Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Ceremony

Here one can see us reading our vows at the front of the shrine, facing the Kami-samma (God) said to be represented here. The entire ceremony lasted 20 minutes or so, and we started a little early because everyone gathered precisely on time (there is no point in telling Japanese people an early starting time in case they are late - they never are).

Before the ceremony we gave a brief speech each, me to outline the process for the day and the Delightful Miss E to tell everyone why we had chosen to marry at the Jozan Inari Shrine (although by the time people were inside it should have been obvious from the calm, peaceful beauty of the shrine and its grounds exactly why we were here). The ceremony then followed, and consisted of the following stages:

1) A purification ritual, in which the priest waved a staff over us and about the key points of the room;

2) A long prayer, which the priest chanted on the raised dais in front of us in a deep voice and unusual rhythm. The delightful Miss E, more cultured in these matters than me, informs me that the dramatic tone of this speech was very similar to that of Noh plays. I believe this prayer was intended to invoke the good will of the shrine's deity.

3) Another brief purification ritual, in which the priest rang golden bells over our heads

4) The ceremony of san san ku do, in which both Miss E and myself had to sip ceremonial sake. This was conducted 3 times, and at each stage each of us had to sip the sake 3 times. The first sip had to be just a taste; the second had to drain almost all the remaining sake; and the 3rd sip was to finish the drink. The cup was then passed to the priest, refilled, and passed to the other supplicant. By this process I drank 3 times, then Miss E; then a larger cup was filled, and Miss E drank 3 times, followed by me; then an even larger cup was filled, and I drank 3 times followed by Miss E.

5) Our vows, which we had to read in front of the altar. The vows, loosely translated, go as follows: "In front of the gods on this good day we are thankfully able to marry; henceforth we promise to be good and kind to one another through all of our lives, and through bitter and happy times." Reading this in Japanese takes some practice.

6) An offering, in which the priest gave us both a ceremonial pine branch which we had to place on an altar at the front of the shrine. We then bowed two times, clapped two times, bowed once and returned to our seat.

7) A final kanpai, in which all the guests toasted our future with sake.

This ceremony shows the nature of Japanese traditional religion at its best: simple, agrarian, investing great meaning into the small and everyday objects and gestures of a long and traditional history. We finished the ceremony feeling we had done something important and completed a promise to uphold something dear; and that we had done so through symbols which better represented our own feelings than do the pomp of modern secular or religious ceremonies in most parts of the world. I think, too, that our guests left the wedding with a feeling that something special had been done, even if the only outward signs of it were these small and humble gestures.

3 Comments:

Anonymous a different emma said...

Congratulations! I would have been most disappointed had you had a traditional Western ceremony... I love the pictures and it sounds/looks like an amazing day. Three cheers!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, loved the descriptions of the ceremony.
I'm now definitely making soba tonight for dinner with a croquette on top like I had in Tokyo. :-)
- Scott
(Frank & Jo's friend in New York)

1:40 AM  
Blogger St John Nottlesby said...

Congratulations, old boy! May you both have many long, happy, and healthy years together. An especially loud, Rowing Club cheer for making the day your own and not conforming to any damned-fool formulaic "ceremonials". Capital stuff!

12:11 PM  

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