Before you get too excited, no, the title does NOT have anything to do with me personally! I just wanted a catchy title that would be applicable to two big February events: Valentine's Day and the wedding of one of the teachers at Kirita!
First, Valentine's Day. Like last year, I received a heck load of chocolates/cookies (most of which were homemade) from the girls at Kirita. Since Valentine's was on a Saturday this year, the school designated Monday (rather than Friday) as the celebration day. (This is a big difference between elementary school and junior high school: In elementary school, kids aren't allowed to bring Valentine's chocolate to school!)
Of course, Monday isn't my Kirita day, but luckily I was at Sawada Elementary School that day, so I didn't have to be at the school until about 10:15am. This enabled me to drive to Kirita to drop off the cookies for all the students and teachers (and even to help a bit with marking!) before I went to Sawada.
And since I wasn't there, I didn't have to sit at my desk labeling everything I received this year: Tomabechi-sensei did it for me! (Lucky for me, but I feel kind of bad for making extra work for her.) When I got to school on Tuesday, I had a big bag on my desk waiting for me.
Of course I had to photograph every single one and write down who gave it to me when I got home. (The writing down the names was so I could give White Day presents to everyone who gave me something.) As I was photographing everything, I couldn't help but be impressed all over again with the care Japanese girls put into making their homemade chocolates.
In total, I got 19 Valentine's presents, 17 from students, 1 from a Kirita teacher, and 1 from Mukainakano-sensei. One student present was actually not from a Kirita student, but from a Kamikirida Elementary School student! I've taught at Kamikirida a couple of times so they all know me as the Kirita ALT (since the students usually go to Kirita for junior high school). Anyway, this particular girl is the younger sister of a sannensei girl and an ichinensei boy at Kirita. I happened to see the two girls in the Daiso on Saturday morning buying stuff to make Valentine's chocolate, so I guess that's why she (the younger sister) decided to make me something.
Basically the note says that she hopes I will enjoy the chocolates because she made them herself, and that my English classes are fun. ^_^
As always, you can see all the pictures of my Valentine's chocolates in my Facebook album.
Today (February 28th) was the wedding of Satou-sensei from Kirita. It was in Hirosaki so they chartered a bus to take everyone in the Misawa-Towada-Shichinohe area down. It was great not having to drive or to pay for a train down, but it was tough because I was so sleepy (we were supposed to be at the station by 9am and usually I sleep until noon on Saturdays, barring any engagements) and I didn't want to sleep because I was wearing contacts and I had my hair up in a bun. Towards the end of the ride, I did fall asleep, and regretted it because my eyes were SO dry, even after putting in eyedrops.
(Digression: I was pretty proud of my hair! I've never been able to figure out how to do anything more than a basic braid with my hair, but after looking through various hairstyle websites throughout the week, I finally figured out a style that would work on Wednesday night! Basically I pull my hair into a medium-high ponytail, twist it all up, tie it in a knot, and then wrap the remainder around the knot. It's the first time I've actually benefited from having super thin (quantity-wise) hair! Because I have so little hair, I was able to secure it all with just FOUR bobby pins!! No styling products, or even elastics were required to get it to stay up!)
Anyway, when we got the hotel, we loitered around in designated waiting areas until everything was ready to start. In Japanese weddings, the actual ceremony part (at the church/shrine/temple) is usually just for family, so the newlyweds and their parents were standing outside the doors to the banquet room greeting everyone. On the guests' part, we just bowed and said congratulations as we passed each couple. The bride and groom were wearing the traditional wedding kimonos (black for the groom, white for the bride). Plus the bride was wearing the traditional white wedding headdress--hard to describe, but I'm sure you can find a picture somewhere on the internet. It looked really heavy! The groom was bowing to everyone who greeted him, but it seemed like Satou-sensei could barely nod her head for fear of disturbing the headdress!
When everyone was seated, the lights were dimmed, a spotlight was shining, and music was played with much fanfare for the entrance of first the groom and then the bride being escorted by her mother. The master of ceremonies gave brief introductions about the bride and groom, and then it was onto speeches from the principals of their respective schools (yes, they're both teachers), followed by the "kanpai" (toast). After that, the groom's mother performed a Japanese dance. Then the bride was led by her mother around the room before she exited to change dresses and everyone started eating.
At some point I'm guessing the groom also left to change, but I really didn't notice until Satou-sensei made her re-entrance in the Western style white wedding dress and veil. Again the lights were dimmed and the spotlight was on (making it hard to take any decent photos without flash), but this time she entered on the arm of her father. Her husband (now wearing a suit, so obviously he changed!) shook her father's hand before Satou-sensei rejoined him.
It was interesting because the wedding planning company's people were right there, prompting him to shake the father's hand! In fact, right from the beginning they were around, leading things! Even in during the first entrance, there was a guy walking in front of the groom (pacing him, I guess?) and a lady leading/helping the bride and her mother. I wonder if they had to have helpers they don't have wedding rehearsals like in Canada/America? (Besides, with both of them being teachers living in different cities hours away, it wouldn't have been practical for them to have a rehearsal.)
Anyway, after the re-entrance they cut the cake and served each other bite. It was funny to notice that while the guy gave Satou-sensei a piece with strawberry, she just gave him a normal bite without any fruit! =P Following that they had a mini-procession of children (girls) carry bouquets which they presented to the couple. (I'm guessing that was a variation on the flower-girl?!) Then the "best man" and "matron of honour" (I doubt they're actually referred to as such in Japanese) made speeches, followed by presentations from the teachers at the groom and bride's respective schools.
He has been at the same school for six years, so the school presentation for him was pretty lengthy: a videotaped message from his students, the teachers' presentation, and a presentation from the baseclub he coaches. I felt kind of bad going after them with our Kirita presentation. We also had videotaped messages from each grade, but our teacher performance was less...energetic. We performed a popular song ("Kiseki" by Greeeen) on handbells. It sounded pretty good, but the mics didn't really pick it up, so I don't know if anyone other than the bride and groom and nearest couple of tables could even hear it. ^^;;
When we returned to our seats, dessert was served and the bride left for yet another outfit change. When she returned, she was wearing a blue gown (symbolizing happiness, we were told) and she and her husband went around performing the candle ceremony.
I thought the candle ceremony was the neatest part of the wedding. On each table there was a candle on a fairly tall stand. The groom carried a giant lighter/torch-thing (don't know how else to describe it--it looked like a fencing foil with a flame coming out of the tip or something!) and they went to each table and lit the candle. I didn't really catch the full explanation (I was caught up in how lovely the effect was), but basically the candle ceremony symbolizes the bride and groom's appreciation towards the guests. I guess we have basically the same thing with the bride and groom walking around and toasting with all the tables, but with the lights once again dimmed and the spotlight on the couple, the effect was a lot more impressive than the toasting I'm used to. (Or maybe it's just because it was a novel concept to me?)
After that the bride made her thank you speech and the two of them walked from the head table to the doors where their parents were standing. They presented their new in-laws with flowers for the mothers and sake for the fathers (i.e. Satou-sensei gave the gifts to her husband's parents and vice-versa). Then the groom made his speech, and since they were so conveniently standing by the door, they exited right after that. After a few minutes, all the guests were invited to depart and we once again congratulated the newlyweds and their parents as we left.
Being so used to the Chinese church weddings (ceremony in the morning, sometimes followed by light refreshments, a break while the couple do the tea ceremony, and off to a banquet hall/restaurant for a dinner/dance) I was expecting my entire day to be spent at the wedding, so I was pleasantly surprised when we boarded the bus straight away and were back in Towada before 6pm!
It was definitely a good first experience of a Japanese wedding. Before the wedding I was kind of worried that there'd be a lot of Japanese wedding etiquette that I'd have to figure out from watching other people, but for the most part all I had to do was sit back and enjoy! And enjoy, I did--the food in particular! ^_~ You can see pictures of the food in my Facebook album.
Then too I was quite pleased with how my outfit for the wedding turned out. When I went back to Canada for Christmas, I finally found a simple black dress that was actually fairly flattering on me! Luckily I knew I'd have the wedding to attend when I went back to Japan, so I brought it with me. Since it was fairly low cut and also short-sleeved, I went shopping last week to find a camisole to fill in the top a bit, and a cover-up of some sort. I lucked out and found exactly what I was looking for at Uniqlo! (I never realized how useful a nice stole can be until I found the one I got at Uniqlo! It doubled as a scarf when I was wearing my jacket!) Then I went jewelry shopping on Friday (I wanted some nice dangly earring and a necklace to balance out all the bare skin I was showing with my hair up and the cut of the dress) and found the perfect pieces (unfortunately you can't see them very clearly in the photo) at Chambre. ^_^
I don't know if it's just a matter of my sense of style improving with age/experience, or whatnot, but definitely since coming to Japan I've felt more like I can be at least passably pretty with a little bit of effort. And of course, losing a couple of kilograms is always provides a nice self-image boost (although I'm still not back to the weight I was at before going back to Canada for the holidays! =P). Anyway, I suspect that I'm going to be wearing the same outfit to pretty much every formal occasion I have to attend while I'm in Japan. ^_~ Well, maybe not to the graduation party since it'll be with all the same people from the wedding, but definitely for the ALT farewell party in June/July!