I cleaned my bike on Friday morning so of course it rained on me when I went for a ride later that day but Saturday and Sunday were a different story indeed. Cool and crisp but nice and sunny, I went for a couple of rides with Team Attic and continued enjoying the autumn scenery. It’s a 15km ride each way to the meeting point for these rides so Kazuko was quite exhausted after we did a total of 100km on Sunday. The Attic shopkeeper, Mr Katahira is always updating the shop diary so I’m going to shamelessly steal the photos from his latest post as I was too lazy to get my phone out of my pocket and take any of my own pictures.
At times the group is a bit fast for Kazuko and one or two of the other riders and it would be pretty rude of me to take off and leave Kazuko floundering, especially into the strong wind that we had yesterday so I thought if I took the single-speed Pista along I could lead out the slower riders but still get a bit of exercise in. And the bonus was I could sprint up all the short hills and look impressive but as soon as I got tired (which is quite quickly) I could pretend to be going back to check on Kazuko. It was a classic win-win situation.
Not only was it a great weekend for cycling and ego-inflation, it was an excellent weekend for attending Kazuko’s cousin’s wedding. So on Saturday after I got back from cycling and Kazuko got back from work, we put on our best clothes and got ready to be picked up by Kii-chan, who was giving us a lift to the hotel in town. At first I was a bit worried that Kii-chan had driving duties but Kazuko reassured me he was only driving us there. I hated to imagine Kii-chan stuck at a wedding and not able to drink.
We missed the wedding ceremony and arrived for the reception at the Grand Hotel in Sapporo. As a token foreigner, I’m a mild attraction but because my Japanese is rubbish I think I can get away with pretending to be a bit simple and I’m generally left alone. One of my colleagues whose Japanese is pretty good told me he always gets asked to make speeches at weddings so there is at least one reason not to learn Japanese (among the pool of excellent reasons to learn it such as to talk to people).
Japanese weddings are often held in churches purpose-built for weddings. You’d think they were quite religious but once you realise what’s going on, you notice a lot more wedding churches than real churches. When I lived in Tokyo in the mid-90s, I had a friend called Jerome presided over weddings on his days off. He was out drinking one night and got talking to a bloke who told him he had the look of a pastor and offered him work doing weddings. He said he liked to add his own touches such as bringing a small bottle of water with him and ‘blessing the rings’ or leaving the alter and walking among his ‘flock’ while he was reading his sermon. If the bride was good-looking, he gave her a kiss as well.
Although I wasn’t there, I assume this sort of shenanigan didn’t happen to Kazuko’s cousin and his bride but, just as I can’t say for certain that the Large Hadron Collider is not being disabled by forces from the future to save the universe, it may well have done but I simply wasn’t informed of it. In any case, the next stage of a Japanese wedding is the reception and this is usually held at a hotel which will often have several floors set aside for weddings. Kazuko and I didn’t get married in Japan but we did have a reception here and that hotel even had a set of steps which didn’t go anywhere and were just for having your photo taken on. These hotels will book several weddings a day for each of the wedding rooms so there’s a strict time limit. You usually have to go in, get the eating and formalities out of the way within three hours and then clear off sharpish.
The Japanese are usually very efficient so imagine my shock when, having been ushered in to the reception room, the bride and groom entered and they started on the speeches while there was still a roomful of empty glasses. I don’t know about you but I find the older I get, the less tolerant I am of formal speeches. If someone chose me to talk to the Association of Semi-Conductor Salesmen, I would be well-advised to go away and find out a little about the sort of things that interest semi-conductor salesmen so that my speech might have some relevance*. Sadly, at weddings, the audience is the last group to be considered when it comes to speeches. The speech makers are chosen not because of their charm and wit but because of their relation to the betrothed (or the betrothed’s parents). All you can hope for is that the speech maker realises this and keeps it short. Sadly this is rarely the case and the speeches drag on as a result of either the speaker’s self-importance or belief that the occasion demands a longer speech. (Unfortunately, I’m not immune to this. My own wedding speech started with a bon mot and should have finished soon after but sadly didn’t. Chances are I also forgot to thank all the people I should have.) The plus side was that although I didn’t understand a word of the speeches, I could guess exactly what they were saying. As I looked around the room and saw a sea of smartly dressed people with glazed eyes, I realised it should be made illegal to have formal speeches before the booze has been dished out.
Happily the first round of speeches finally came to an end and our glasses were filled with lukewarm champagne so we could toast the bride and groom. Even more happily, Kazuko’s sisters and parents don’t drink so Kii-chan and I inherited all their glasses.
With these formalities out of the way, the next round of formalities started. It’s very important to pay your respects to the people you know and this can be done by taking a bottle of beer from your table and walking around to other tables topping up the glasses of people you know. I didn’t know anyone so I was able to sit back and observe these Japanese customs. The food was tremendous and once the alcohol had been turned on, I almost didn’t notice the second round of speeches, which seemed to have more of a corporate feel to them. Before I knew it, dessert and coffee was sitting in front of me, the dancing was over and just like number 51, our time was up. I had time for a quick photo of the emptying room and the Takahashi ladies before we were whisked out.
Luckily no one was inspired to carry on into the wee hours so Kazuko and I were able to get an early night and wake up ready to ride in the lovely autumn countryside.
*In fact, semi-conductor salesmen are among the dullest people on the planet and are interested in nothing so any speech would be doomed to failure anyway but it wouldn’t matter because they probably weren’t listening in the first place.