A Kume Island Wedding

IMG_7293_1This past weekend I had a chance to attend my third wedding in Japan. All three took place in Okinawa, which means the ceremony and traditions are slightly different from what you’ll find in mainland Japan. Since I’ve just begun planning my own wedding later this year, I’ve got a lot more interest in the whole spectacle than I’ve ever had before.

Okinawan weddings differ most in the number of attendees. Where eighty guests might be considered large for a mainland Japan wedding, Okinawa weddings often have 300 or more guests. The difference comes from both economics and tradition.

In Japan, most attendees bring cash, 200-500 dollars worth as a present to encourage the new couple and cover the cost of the wedding. In return, the smaller gatherings are often extravagant affairs with fine food, drinks, and a gift for every attendee.

IMG_7335_1In Okinawa, the ‘poorest’ prefecture, it is harder for visitors to give so much. Instead, the usual gift is 100 dollars. The difference is made up in a larger group. With more people attending, the hosts can still have a great party. The visitors include a wider range of co-workers, family, and friends than might have been invited in Japan. It’s not all about economics though. In Okinawa, it is common for frequent and large gatherings that tie communities closer together. Celebrations for anniversaries, and important birthdays can get quite large, not to mention all the festivals.

So, now that I’ve got my own wedding coming up, we’ll have to figure out how to put on a great party. Luckily, I’ve been invited to a few weddings now so I have an idea where to start (and of course my wife is going to be doing most of the decision-making… because really… in any country it’s her day).

IMG_7796_1Anyway, back to this weekend. For the first time I attended a wedding on Kume Island. If you watch a lot of Japanese TV you might recognize the couple from the TV show I was on. Like me and my wife they met via the omiai show that came to Kume Island. By now, six couples have been legally married with a few already having their ceremonies and parties. This couple was the first to throw their party at home.

Living on a small outer island it can be difficult and expensive to plan a wedding, especially if many of your friends and family live outside the prefecture. Still, Kume Island is a beautiful island with tons of great people, culture, and locations for a special day. Partnering with one or more of the resort hotels to deliver great food, the party can rival those on Okinawa.

IMG_7229_1Okinawan weddings are generally seated affairs with each guest having an assigned seat. With so many visitors the hardest part for the couple is dealing with reservations and getting a solid fix on how many people will attend. With food and drink and a thank you gift under your chair, guests arrive before the start of the ceremony and begin eating and drinking right away.

The food was served family style on a rotating table top. This helps promote conversation and limits the number of staff needed to serve food through the party. There are many options for food, from whole course to buffet, but with food being the largest expense, couples have to think carefully about what kind of food service they want in order to stay in budget. The food this past weekend was delicious and rather vast, with quite a bit of left overs afterward.

Talking with Islanders, in the past so many people would attend that couples would provide a bento box and single drink for each person. The cost would be far less and so many more people could attend. With today’s larger affairs, bento boxes are still sometimes done, though they are quite extravagant. Far more common is the course or family style service.

IMG_7236_1At the appointed time, the couple makes their debut entrance and walk among the tables to their head table. Throughout the evening there are speeches made by people close to the couple, usually including a boss or two.

There are also entertainments throughout the night. Some of the entertainment is traditional, such as specific congratulatory dances. Other entertainment is put on by friends or coworkers of the couple and can be quite extraordinary. This time around the entertainments included comedic skits with plays on karate and shishimai, costumed dance numbers, traditional dance, and a talented live singer.


IMG_7615_1A large group from the kumiodori also performed several of the dance numbers from the musical. They ended with the traditional kanchanpi (okay spelling might be off on that one). A dance where everyone gets up together. The groom gets thrown in the air and everyone just enjoys themselves. It’s a traditional end to many performances or parties in Okinawa.

The couple also made at least two exits during the evening. These exits give the couple a chance to recover a bit and change clothes. Couples often change as many as three times throughout the event, with each reveal a chance for the couple to walk and greet guests and for guest to snap pictures in their new outfits.

IMG_7433_1Of course, sometimes the couple only makes minor adjustments such as flowers to make the transition more easily. One of the major re-entrances is often the candle service, where the couple lights candles at each table before lighting their own candle. Cake cutting has also become common in Okinawa.

Towards the end of the night, the couple make their first remarks. The bride generally reads a farewell/thank you letter to her parents before the couple give gifts to their parents. The groom generally gets the last speech thanking guests, etc.

IMG_7796_1One difference on Kume Island that I haven’t seen at other weddings is that many of the guests brought practical gifts in addition to cash. Those who brought things lined up and made short speeches before presenting their gifts to the couple. This difference definitely gave the ceremony a more at-home feel than some of the weddings held at larger hotels in Okinawa I’ve been to.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to eventually sharing about our own wedding. Still a lot to learn!