ceremony

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman #12

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One

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Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’ve bee invited to my coworker’s Wedding in Tokyo. What should I expect?

Slightly stoked,

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

Be prepared to be poor! Just so you know, Japanese weddings come in parts of three and they don’t come cheap.

The first part is the actual ceremony. It is the exchanging of vows in a Shinto or Christian style shrine, church, chapel, hotel or beachfront. This ceremony typically lasts no more than twenty minutes and only the bride and groom’s closest family and/or friends attend. ( Count yourself lucky that you are not close friends because that makes things even more expensive for you along the way.) None of these ceremonies are legally binding, by the way. All the legal documents are handled a month or more before or after the ceremony at City Hall in the Department of Marriage, Death and Divorce, where the employees there make bets on why you’ll be visiting them next time.

(I’ve seen Mickey and Minnie sign as witnesses on a Marriage Certificate in a ceremony at Disneyland. I can’t think of a shakier foundation for a marriage unless the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had signed instead. ) The ceremony might last up to an hour or more at a Christian church. At one wedding I attended, the pastor told a long story about how the love between the bride and groom reminded him of the love a child with Down’s syndrome had for the local life guard. I don’t remember what happened in the story other than it was very long and touching but I do remember the bride and groom looking at each other throughout the whole story as if to say, “So, am I the kid with Down’s syndrome or is that you?!”

The second part is the main event and is a cross between a fancy five course dinner and a community theater talent show starring the groom’s company boss. It is customary/mandatory that you give the couple $300 in a special celebratory envelope you can buy at you’re local 7-11. Be sure not to buy the envelope for funerals right next to it. It sends a mixed message and delivers bad juju to the newly joined couple. (You really don’t want to jinx the marriage, because if your coworker divorces and then marries again, you have to gift yet another $300.) Japan’s Got No Talent/Why I Kept My Day Job Showcase part of the ceremony can go on for hours as selected coworkers, friends and family sing songs, act out hastily written comedy sketches, present PowerPoint  presentations on how the bride and groom first met while ancient relatives live Skype simultaneously their congratulations and guilt trips for not having a wedding party closer to their respective hometowns. Tears flow freely and often. (Mostly because of the guilt trips.) Not to worry, so much good food will be coming your way that you’ll be too busy cutting your steak into bite size pieces to notice most of the waterworks. (I always am.) The grooms boss at some point will make the equivalent of the best man’s speech, only duller. Japanese style speeches leave much to be desired. They don’t like to get to the point. They would much rather beat around the bush until it’s obliterated. Fortunately, by time the bossman goes to the podium to speak, you’ll be too drunk to care.  As you leave the party, one of two things will happen. The bride and groom will give you either a”Thanks for coming” gift, such as a candle or a fancy photo frame, or they will give you a catalogue of gifts ranging from jewelry to home appliances to sports equipment for you to take home and choose a “thank you”to be delivered to your home. (The gifts range in quality from Cracker Jack toy to Argos.)

Part three is the “after party” that will cost you anywhere from $20-$100. It is usually a bar with an all-you-can-drink 2 hour plan. Typically, there is one table for boys and one table for girls. Welcome to the 8th  grade with alcohol. Hardly anybody hooks up because of or at a Japanese wedding party. (That includes the bride and groom) Under no circumstances are you to dress sexy.  Cute is the order that rules the land. Dress as you would for senior prom circa 1955. There will be very little or no dancing or mingling, just a lot of people asking you when you are getting married again, planning to have a child, and exactly when you plan on retiring to raise your still nonexistent children. In other words, bring a book.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From A Bitter Woman #10

Ask Gaijin Girl: Brilliant Advice From a Bitter Woman Always Ready to Help you With Your Life and Relationships Because She Never Has One

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Dear Gaijin Girl,

I’m a first year English teacher at a primary school in Iwate. I’ve just been invited to attend the funeral of our principal’s husband. What should I expect?

Slightly stupefied,

Shelby

Dear Shelby,

Just so you know, it doesn’t matter if you teach English at a primary school or not. If you are a foreigner in Japan, you are an English teacher. It’s only a matter of time until your pillow talk includes an exasperated explanation on why you said, “Do that thing I like.” instead of, “Do this thing I like.” that will kill the romance faster than a chopstick up the nose. As grammar takes up more and more of your conversation and he takes note of new vocabulary words you’ve unwittingly dropped,  you will soon begin to wonder if he is using you just to improve his TOEIC score and get that coveted, swanky overseas promotion at work. Trust me, it feels better to be used for sex. At least sex is sexy. Having to explain what predicates are while having sex? Not so much.

Sorry to hear about your principal’s loss. That’s a shame but from a cross cultural perspective, it’s kind of cool. You get to experience Buddhism in all off it’s cyclical pond paradise glory. ( I recently walked by a Buddhist cemetery that had on it’s wall an advertisement for the love hotel next door to it. On the other side of the love hotel was a crematory.  That busy block represented the circle of life not found as an attraction at your local Disney park.)

You should know that you will be expected to bring money, ¥5000 (about 50 bucks) in a special “Sorry he/she died” envelope. (You can buy the envelopes at your local convenience store for a buck or more. Be careful not to choose the “So happy he died!” implying celebratory envelopes right next to them. These envelopes can look virtually identical unless you can decipher the handwritten style Kanji on the flashy chord embroidered faces. Bring a Japanese person with you to make sure, you don’t want to be the one who lets the cat out of the bag and confirm what everybody is really thinking, that nobody really liked him. Plus, it’s bad juju.

The Japanese aren’t as much religious as they are superstitious. (Though they are beyond fine with opening umbrellas indoors. So much so that if I were superstitious, I’d point a finger at all the rows of open drying umbrellas in schools and apartment buildings and, like a mechanic with his butt crack showing, pronounce, “Well there’s the cause of all your earthquakes and disasters right there.”)

I was recently in a building on grounds that were used as a prison for war criminals. Plus, it was the site of several executions during and after WWII. The building is now a shopping mall called “Sunshine City” and many people working in it are convinced it is haunted with ghosts. When our elevator stopped, opening at the 4th floor when nobody had pushed a button for it and there was no one waiting to get on, the two women in the elevator with me agreed it must have been ghosts and commented that if you were there all alone in the building at night, you could hear the ghosts marching and/or screaming. Interesting for sure, but it doesn’t answer the more pressing question, “Why would a ghost need an elevator?”

Back to funerals, don’t put anymore than ¥5000 in the envelope, or you’ll look happy he died. Also don’t wear anything shiny, hair clip, tie clip or otherwise. This is also considered a celebratory, “yay he’s dead” gesture. Wear all black, and I mean all black, preferably a bit shitty too. If you want to wear jewelry, an unflattering single string of fake pearls is your only option. Men wear a black suit, white shirt with a black tie, a la Blues Brothers. When in doubt, just think “What would I wear or do at a jazz funeral” and whatever your answer is, don’t do that.

Be prepared for very few tears and a lot of smiling and laughing by friends and family before and after the ceremony, particularly if the deceased is old. Everyone will appear to be happy in a “I never thought he’d leave!” kind of way. Some will be, for sure. Generally, the waterworks tend to flood at home after the funeral.  The smiling and the laughing are a brave show to a room full of people who are also a little bit drunk or can’t wait to be a lot drunk at the after party.

If you attend the wake, expect shitty food, usually stale finger sandwiches from a catering service specializing in shitty food for funerals and wakes. (Again, if the food is good, it’s the mark a celebration. Plus, grief is a lot like flying in that your palate is shot anyway.)

A super expensive Buddhist priest with pop up midway through the ceremony, put his Rolex watch to the side and then chant a bit, 15 minutes or so, he may or may not wave around a horse hair whip, put his watch back on and then promptly disappear.

You will probably be expected to pinch ash, (not the deceased, something akin to incense ash) and raise it to your forehead with a quick prayer for the deceased.

You might also help place statues of wooden Buddhas and the deceased’s favorite flammable things, pictures, cigarettes, anime figurines, and that sort of thing in the casket before taking it to the crematory. The crematory is usually a private bus ride away from the funeral home, creating a chicken exit for those not able to stomach watching someone go into and out of an oven where guests are expected to help place the biggest bits of the remains in a box via chopsticks. (I recommend skipping this bit if your chopstick skills aren’t up to snuff. You don’t want to be the one who accidentally flung Grandpa’s backbone clear across the room and into a bin.)

Oh yeah, before you leave, you’ll be given a gift. Usually something boring and dull (hints of celebration be damned unless it's alcohol related) like buckwheat tea or new bath towels. I have a stack of these towels in my closet. No matter how hard I try and as nice as they are, I just can’t bring myself to use the “Dead Man’s “towels. I can’t shake the feeling he can see me use them. I guess I’ll have to ask him if he can the next time an elevator door at Sunshine City opens for no reason.

Good luck,

Gaijin Girl