Living overseas helps you to realise the importance of understanding cultural norms and societal expectations. Each culture is different and those differences can be anything from a linguistic difference, to ethnic, religious, social… you get the idea. Here in Japan there are many times when I have so many questions about things that I simply know when I’m in Australia.
We went to a wedding on Saturday. We really didn’t know the couple very well, but the groom attends the church we attend, and we had spoken with him briefly once or twice. We were very kindly invited to both the ceremony and reception (all 5 of us), but decided that at the moment, with a newborn bub, that the ceremony might be as much as we can do. So without even attending the reception (a whole other level of complicating factors), here are some of the things that I wondered, asked about or googled.
What do I/Paul/the kids wear? This was the area I was most concerned about – not because I was fretting over which amazing dress to wear, but because Japanese fashion tends to be quite different to Australian fashion, and the same goes for wedding attire. Here are some ‘guidelines’ for women that I read/heard:
- No bare shoulders
- Nothing above the knee
- Absolutely wear tights and closed toe shoes
- Colours like black, grey, dark blue are best
- A shawl or a formal jacket of some kind is best
- No cotton.
As it was, I went with a navy blue, knee length dress, which technically had 2 shoulder straps, but one was quite thin while the other was made with fabric flower type things. So while I didn’t wear a strapless dress, I felt self-consciously bare compared to every other woman there who had shoulders entirely covered.
It was much simpler for men – a plain, conservative suit and tie. And for kids – well, we just guessed and put the girls in cute dresses, with white stockings and black shoes. They looked pretty cute!
2. Presents and cards
What kind of present do we give? How/where do we give that present? Paul asked his language teachers about this. Typically if you go to the wedding ceremony you give a gift of money, often around $300 per person (or maybe per couple, I can’t remember!). It must be given in a specific type of wedding-money-gift-envelope too. But as we were only going to the ceremony we weren’t sure about protocol. It was recommended to us to just give a small gift that symbolised being a couple; slippers, mugs etc. We went with matching mugs.
Then there is the question of what exactly to do with the present. How do we give it? Where do we put it? Do we give it to the bridge and groom? Is there a table to place it on? In Australia I didn’t even have to wonder – there is nearly always a table for gifts at both the ceremony or reception. And if not, it is usually made very clear about what to do (eg. out card/money in wishing well). What if they tell us during announcements etc and we don’t understand? Yikes! In the end, I asked a helper at the ceremony, and there was a table available. But it didn’t have gifts on it so it was not obvious at all. And then, after the ceremony when we had a chance to put the gift on the table, it was gone! So we found friends who were going to the reception and they took it for us thankfully.
As for the card and the message inside the card, that ended up being kind of simple. The more complicated thing is which kind of envelope to put the gift of money in when going to the ceremony. So we just picked a nice “Happy Wedding/Congratulations” kind of card and wrote both an English and Japanese message inside. We weren’t sure who to address, as we only knew the grooms family name, but as it’s common to be called by your family name (both husband and wife) we went with the easy option of simply the polite “family name + san”.
All of this is to say that sometimes it’s the little, unexpected moments that really add stress to life overseas. It’s not big, dramatic moments but the accumulated impact of consistently being unsure and uncertain about social norms and expectations. Constantly wondering if you are doing the right thing is exhausting. For the most part I try not to stress about things too much, but for significant formal events the pressure is higher – thus the stress of being invited to a wedding was quite high!
In saying that, it was a privilege to be invited to a special, joyful occasion. Paul loved how happy the groom was. He was absolutely beaming! We pray that this couple would enjoy a long, joy filled marriage centred on Christ, and for his glory.
**I’m sorry to say we don’t have any photos – what with needing to leave just after 9am to get the Wedding on time, and having a new born, 2 and 4 year old, we didn’t quite manage to find a moment of peace and quiet to take some photos. Thankfully one lady from the church took a couple for us but we don’t have them. Sorry!**