Last Tuesday, a national holiday, my wife and I had a rare opportunity to attend some pre-wedding formalities. We were invited and accompanied by Mrs. Matsuura, a friend and neighbor of ours. When she extended the invitation, she basically said to us, "My cousin is getting married. If you wait outside her house just before the ceremony, you can see her in a kimono when she leaves the house for the wedding." Since we knew so little about Japanese weddings, such a simple explanation was hardly enough to get us excited about it, but we accepted the invitation anyway, figuring there must be more to it than we understood.
When we arrived at the o-yome-san's (bride's) house, there were close to 100 people standing in the street outside. Like us, each was there to watch the o-yome-san leave her house. Immediately we understood that this must be a very important Japanese tradition, and we were glad we had come along to witness the event.
As we stepped out of the car all eyes turned to [my wife] and me, and it seemed for a moment that our gaijinness threatened to upstage the event. Mrs. Matsuura introduced us to a few people and then got clearance to bring us inside the home. The genkan was so full of shoes that we had to do some nearly acrobatic stunts to climb out of our shoes and into the house at the same time.
The people in charge became very exited to have us there and were unusually eager to introduce us to the bride. Immediately they ushered us into the backroom where the o-yome-san was being prepared. As I intruded I said, "O-medetou gozai-masu!" (Congratulations!), and then a few people had fits about how good my Japanese was, just by virtue of that one word.
While everyone pulled out cameras and video cameras to preserve the evidence that gaijins attended to dressing of the o-yome-san,
[my wife] and I marveled at how beautifully decorated she was.
She was a life-
The bride was wearing this huge headdress. It was a large wig to simulate the old style hairdos. This was topped with a nice big white square shaped hat on the top of it all, with little golden decorations everywhere. She had on this great makeup all over her face and neck and shoulders and back and chest and arms. The makeup made here look very pale and porcelain. Then she had on the traditional red lipstick and great eye makeup. She was wearing soo many layers of kimonos. There were at least three layers of white kimonos that I saw underneath her huge big quilted outer kimono. The outer kimono was orange and red and had strips of red, yellow, blue and green on it. Then the inside lining was bright red. It was very metalic looking and also very vibrant.
The time came for the o-yome-san's grand departure, so we ran out the back door to pretend like we were seeing her for the first time. When she came out everyone oohed and aahed, and rightly, for she was extremely gorgeous. She had on so much decoration that she needed a person on each side of her to help her walk, and her multiple kimonos made it possible for her to only take steps of several inches each. She and her escorts walked down the street a little, disappeared into the back of a very expensive car, and drove off.
That's when the real excitement began. Soon men came out the front door holding huge boxes of chips, cookies, cakes, etc. Everyone charged them and dug in to get their share. It was a mad stampede, and Matsuura-san encouraged us to jump in and fight for our share, too. I gladly jumped in, but it was too violent and scary for [my wife], so she remained on the sidelines to cheer me on. Of course, with my American height, I had an extremely unfair advantage, which was checked only by my hesitation to fully participate in something I had absolutely nothing to do with. (In other words, I didn't feel comfortable trying my hardest like everyone else was.) I would reach over everyone's heads to grab some loot, turn around, and toss it to [my wife] on the other side of the street, freeing my hands for more wrestling.
I really felt sorry for the guys carrying the boxes. There were times when the masses were packed so tight that I would not have been surprised to pick up my feet and not fall. However, I did look at my feet and saw an old woman (probably in her 80s or so) lying on the ground being trampled on, so I assumed a "bear walk" position, with my hands and feet on the ground, and positioned my body over hers, so that no one could step on her. This was sufficient to protect her until the crowd had moved enough to allow me ample working space to help her up. I missed out on some free boxes of Pringles and cookies, but it felt good to help her out.
By now the elderly women were getting wise enough to stay out of the action, so they started coming to me, saying "O-nii-san, moratte kite" (older brother, get me some). It was very cute, so I couldn't resist my opportunity to play Robin Hood and be a hero, so I spent the rest of the time grabbing boxes and tossing them to old ladies who couldn't break through the outer rim of the mad crowd. Though I actually moraud much more, at the end we only had three items, and people might have wondered why I we had fared so badly!
Immediately after the o-yome-san's grand parade out of her house was the actual wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, we could not experience this part of the day's festivities because we were not invited. As Mr. Matsuura took us home, we learned that he too would not be attending the actual ceremony. When I asked why, he told me that he was not invited either, since he did not have direct blood relations with either the bride or groom. It seemed very strange to me that his wife, a close cousin of the bride, would be invited while he was not, but he accepted it without complaint or offense, as if it were quite normal.