Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Wedding cosplay

I suppose I'd better add the 1000 words to go with jules' recent picture. Don't worry, it won't really be that long.

The wedding situation in Japan seems rather bizarre to us. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair, as I don't know what people in other countries do, but the process in the UK is roughly like this: two people arrange to meet at a suitable place with a qualified official (who can be either a religious minister or a civil registrar) and a couple of witnesses. There are various set procedures that have to be adhered to, including advance notification of the event and the content of the ceremony which includes a public statement of intent. The process differs a bit across the UK - in particular, outdoor religious weddings are allowed in Scotland (but not England), which is fortunate because that's what we did. Anyway, these two people start out unmarried, and by the end of the ceremony (actually part-way though for the religious case) they are legally, technically, irrevocably, married. Given the life-endingchanging nature of the event, it seems appropriate that it's a reasonably major procedure, and you have to stand up in front of at least a few people and say that yes, you really do wish to get married, to that person, right now, and are legally permitted to do so. Up to the last moment you can turn tail and run.

The situation seems to be much the same in the USA, as far as I can tell. And by induction, that means everywhere else in the world.

But not in Japan.

It took us quite a long time to cotton on to this. I had heard of English teachers (which here general means 20-30y-olds having a holiday from real life) moonlighting as celebrants for "Western-style" weddings, complete with dog-collar, and I'd wondered how that worked. Were they really legally qualified?

Well, it turns out that the Japanese wedding ceremony is a cos-play.

Really.

What happens is that the happy couple get dressed up as bride and groom (well, they can wear whatever they want), and arrange a big ceremony and party. But this ceremony and party has absolutely zero legal significance whatsoever. If they were single before, they are still single afterwards. More commonly I believe, they get married some time before-hand (eg).

This of course gives them the freedom to do whatever they want, wherever they want. And call it a "wedding".



A happy couple dressed up as characters from Gundam, getting "married" at the Gundam model in Tokyo last year. More pics here.


In law, Japanese marriage is a purely civil affair. It basically requires a bit of form-filling and bureaucracy in order to change one's (two's) official registered status from single to married. Interestingly, this can all be done by post - there is no requirement for the couple to attend the office, in fact as far as I can tell they don't even have to meet at any time. In the case of the one Japanese wedding ceremony I have attended, the couple were in different continents on their true wedding day, and at least one of them has never visited the prefecture where they "got married". (I do wonder if UK immigration ever noticed this detail, since the Japanese half of the couple has now moved to the UK to be with her husband who is British. Of course it is a "real" marriage in this case, but it certainly brings new meaning to the phrase "mail-order bride".)

This form-filling and bureaucracy does open the door to forgery, eg in this case where a man married his step-daughter without her even knowing. It seems that the victim of this has to actually apply through some bureaucratic process to get the marriage officially nullified, which seems incredible since she never applied or agreed to it in the first place (nor would it be legal to do so).

The Japanese approach also allows for such nonsensical stories as the couple who got "married" by a robot. No they didn't, they just dressed up and acted out parts while a robot bleeped away irrelevantly in the background. They didn't get married by a robot any more than Jules and I got married by a pet rat in the middle of me writing this post. Hey, I wonder if we could get our names in the paper for that.

4 comments:

The Wedding Lady said...

There is also a civil aspect to marriage in the UK and the US. The marriage is not legal without a marriage certificate.

Some people in the US and UK have ceremonies that are not legal marriages.

For example, they will have a quick, legal wedding in a city hall or a register office and then later have a big "wedding" with lots of guests. The second "wedding" has no legal significance.

And of course there are gay weddings in US states where same-sex relationships are not legally recognised.

Belette said...

The Japanese seem to be doing very much what Miriam and I did: treat the "legal" bit entirely separately from the "celebration" bit. Which I think makes perfect sense.

We weren't religious, so we got married in a registry office. Which is a dull place to get married, but who cares, it is but a legal technicality and requires only two witnesses, who we dragged in from Miriam's work - I can't even remember their names.

Then we were free to have the celebration anywhere we liked, without any of the restrictions UK law imposes (and they were stricter in those days too, we used to dreeeam of getting married in a paper bag you know). Probably the people turning up to the celebration / witnessing-committment ceremony would like to know that you are also "legally" married, which they did.

James Annan said...

Well of course people can have a party whenever they want, but did you actually hire an extra with a dog-collar and act out a traditional ceremony in front of the guests?

pough said...

I got married in Japan. It was awesome. Drove over to the public office, filled out a form, done. The only reason it took more than two minutes is because the guy behind the counter wanted to impress me with his ability to rattle off the names of the 5 great lakes in English.

That gave us the chance to have a reception in Sapporo and also one in Vancouver, neither of which was bogged down by any red tape. We didn't bother with any kind of ceremony. Neither of us is into cosplay. ;-)