If you are nonnative and have decided to marry a Japanese, congratulations are in order. But prepare for a world of worry if you plan to have the kekkonshiki (結婚式, wedding) in Japan.
I went through this experience recently. Your partner — the hanayome (花嫁, bride) in my case — expects a perfect day, and this means lots of kekkonshiki no junbi (結婚式の準備, wedding preparation) and chokin (貯金, saving money). Even more worrisome for me, though, was writing the shinrōshaji (新郎謝辞, bridegroom’s speech). This is often delivered right after the hirōen (披露宴, main wedding party) — there is no best man’s speech to hide behind — and entering such unfamiliar cultural waters seems rich with the potential to cause offense.
Fortunately, a little research shows that most 新郎謝辞 generally follow the same pattern. After thanking friends and family for attending the wedding, the hanamuko (花婿, bridegroom) then thanks his 花嫁 for being there for him. In fact, there is very little in the speech beyond gratitude. Those embarrassing stories that Western speeches are so well known for are few and far between. Instead, speeches are mostly concerned with explaining why you are thankful to your friend, daughter, son-in-law, etc.
To start, set the tone with a comment such as, Minasama, honjitsu watashitachi no kekkonshiki ni okoshi itadaki, makotoni arigatō gozaimasu (皆様、本日私たちの結婚式にお越しいただき、誠にありがとうございます, Thank you very much everybody for coming to our wedding). While this basically means the same as kitekurete arigatō (来てくれてありがとう, thank you for coming), use of humble language (お越しいただき, to come) and emphasizers (誠に, very) get across the point that today you are so humbly grateful that you can barely hold yourself back from buckling over, planting your knees on the floor and giving everyone a great big bow.
There are quite possibly going to be people in the room from distant shores, so a useful comment might be, Tōi tokoro kara, kochira made kite itadaite, kokorokara kansha shiteimasu (遠いところから、こちらまで来ていただいて、心から感謝しています, to have come from so far away to our wedding, I offer you gratitude from the bottom of my heart). If this seems like repetition of “thank you,” you are right. You can never say thank you too much in a Japanese wedding speech. Here is another very polite form of the phrase that you can use to vary up your gratitude: Takusan no shukufuku wo itadaki mashite kokorokara onrei moshi agemasu (たくさんの祝福をいただきまして、心から御礼申し上げます, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your great blessing).
It is also a good idea to say you are happy that your friends could make it. I said: Watashitachi ga tsukiau naka de, hokano kappuru to dōyō ni taihen na jiki ga arimashita. Shikashi sore wa futari no aida de atta koto desu. Koko ni irassharu minasama no dare kara mo, gyaku ni ōen wo itadaki mashita (私たちが付き合う中で、ほかのカップルと同様に大変な時期がたくさんありました。しかし、それは二人のあいだであったことです。ここにいらっしゃる皆様の誰からも、逆に応援をいただきました, Since we got together, we have had problems like any couple, but none of these have been due to our friends, who have always helped our relationship become stronger). Some people might argue that mentioning relationship problems is inappropriate. And others might counsel you against uttering words that carry negative connotations, such as kiru (切る, cut). However, Japanese society is more flexible than popular perceptions of it, and many more Japanese marry foreigners today or opt for casual weddings than when rules such as these were mandatory.
You should be well accustomed to the thanking part by now. But what else can you say to the families of the bride and groom? A wish for family unity would not go amiss. Here’s a phrase carefully crafted during much crouching over my electronic dictionary: Korekara mo kyō no yōni minasama ga atsumatte kudasaru koto wo nozonde imasu (これからも今日のように皆様が集まってくださることを望んでいます, After today I hope to see everybody together again like this) — which shows all present that not only are you happy with your own but you look forward to the joining of two families.
And then comes the wife. Set phrases won’t help you with this task. Write down what you wish to say, try to translate it, then ask a Japanese friend about how to express yourself in the politest way.
Now you are almost ready. I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice. Don’t make the speech too long. The 10 minutes I spoke for seemed an eternity. And expect to make mistakes — and to be forgiven. After all, if everything goes to plan, this is the one and only time you will do such a thing in your life.