Getting (hic) hitched in the sticks


Imagine you are a bride. At your wedding reception, you visit each table for “candle service.” Lighting one on each table you greet guests, all of whom congratulate you, clapping their hands. This would be a scene from an ordinary reception. But what if half the guests are nodding off? Such was my case.

I got married three years ago to a man from Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Kyushu. His hometown is a 11/2-hour drive from Kagoshima city, in the remote countryside bordering Miyazaki Prefecture — real, deep inaka.

My husband and I were already living together in Tokyo, but we held a wedding reception at his family’s request. Since my father-in-law arranged everything, we didn’t know exactly what was planned until the day itself.

In the event, our nuptials were totally different from anything I had either expected or imagined.

The venue was a small hotel owned by a friend of my father-in-law. The first surprise was its huge banquet hall, as big as a gymnasium and with ample room for the more than 300 guests my husband’s family had invited. Most of them were my father-in-law’s friends or clients of the family stationery store he runs. Even my husband did not recognize two-thirds of the people there.

The next thing to amaze me was a blue plastic bucket placed under a flower-adorned table for the bride and the groom. A kimono-clad member of the hotel staff whispered to me: “People will come and pour shochu in your glass to offer their congratulations. If you drink it all, you’ll pass out by the end of the reception. So you only have to pretend to drink, then tip it into the bucket.”

As she had warned me, guests came up to us one after another, and the bucket was soon filled with a mixture of beer, sake and shochu. Her advice certainly came in handy.

People in Kagoshima are known for being heavy drinkers, and the area is famed for its shochu. At each table guests were well able to entertain themselves, gulping down alcohol. They soon became intoxicated and loud. Most were no longer paying any attention to what was happening on the stage, while others were singing or dancing on their own.

When the hall became too chaotic, a man walked to the stage and, snatching a microphone from the person making a speech, he shouted, “Be quiet!” A teacher from my husband’s high school, he was angry because no one was listening to the speech. However, he too was drunk. He roared again, “Shut up! Otherwise sensei (meaning himself) won’t tell you anything! Hey, over there! I can still hear someone speaking!”

Finally, the hall became dead silent, and the teacher triumphantly handed the microphone back to the speaker, saying: “Here; please continue your speech.” (The next day we discovered the teacher didn’t remember this incident at all.)

Half an hour later, when we stopped by each table for the candle service, at least half of the intoxicated guests were asleep in their seats. By then I had realized that for them, our wedding reception was a good excuse to get heavily drunk and have fun.

However, the highlight of the reception came when a “special gift” from the hotel was presented. To the strains of loud, cheerful music, staff dressed as Daikoku, one of the seven lucky gods, entered the ballroom bearing a big sack and a lucky mallet and danced around the tables for a few minutes. Then they disappeared, still dancing. An odd interlude. But it certainly helped to wake up drowsy guests.

We were then brought up to the stage again. It was our turn to give a “singing present” to the guests. I don’t know if it was my father-in-law’s own idea, or if the custom of Kagoshima is for marrying couples to sing a song in front of the guests. At any rate we sang a pop song using a karaoke tape, but with me in my princess-like dress and my husband in a tuxedo we must have looked more like an enka duo. I’m not a big karaoke fan, and even today the song makes me shudder with embarrassment.

After that, my husband made a brief speech to thank the guests for coming. The three-hour wedding reception was almost over — but it was still too early for me to start feeling relieved.

At the very end, my father-in-law took the microphone to deliver his closing remarks. He seemed nervous, standing in the middle of the stage with flushed cheeks. He cautiously read out a written message he’d prepared. But just as he was winding up, there was a final slip of the tongue: “Everybody, please take good care of my daughter-in-law, Keiko.”

What? My name is Yuko, Otosan!