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Sunday, Aug. 5, 2001


Down the aisle in style

Staff writer

As a little girl, I dreamed of getting married in a church amid beautiful European scenery -- or, if the wedding were held in Japan, then in the quiet setting of the woods of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.

The bride and groom take center stage for the day.

As it turned out, I was married in the heart of Tokyo in the middle of a blazing summer. The big day was July 28 last week, and earlier in the days before the mercury had soared to as high as 40 degrees. But, luckily, the day itself was just the right temperature, with low humidity and a gentle breeze.

Our nuptials were held at a chapel on the Yotsuya campus of Sophia University. We chose this chapel for two reasons. One was that we could keep to a small budget as the chapel does not charge a set fee, each couple instead making a donation to the chapel. The other reason was that, thanks to its central location, most of our family and friends could attend.

At first, my husband was not keen on having a wedding ceremony at all, being skeptical of the necessity of such a ritual. Moreover, we had not saved enough money to hold an event which might cost a fortune.

Time was also an issue. A graduate student of architecture, my husband was hard at work preparing for upcoming exams. But given our circumstances (we had registered our marriage and started living together a few months earlier), I succeeded in persuading him that it was the right time for a wedding ceremony, especially as his parents were scheduled to transfer to the United States on business in September.

So we swiftly decided on a ceremony at my old university chapel, followed by lunch at an Italian restaurant for family only. In the evening, there would be a party at the same venue to which friends and colleagues were invited. For most city couples it is the normal thing to follow the ceremony with a reception for between 50 and 100 people, and then often to have a niji-kai (post-reception party) with more friends. However, we decided to omit the formal reception because we didn't want the fuss of "cake cutting," "candle lighting" and speeches by guests of honor that would go on forever. We wanted our day to be simple, cozy and memorable both for the guests and for ourselves.

The experience of preparing for the ceremony proved both enjoyable and painstaking -- although it was hurried as well. We had booked the chapel three months before, having chosen it because I am a Sophia graduate and so am entitled to be married there. Beyond that, it simplified matters, because I also knew a priest at the university who would conduct the ceremony. Fortunately, rumors that marriage candidates needed to have obtained good grades during their student days proved to be groundless.

My husband and I had made our arrangements with the assistance of a priest I had known from college, and we later met with him to confer about the appropriate procedures and preparations for our ceremony. At that time, the priest gave us two assignments.

One was to compose our own wedding vows, the other to choose a section each from the Bible to recite at the ceremony. I hadn't studied the Bible for years, so I had to go to the library several times to re-read parts of the text.

After my husband finished his exams, we both took a week off work to give our full attention to getting everything together and crafting a handmade order-of-service for the day. The invitation cards were also handmade, by my mother-in-law and my best friend from high school.

One thing I was not prepared to compromise on was the wedding dress, but this cost more than anticipated. Luckily, my parents volunteered to pay for it, but the combined bill for my dress and the groom's tuxedo came to nearly 400,000 yen -- even though both were hired for the day.

On the day, more than 110 people turned up for the ceremony. The priest had told me beforehand that the chapel could hold a maximum of 80 people, but I did not follow his guidelines when making invitations. When I told him that our guests might number more than 100, he was flabbergasted, then warned me, half-jokingly, "Keep in mind that this chapel is an old building!" Some people might say that holding a wedding ceremony is just something to do for form's sake. However, organizing such an event may be the first experience many couples have of structured collaboration. For my husband and I, planning our big day was a constructive process, strengthening our relationship through trial and error.

I also felt there was something sacred about the process and the effort that the two of us put in to create an original ceremony to mark our marriage in front of so many people dear to us.

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