there were a lot of women sitting together without men, and vice versa on the groom’s side. Lisa said the only couples allowed to attend together are usually married and friends of both the groom and bride.

Following the service we recognized another tradition of Japanese weddings: waiting.

The service started at 10 a.m. The lunch reception wasn’t until 1 p.m. After the ceremony we took a taxi to the Okura Hotel, a Tokyo landmark where the reception was being held.

I rode in the back of the taxi with Eric, a French-Chinese, and Rohan, an Indian-American. Both of them are in the start-up financial investment banking market hedge fund business. In the back of that cab they were striking up a multi-million dollar deal.

Neither of them asked me to invest a hundred million dollars.

With my 1500 yen ($15) safe in my pocket we arrived at the hotel and sat in the lobby and chatted until it was time to move to the reception area. The waiters greeted us with trays of drinks.

“Birru?” the girl said.

Lisa and Nick in soberer times.

Now that is Japanese I understand.

However, what I grabbed wasn’t beer. It was wheat tea.

Probably for the best.

Finally we made it to the dining room which was extravagant with glittering chandeliers and brilliant flowers and more fine silverware than I have underwear.

The meal started off with a speech from our friend Naoki, who can deliver a heck of a speech. This wouldn’t be the last speech of the day by far. Before the end of the afternoon, there would be a speech by Shin’s former baseball coach, by Shin’s brother, by Shin’s father, by Shin, by two of Shin’s friends, by two of Emma’s friends, by someone for whom I don’t have a frame of reference and by Shin again.

If somebody had handed me a microphone I was ready to give a speech by god.

One of the appetizers. On the left is mystery meat wrapped in phylo. In the middle is a bean sherbet and on the right are little meat cubes (one tasted like bologna). And there were dipping sauces.

But I want to say this before I forget. The food at the lunch/reception/dinner was hands down the best food I have ever eaten. This is no exaggeration. Now I love my mother’s chicken divan, and it will be what I request on my death bed. But the food served at Shin and Emma’s wedding was exquisite. So exquisite that I started taking pictures of the plates, and I hate people who take pictures of their food.

The very first thing they brought out was this little gelatinous cube that was filled with vegetables and shrimp or lobster or something. It was a seafood surprise.

The main course was roast beef. And it was as tender as anything I have ever had in Iowa. It had an herb crust and was pink rare perfection.

And at all times there were two full glasses of alcohol in front of me. First it was a glass of champagne, and before that was gone they poured white wine, and as they filled that up somebody poured a glass of red wine.

Eric, the French-Chinese guy, was sitting next to me and has an app on his phone that tells you the quality of the wine. Apparently the wine we were served met his standards.

At this point I pulled my first “classic Narigon” bumble.

Emma and her mother make the rounds. (Photo by Lisa)

The main course was over and I decided to use the bathroom. Shin and Emma had left the dining room a bit earlier to change into full traditional Japanese garb – she in an elaborate kimono and he in this cool samurai outfit.

Of course, this didn’t dawn on me as I left for the bathroom.

For starters, when I exited the dining room and opened the door, I knocked over Emma’s aunt who was helping her prepare her kimono. When I returned from the toire, I was sure to stay clear of them in the hallway and gave my best sheepish grin and wave as I passed them by.

What I didn’t realize was that just before I made my re-entrance to the dining room, the emcee had made the announcement for everyone to watch the door in preparation for the arrival of the bride and groom.

What they got was me.

In the spotlight and everything.

I snuck to the side hoping nobody noticed the 6-foot red-headed gaijin lighted up like a raccoon on a midnight picnic table.

Back at the table dessert and more wine was waiting for me, so all was soon forgotten.

After dinner and a photo slide show and many tears and more wine and speeches, it was time to move to the next party.

Dessert.

We had three hours to kill, so a bunch of Lisa’s classmates from Wharton invited us to join them at an izakaya bar. We had a private room and drank nama (birru) and ate more food. This was a pleasant time because we had all reached that perfect buzzing point.

No shots, no hard liquor, just good champagne and wine and a little beer, plus plenty of good food to absorb the alcohol.

When we reached the second reception at 6:30, that’s when things took a slight turn for ol’ Narigon.

Now, granted, I held my own. I didn’t dance foolishly. My saving grace was the fact that Japanese weddings don’t have dances – they don’t even have DeeJays. They just have quiet background music and everyone chats politely.

Now while I didn’t say anything stupid, lord knows I didn’t say anything smart.

Of course Lisa was there to help translate, most of the time.

There was one of her upper classman who cheerily greeted me and said, “We have met before, right?”

Emma and friends at the reception. (Photo by Lisa)

And I said, “You bet, I remember you!”

Even though I couldn’t tell the guy from Mickey Rooney.

And Lisa says, “Really? Where did you guys meet?”

The guy and I had an awkward moment of silence and quickly moved on to a new topic.

Thanks honey.

I found a couple of drinking buddies among Shin’s old baseball teammates. Even though they didn’t speak English, we got along great over several bottles of beer. When Lisa began helping with translation I found out that they both worked in agriculture, and actually knew of Iowa State, so we had that in common.
It was around 10 p.m. when they kicked us out of the reception. Since there was still plenty of night to burn, we decided to keep burning.
Our good friend Jun found a cheap izakaya nearby, and the same Wharton group as earlier joined for a bit of late night revelry.
Now, a couple of wives left for home at this point, knowing that nothing good was to come of this rendezvous.
But this is a lesson I have never learned. Leave while you are still ahead.
However, Jun told us that Shin and Emma wanted to join us once they had time to change in to comfortable clothes, so we were bound and determined to soldier on.

The last picture I took before everything fell apart.

Once at the izakaya, heads started to droop one by one. The day of indulgence had taken its toll.

The wise thing to do would have been to order some coffee, tea or water and calm down.
Yeah right.
My theory was this – in order to rally the troops, you needed to prove that you could drink more!
So I guzzled down beers like a 16-year-old at an off campus house party.
I overzealously regaled everyone, multiple times, about the plot of the screenplay I am working on (well it isn’t started yet, but it’s all “up here”). I made a wildly inappropriate reference to Sirhan Sirhan that created the second awkward silence of the evening.
Finally, Shin and Emma briefly joined us, which was awfully nice of them. They were making rounds from bar to bar to visit all of their drunk friends.
Once they retreated to the night, our party was over.
There was talk amongst some to go to a night club.
Eric, the French-Chinese, said to Lisa (this is what she told me), “You should probably take your husband home.”
And he was right.
Lisa led me through the Tokyo subway, catching the last train home.
Once there, I made some naked, drunken facebook comments and went to bed. (Sorry about that.)
My cousin Nellie is getting married this summer back in the States. Unfortunately I can’t make it.
Jeff and Marion are getting married this summer in Kansas. I can’t make it.
Probably for the best.
Congratulations Shin and Emma!!! May your dreams come to life and your life be a cycle of astounding joys!
Kampai!!!
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