Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gokekkon Omedetou

We went to our first Japanese wedding on Sunday. Tomoi and Norichan. I looked forward to it with anticipation, because weddings are always nice occasions, and well, because I knew it would be blogworthy.

What I forgot to anticipate was wardrobe. Me, I was prepared. I had bought a dress last year that I had yet to find an occasion for. The kids, however, growing like weeds as kids do and treating their clothes the way kids do, had nothing suitable. And until Macky reminded me two days before, I had forgotten completely about them. Macky to the rescue again.

It was a long, painful day. D wasn't so difficult. He still belongs in that size category to which the shopping malls cater: the age at which parents can still play dress-up with their prides-and-joys, from baby through young elementary school. M, however, is in that odd 'tween stage, the size 'tween little kid and style-conscious teenager. He definitely has fashion opinions, and his size was really hard to find. All the kids' shops sizes stopped at 130 cms. Frustrating. D had a tantrum out of boredom.

M had some fun with fashion, tho. Macky had him trying on pimp coats.

They were assuaged mid-trip a bit by the most beautiful thing to a child's eyes (and nostalgic, to Macky's): the well-stocked candy store.

We were at it for 7 hours, all told, because Macky also had shopping to do. We were all exhausted and hungry (and significantly poorer after the shirts, pants, ties, and shoes) by the time we got home at 9pm, and Macky was developing a nasty cold.

Jeff got back home from Hawaii moments later, and we had a discussion on what the proper amount of gift money to bring. Macky hadn't even been sure. He had to call his dad. For Japanese weddings, you don't bring gifts, you bring money. It really isn't meant as a gift for the couple, either, but more as a way to help the couple recoup the expense of the wedding. A single person is expected to bring 20,000 to 40,000 yen (about $200-400)! And here we were, a family of four. Ouch. I won't tell you how much we decided on, but we put it in the proper wedding-money envelope that can be found in any grocery store, stationer, or combini:

You are supposed to give new bills, only, but the hotel front desk did not have any, so the couple will hopefully not be offended by our used bills.

The wedding was held at Hotel Excellent Coast (great name). Weddings are a huge business in Japan. Very Western in style. More like Disney that way, I guess. Pretty Pretty Princess.

The pre-wedding welcome drink was held in a large room, but we were running late, so we just had time to slam a glass of champagne before being ushered outside and into the chapel. This was a surprise to us, because Tomoi and Norichan had already gotten married last fall and this was being called a 'wedding celebration.' But, like Jeff and I had done 13 years ago, they were doing the whole thing over, for the benefit of family and friends who weren't present at the secret little civil ceremony.

So I wasn't expecting the sight of Norichan as a blushing bride.

It was very like your average Christian-like church wedding, complete with fake nuns welcoming guests:

and singers performing "Ave Maria" and other church standards. There was a Western priest, too, and I heard Jesus mentioned a lot, despite the fact that the country is nominally Buddhist and Shinto. But like I said, Western-style wedding are big here. There were some notable differences, however. Like the lack of prohibition against hat-wearing in church:

That and the fact that the ceremony was conducted mainly in Japanese made me almost feel like I was at a Bar Mitzvah, because I couldn't understand what was being said, but could only stand up and sit down when everyone else did. And there was a lot of bowing in the ceremony, to add that Japanese flavor to the proceedings.

Here's the happy couple, now officially, or publicly, married:

We were then directed to the banquet room, where we had place cards. Look, it's my name!

Notice the shiny silverware, and below, a set of the usual disposable wooden chopsticks. I wonder where the wood comes from for all the chopsticks consumed here?

The new couple entered the room to "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Then, between courses, there were little wedding traditions, some new to me, like a few chosen men opening bottles of champagne simultaneously with the groom (who had some trouble with his). Jeff thinks he was chosen to do this because speech-making would have been difficult.

The usual multiple speeches were conducted via ambush by a mysterious woman.

And naturally, there was alcohol. Looking at this collection, Jeff consulted the time and determined that it wasn't even noon yet:

No real surprise there. The food was beautiful, and for the most part, really tasty, too (the fancily-displayed mozzarella balls were still gussied-up bar-snacks to us Americans, but I'm sure they aren't known that way in Japan):

The kids cleaned up nicely, don't you think? All that hassle paid off. I can't believe my little boys are so grown-up handsome and in ties:

M was really underwhelmed by the kids' plates that had been prepared for the under-twelves, but he cheered up when the kids' cream puff plate arrived, like a stack of cannonballs next to the vanilla-bean ice cream:

Our table mates. Very Rat-Pack ne. Macky wasn't suffering too badly from his cold at that moment (he had chills by the time it was all over, tho, poor guy):

The kids were allowed to have a little sip of champagne. And wanted more.

We were informed that the dessert was ready. Back in the first room (where the welcome toast was). Quite a big spread. Whew. M had more cream puffs. I think the final total was fourteen.

There was the normal cake-cutting ceremony, with a funny little twist. Tomoi fed Norichan a bit of cake from a dainty little spoon. When it was Norichan's turn, she chose the giant serving-size spoon to feed Tomoi.

More drinking. Here's the Buzz Crew, as taken by D:

Macky was starting to feel the effects of his cold, so he decided to take the other packet of cherry-flavored Alka-Seltzer cold medicine I had given him that morning. In a glass of white wine. He claims it worked much better that way.

Must have, because he was all into posing Beatlesesque with my kids on the spiral stairs:

At this point, the reception deviated away from Western traditions. No bouquet-throwing or dancing or anything like that, but there was singing. Just like karaoke!! (The first half was actually in the banquet room, a "gift" from the little girls). For the second part, tears were flowing.

And there was an odd and really touching little ceremony in which the couple presented their parents with teddy bears to the strains of "The Long and Winding Road." I surmised that it was an end-of-childhood, thanks-for-raising-me-and-now-you-must-let-me-go kind of thing. Lots of respectful bowing. I got a little teary myself, and I wasn't the only one. Purely symbolic, as they are both far beyond the end of childhood, but it was really sweet nonetheless.

The party was wrapping up, no doubt so they could use the room for the next wedding. Besides, D had gotten into the champagne and it was time for him to go.

Just kidding. He's eight, what kind of parents do you think we are? He's more than old enough for whiskey.

Actually, since we were already in Chinatown, there was bound to be a BuzzBuzz after-party. It was probably only 1 pm or so, anyway.

Jeff wants this to be an impressionist painting, a la Renoir, Sunday Afternoon in Chinatown:

The kids were entertained. And highly entertaining. Being the only cute gaijin boys around, they somehow cuted and conned their way into the wallets of these two guys, who played heads-or-tails (after being told the words in English) and we soon out about 1200 yen. Gambling has no language barrier.

They also somehow got them to buy the panda hats M had coveted at Panda World, across the street. I have a feeling M is going to do OK in this world. Sometimes to get all you want, all you have to do is ask. The eyelashes don't hurt, either.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

100th Post!


A Trip to Tama Zoo, At Which Some Things Are Bigger or Smaller or Spottier Than I Would Have Expected

Firstly, though, I must post a picture of Helen and Kevin sporting their Jager-gear that I picked up in Madison, Ohio, and accessorizing it with, what else? Jager shots.

Monday was Coming of Age Day, on which kids turn into adults as they reach their 20th year. It's a national holiday, so Helen and I took the kids to Tama Zoo. Kumi came, too. Jeff left town for the week.

It has its own train and train line! One stop.

If they look cold, that's because it was cold. Not as cold as Cleveland, not by a long shot, but you also wouldn't catch me hanging out outside all afternoon in Cleveland.

The zoo is known for its natural-like habitats (the opposite of Ueno's concrete boxes, tho I still like that zoo).

There was a baby tapir! Did you know they were born with brown spots? Me, neither. Very cute. Someone probably makes handbags out of them.

There was a petting zoo, limited to guinea pigs you could pick up, and one rabbit that you couldn't.

There was a Mole House. It was pretty cool. There were two glass-topped tables in which you could see the mole-tunnels, and these were attached via tubes to glass aquariums on the walls, so the moles could run around everywhere and be spied on by humans wherever they went.

The highlight for me, however, was this guy:

He was the size of a quarter, or the top joint of my thumb. We all squealed over it and wished we had one to carry around in our pocket.

Very pretty peacock. One can never have too many photos of peacocks, can one?

Baby snow leopard! He kept attacking his older sibling or adolescent cousin or whatever the relationship was. They both had giant "I'm not done growing yet" paws and big puffy tails.

Tiger! I think D took this one. Very nice.

The first example of carnivores in action, the gray wolves:

And the second example, also the eating of a dead bit of flesh, but much more gruesome. The kids' reaction is the best:

Then there was the wombat. Did you know they were this big? Like a gigantic rodent? (OK, it's a marsupial, technically). Probably easily weighs as much as a good-sized dog. Scary.

There was a great big area for the lions, which we saw from a bridge above. There were a whole bunch of them, males and females, roaming around this area. Very unusual. We could've taken the Lion Bus, which drives through the area and gets right up close to them, but we were in a hurry to get to the Insectarium before it closed and D would be so sad. Couldn't have that (even though he later threw a tantrum on our way out because I wouldn't buy him another stuffed animal from the crazy overpriced zoo store. In his defense, he did have a cold and we were outside in the cold all day). Anyway, at this point he is still happy and I wasn't yet The Worst Mom EVER:

They had a lot of cool bugs, giant ones, and camouflage specialists.

That guy was hand-sized. Hate to wake up with one of those on my face.

Anyway, a zoo is always a great way to kill an afternoon. It was kind of far (a bus and 4 trains), but it was a good zoo. Animals posed well, they had lots of almost natural-looking space, they all looked happy.

Except maybe this female orangutan. The oldest and saddest-looking primate in captivity. Reminded me of a bag-lady.

Rest of the zoo pics here, if you want.

On a completely different topic, I thought you'd enjoy a look at a Japanese Denny's. Denny's was the first place I ever ate in Japan, a few years ago on my first visit. Unlike McDonald's and Starbucks, the menus are completely dissimilar from their American counterparts.

You won't find any Moons Over My Hammy or Pigs in a Blanket here:

The kids' menu is much more extensive, too.

And they don't bother giving the kid a little cup of sprinkles to kiddify their pancakes, no. They just go ahead on top them with ice cream.

That's my lunch in front. Some kind of udon and good-luck-for-the-new-year mochi and stuff. Mm-mm, good. I also burned my tongue.

Just to further illustrate the strange things done with originally-American brands of food, I found this at the grocery store the other day. Yeah, that's Quaker Instant Oatmeal, but you are apparently supposed to forgo the maple and brown sugar and serve it with mushrooms instead.

Don't knock it 'til you try it, I guess, but, uh, hm.

In other news, our trip to China is on. We fly into Beijing and are thinking of taking a sleeper-train to Shanghai. Anybody been and have suggestions?

Also, I will be going to San Francisco this spring to go to Karla's wedding. Yeah, you read that right.