Trip to Japan 2013 – Day 4

I woke up the next day before six. I was still a bit tired, but sunlight was already streaming through the windows and the sheer curtains. It was the day of the wedding. By God’s grace, the scratchiness in my throat did not worsen the last few days. Today, it actually felt a little better. I was not sick after all.

I showered, dressed, and went to visit George and Jason. They were up, but hadn’t dressed yet. I checked my email and Facebook for the umpteenth time. George had rented a portable wifi access point that accessed the cellular network and had been carrying it around everywhere, so we had convenient access the web. I think it was the single best investment we made the whole trip, allowing us to call anyone we needed on our iPhones through Skype as well as indulge in compulsory email- and Facebook-checking.

We had breakfast at the hotel, which served a combination of western breakfast food (scrambled eggs, sausages, etc) and Japanese food. Jason was eating his cereal with his face and became a little more civilized when he started using his fingers. I think it was too early in the morning for him. He looked for coffee. The drink dispensers, which were in Japanese, gave us some trouble. I probably looked more than a little slow as I stood in front of it staring at the katakana, trying to figure out the American loanwords. Fortunately, I knew enough to guess that アイス コーヒー (“aisu kohi”) meant iced coffee, so I told Jason which it was. He ended up having four cups of one kind of coffee or another. George later led the way in getting hot milk tea from another machine, and so we followed suit and had our fill of drinks.

Of the food, there was one tray that contained this deep-fried breaded nugget that we found extremely tasty. George and I ended up eating three or four each. The fact it was deep fried didn’t stop me from eating the tonkatsu (or was it chicken katsu?), which we discovered a bit later.

We spent the rest of the morning preparing the lyrics to our song for the skit.

I had a miniature crisis as I looked at the description of the suits. Apparently, they had mixed up the waist (ウエスト, or uesuto) sizes with the chest sizes for a couple of the suits! Hoping it was a typo, I tried mine on. It fit okay, so after we all changed to our suits, we grabbed everything we needed and went downstairs.

We were told the night before that there was a 10:30 bus that would take us to Honda Chapel. We found Mark’s coworker without trouble, and neither did we need to convince the hotel to let us go (they usually needed 10 before departing), as Mark had told us we might. They had already been expecting a special trip, so we left without hassle.

We dropped our stuff off at the school next to the chapel. Bobby was there already, so all four of us were able to practice our song together (hereafter referred to as “She’s Yours”) in one of the upper rooms. We saw Mark in another room donning his super-traditional, five-button suit with a monster tie that was about twice as large and complex than a full-windsor. We took a big office in the corner so he wouldn’t hear us practice. However, Pastor Dan needed his office and asked us to relocate. We moved across the hall into a room with a foosball table, but Pastor Dan warned us not to play foosball—jokingly. I think.

During practice, we had some trouble with the rhythm. I was never used to clapping off-beat, even at church. George was more inclined to clapping on the down-beat as well, but Bobby was adamant that it had to be syncopated. He decided to be the beat-setter. George had wanted us to memorize the lyrics, confident that we can do it since “we’re all Asian.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and we decided it was okay to have lyrics up there with us. Better to look dorky than to forget our lines and totally screw it up.

The time before the wedding was mostly dedicated to taking photos—family photos, bridesmaids photos, groomsmen photos, combined photos, funny photos. George’s suit was too long for him, and swapped with a reluctant me. In one scene, the groomsmen were walking in V formation with Mark at the front. I was behind Jason on his left. We were told to walk a bit down a dirt path and then do the Usain Bolt pose at the end, with fingers pointing at the sky, either to the left or to the right. Every time we did the pose, Jason’s arm would block my face, and we’d have to do it again. We eventually got it right.

Mark’s a big fan of basketball, so after the photo session, we decided to play 3v3 (it was supposed to be a photo shoot as well, but we just ended up playing, haha), with George, Mark’s brother Nico, and me on one team and Jason, Bobby, and Mark on the other. I was expecting them to dominate. We played for several minutes, but ended up tying 0-0. Nobody managed to make a single shot. It was quite embarrassing.

We went upstairs and waited over an hour for the ceremony to start. Lunch consisted of a fishcake, a piece of chicken karaage (deep-fried), and an onigiri (triangular piece of flavored rice wrapped in seaweed) for each of us. We thought the packaging for the onigiri was extremely inconvenient, as the seaweed was wrapped around the rice with a plastic film in between to keep the seaweed dry. Annoyance turned to wonder when Mark showed us how to pull the plastic wrapper out without unwrapping the seaweed. The Japanese have a lot of such clever ideas (look up “Japanese T-shirt folding” on Youtube, or “Unuseless Japanese Inventions” on Amazon), reflecting a ritualized culture where efficiency has also become an art. (The morning prior, Mr. Bindewald showed me on a milk carton steps for how to break down the carton; conformity demanded that one cut it according to instructions, stack them neatly and tie them up. This culture permeates society, with nonconformists viewed less favorably and possibly ostracized.)

The sky was overcast and the air was a bit heavy, like before a storm. The breeze through the windows cooled the room. The guys sat down and chatted a bit about diamond rings (we were at a wedding, after all), women’s expectations of them, and parents’ expectations of them (yes, the rings; but also of the type of guy who would buy something other than a diamond ring). The conversation then shifted to what our expectations would be of potential suitors for our daughters. We talked about the shift in what materialism encompasses for this generation, from objects to experiences (something Mr. Bindewald also shared with me the morning before during breakfast), and how our generation was less concerned about money than the previous generation, but more concerned about career (Jason’s observation). Bobby and Jason then got into a discussion about rings again as Alyssa sat quietly the whole time listening.

Right before heading down to the sanctuary for the ceremony, Mark came by to complete the slides for the reception on his computer. I was curious when or where my speech was, and was a bit nervous about it. He didn’t know either. Great.

Pastor Dan came by to pray for Mark. Before praying, he told us about a friend whose groomsmen took him backstage, stripped him, and wrote messages on his body addressed to the bride. It was a pretty funny story, but it was a little too late to do it to Mark now. As Jason pointed out, Mark’s five-button suit would take an hour to take off and put back on. Not to mention that enormous tie.

A supposed 230 people squeezed into the little chapel, even though there were about 70 chairs. We stood up there for what seemed like an hour. My feet were killing me as the pastor’s message stretched out to about 40 minutes. Unlike the rehearsal, everything now took their full duration. However, I very much enjoyed the hymns that we sang as part of the ceremony (In Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love, and Amazing Grace). The verses alternated between English and Japanese, and it made me think about the universality of God’s kingdom. The recessional song—God Will Make A Way—was a new one that I had only heard during the rehearsal. The melody was very memorable.

The chairs in the sanctuary were replaced by tables with trays of food for the reception. When I went back in, I was offered a red fizzy drink with fruit inside. I was thirsty, so I drank mine as we stood around. I later found out it was for the toast, and had to get some more from George.

I made for the pastries and the snacks spread across the tables. I wasn’t too keen about the dried stuff, as I was quite thirsty, but the quiche was pretty good. There was also this purple jello that I had trouble eating because I could not find any spoons anywhere, so I ate it with a mini two-pronged fork from the fruit cup. In fact, I could not find chopsticks either, and so I asked an American girl, who did not know but offered me her own. When I declined, she said something to her friends about gaijin (外人) in Japanese, which meant outsider, or non-Japanese. I was always under the impression that the word had a negative connotation, so I pretended to be offended and said, “Hey!” to which she replied matter-of-factly something along the lines of, “Looks like I offended you.” Inside, I was chuckling to myself.

The sanctuary was crowded. Everyone was wearing slippers. There was no room for chairs and my feet were killing me because I hadn’t sat down since before the ceremony. I didn’t speak much to the others; I just became more nervous as time went on regarding when I would go up to speak.

After a speech from Mr. Bindewald, it was time to cut the wedding cake. The wedding cake had four layers, decorated in the colors of the wedding, white and lilac, and made by Pastor Dan’s wife herself! Unfortunately, I was not able to taste any, since 1) I was really thirsty and from the snacks, 2) I was semi-delirious from standing so long, and 3) I was quite nervous. (Megumi’s sister Kaori later told me Megumi and Mark had frozen some, but they plan to eat it before coming to the States in July, so I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to try any.)

Because of my anxiety, most of the reception was one big blur. I took an opportunity to get a picture with Mark and Megumi up front, and went back to standing with the other Stanford folks. I remember more people giving speeches, but I could not focus on what they were saying. Perhaps it was also a habit from sitting in all those meetings at KCPC where only Korean was spoken and I couldn’t understand a thing, conditioning me not to pay attention when someone speaks in a foreign language, translated or not. A missionary named Matt sang a song with one of the young ladies from the praise team while playing the guitar. The song, Reflections, was a prayer for a newly married couple, I believe written by one of Matt’s friends.

I asked Michelle if she knew when I was to go up, so she talked to one of the emcees and told me that I was going to go after Pastor Nagata finished his speech. I loaded the speech on my phone from the e-mail I sent Michelle earlier, and hoped the batteries wouldn’t run out.

They introduced me as “Shyu-en.” When I got up to the podium, I didn’t know what the customary phrases were, so I just said, “Thank you very much,” and began to speak, pretending that my audience was American.

The speech went pretty smoothly. The Japanese translation was displayed on PowerPoint slides. People laughed at the right times, so I knew Michelle and Sambi did a good job. One thing that could have been better was eye contact; I kept my eyes glued to my phone most of the time, and when I became conscious of it, I would look up and back down in intervals that were far too short. I decided that I ought to memorize my speech the next time I had to give one. In any case, I was relieved when it was over. As I made my way back to my spot on the ground, a lady complimented me on my speech. I didn’t actually know what she said, but I thanked her, bowed, and sat down.

After that, there was a puppet show (presumably about Megumi). Two guys were at the two sides of the stage, holding up a black cloth at shoulder height, which covered the puppeteers from the TCU Puppet Club. It was cute, but the language barrier proved quite inconvenient, and so I had no idea what was going on.

Afterwards, Megumi’s friend, then Mark, and then Mr. Oguro gave their speeches.

Mark’s speech (or more like a sermon, haha) was particularly impactful. As a soft melody played in the background, he asked us to think about love amid our brokenness. He used the occasion of his marriage as a setting for us to reflect on the parts of ourselves that we might feel to be too dirty or shameful to reveal to others and addressed our desire for unconditional love by presenting the gospel, revealing Jesus’s acceptance of and love for us despite our sin. It was quite emotional. Mark is a naturally gifted speaker, and the music was the perfect touch.

After the bride and groom exited the hall, we took pictures with them in the foyer. Then the groomsmen went upstairs until the ride situation was figured out. George and Bobby complimented me on my speech, and invited me to play some trivia game on George’s phone. I was glad to finally sit down.

Night had fallen, and it was raining outside. We ran to the bus. The ride was relatively quiet. I reviewed “She’s Yours”: on George’s laptop and Bobby helped me with the rhythm. There were few lights in the mountains. It was dark and wet outside.

We were among the first to arrive at the hotel. We found out there was no plug for digital audio; we could only control whether the CD played or not. We had been planning to use Youtube for the instrumental track, so we either had to nix our song, or Jason had to learn three new chords and play the guitar. We were also running behind schedule, so there might not have been time to do it anyway. I was relieved, but only for a short while. A little bit into the program, Michelle took a poll and found that there were enough drivers for the people who needed rides, so we were not limited by the last bus of the night. It was interesting that the people who needed rides were assumed to be able to go with those who could provide rides; they were told to just find a driver, and the drivers were told to wait for passengers. It’s not something one would expect in the U.S., where it would be taboo to step on the driver’s prerogative. But I’m not sure whether it was because the audience was Christian, or because it was Japanese. Or maybe both.

After everyone was seated, Michelle and Jason, the emcees, began the program with some funny banter. Jason introduced himself as “handsome man Jason”—“わたしはイケメン Jason です”.

The first thing on their plate (no pun intended) was introducing dinner, which consisted of sushi, tempura, katsu, pizza, pasta, and a number of other foods. I wasn’t that hungry so I spent the majority of the time taking photos from my vantage point at the corner where I sat, by the screen. Occasionally, I walked around the room and took candid shots of people eating or giving speeches (there were quite a lot in one day!). I was a little outside my comfort zone and felt a little creepy and awkward, but in true Japanese fashion, people either did not pay any attention, or they tried very hard not to show that they noticed. Because there were no professional photographers there and I had a decent camera, it became my unofficial duty to get some memorable photos. There were two photos that night that I was really proud of. One was of Matt and his wife holding each other close during the slow dance, each looking into the distance, smiling sweetly. The other was of Megumi’s sister in profile seen through an ornate music stand which was blurred out by the depth of field. She was staring intently at the laptop containing all the video and powerpoint slides. Her face was illuminated by the bluish glow of the screen, which also caused her earring to sparkle.

The afterparty programming consisted of a quiz (“What is Chiba known for? a) Megumi, b) Peanuts, c) …”), more speeches (Mitsue, Jason, Kaori), and videos (from Mark’s immediate family, Mark’s godmother, uncle, and cousins). I had trouble concentrating again, as I was focused on taking photos, and probably nervous again about the silly song we had to sing.

In the end, we finally decided to do the song. Being not a very good singer and having the propensity to hide in public, I was a little reluctant to put myself out there, but the inhibition came off as I considered that this would be the only time Mark would hear that song. Overall, I think people enjoyed it, even though the words got a little muddled and the ad lib parts were out of sync.

During the afterparty, Mr. Oguro had asked about my background, and at the very end when everyone was leaving, Pastor Dan and Pastor Nagata also came up to introduced themselves and to thank me for being Mark’s discipler (I had mentioned that I was Mark’s small group leader for three years during my speech). I told Pastor Dan that I really didn’t do much; it was all Mark… and God, of course. He replied that yes, we know it’s all God, but God uses means to bring about His ends, and he was glad that God used me. Well, if you say so. =] Mark had some great teachers before me, so as proud as I am of being his bible study leader, I’m proud more because of whom he has become than of anything I did. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I’ve done much, except to watch him grow.

Outside the hotel, the rain fell hard and the wind blew ferociously as people left with their rides. I wondered whether we’d get to tour Tokyo like Michelle had promised if indeed this was a “monsoon.”

Mark and Megumi asked me to take a photo of them in front of a stain-glassed window on the second floor of the hotel. It was a photo Megumi had been wanting to take for a while, but had not had the chance. Unfortunately, I had some trouble getting the settings right on my camera, and needed more time to get the optimal photo, but they were tired, so I had to make do. I snapped a few, and then they went back downstairs. I wish I did a better job of it.

Only the families remained at the end, but Jason never ceased to be entertaining. All of a sudden, I heard laughter across the hall. Apparently, Jason had said something in Japanese and it came out wrong. From what Kaori told me later, Michelle addressed Megumi as “Beppin-san,” or Ms. Beautiful. Jason tried to say it and it came out “Benpi-san,” or Ms. Constipation. _

And with that, with some mirth and some regret, and mounting excitement for the adventures of the next day, I rested my tired body.