A funny thing happened on the way . . .


It was a sunny June afternoon in northern Japan, and the perfect setting for a wedding reception: an airy room with large French windows opening onto a garden; mountains of flowers and a cake with more tiers than a Balinese rice field. Then, one of the groom’s pals stepped forward to make a speech.

And tripped over before he could reach the podium.

Recovering, but still drunk, he launched into a speech that provoked hysterical (and often embarrassed) laughter from the other guests, not because it was particularly funny, but because nobody could understand his burbling. On top of it all, remnants of the wedding dinner clung to his face and he kept referring to the bride by the wrong name.

Despite the amount of effort made to ensure everything goes smoothly on the big day, wedding gaffes seem almost inevitable and can become lifelong memories for the couple — if not exactly treasured ones. There follow a few of those tales that are fit to print.

* More and more Japanese couples are traveling overseas to tie the knot, with about half choosing Hawaii as their preferred nuptial paradise. One big reason for the trend is that it can be a whole lot cheaper than marrying in Japan. For one couple, however, paradise nearly cost them their marriage. The groom, who was suffering from food poisoning from an exotic meal the evening before, fainted just as he was about to pronounce “I do.”

* A 30-year-old Briton married to a Japanese woman recalls that he went to great pains to memorize his marriage oath in Japanese. But when the big day came, he forgot it all. “I just mumbled, and what I mumbled certainly wasn’t what I had spent days learning by heart. I’m still not sure if I’m legally married or not, which I suppose could come in handy.”

* Small children are often a source of excitement at big events, and weddings are no exception. One 28-year-old Japanese woman who brought her child along to a friend’s wedding soon regretted it. While making her way to the stage to deliver a congratulatory speech, she realized she’d lost her text. One look at her child showed where it could be found. There in his mouth was her lovingly prepared speech, now mangled and illegible.

* The cake-cutting ritual brings out the photographer in us all. One 30-year-old tells of her over-zealous efforts to get to the head of the pack for the perfect shot. As she scampered toward the cake and the smiling, knife-wielding couple she tripped over her dress, sending her digital camera flying into the third tier of the cake.

* Usually at Japanese receptions buckets are placed under the table of the bride and groom. This enables them to dispose of the copious congratulatory drinks offered by guests, and thus avoid getting smashed. A 24-year-old man from Shizuoka recalls mischievous school friends removing the buckets before his reception began, forcing him to consume not only those drinks offered to him but also his wife’s. When it came to the close and the couple were asked to rise and thank the guests, the groom promptly keeled over.

* An office employee, 25, tells of how she was given the task of ensuring speeches were kept to a reasonable length. One speech looked set to enter the Guinness Book of World Records, so the practical lady simply turned on the karaoke machine and started to sing a song.