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Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008

Traditional nuptials revived to up tourism


Staff writer

Some 2,500 tourists were on hand to watch as 22-year-old bride Noriko Kageyama and groom Takanori Nakazawa paraded through the streets of Inawashiro town in Fukushima Prefecture one Saturday in June.

News photo
Bridge to the past: Newlyweds Noriko Kageyama and Takanori Nakazawa cross a bridge with attendants in a traditional wedding parade in Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, in June. COURTESY OF KITSUNE NO YOMEIRI JIKKOIINKAI

Wearing traditional black kimono with "tsunokakushi" white bride's hood, Kageyama, who was born and raised in the neighboring town of Miharu, and Nakazawa were accompanied by about 50 volunteers in formal kimono, some carrying boxes of presents for the new household.

On the 2-km journey, neighbors and relatives shouted congratulations, while the leader of the entourage responded with a folk song of the Aizu region.

The event is Inawashiro's attempt to revive and pass down its traditional wedding ceremony from the early Showa Era (1926-1989).

Couples disinclined to wear Western-style white wedding dresses and tuxedos are enjoying a rare chance to experience the local tradition of a wedding parade instead of tying the knot in a chapel.

Traditional wedding ceremonies are also a great opportunity for Inawashiro and other local governments that see similar events as a way to lure tourists.

"It was first held in 1997 to stimulate the town," said Sumiko Yamada, an official in charge of Oshin-san no Yomeiri (Shin's Wedding Parade).

The town, which spends ¥3.8 million promoting the event every year, revived the traditional wedding based on the recollection of Inawashiro resident Shin Watanabe, who married at age 18 in 1928.

"She still had her wedding kimono and let us use it (when the town revived the ceremony for the first time)," Yamada said. A similar kimono was made later to replace the old and prevent it from wearing out.

Because they must agree to attend rehearsals, only two couples applied for this year's event. Local couples get put at the top of the screening list.

On May 3, more than 50,000 tourists came to see the annual Kitsune no Yomeiri (Wedding Parade of the Foxes) in Aga, a town of some 15,000 in Niigata Prefecture.

"It's the biggest tourism event in the town," said Aga town official Yukari Saito.

The region is best known for "kitsunebi" — a ghostly whitish-blue light believed caused by phosphorus gas rising from a burial ground.

Looking to put a positive spin on this image, the Wedding Parade of the Foxes re-creates the effect of the gas with a string of lanterns carried by people parading in the traditional wedding.

The town of Tsuga revived its traditional wedding ceremony in 1990 in a successful bid to boost tourism. The town merged with three others in 2005 and was renamed Aga.

Dressed in traditional white wedding kimono and made up to look like a fox, the bride and about 100 "fox" attendants in kimono parade through the town with lanterns.

The bride and groom meet on a bridge at the foot of Mount Kirin, after which the wedding ceremony and reception are held in a nearby park.

The ceremony ends around 8:30 p.m. when the couple get into a small boat to cross the Tokonami River.

"We decided to hold the event to erase the negative image of kitsunebi," said Saito of Aga.



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