Or, how to judge how good a friend you really think someone is.
Weddings are expensive things, and in much of the world the hefty financial burden falls on the couple, and often their families. In Japan, guests share a small part of that burden by presenting the couple with money on their happy day. Such is the sum of money expected (often around 30,000 yen [US$274] per person or even more for family members) that many Japanese dread being invited to weddings by all but their closest friends and family. Then again, to not be invited is also a slight so it’s a difficult balancing act.
The couple are expected to pay the acquaintances they ask to act as master of ceremonies, do a speech or greet guests as they arrive on the front door. Guests from further away are traditionally expected to have between half and all of their transport fees paid by the couple.
Guests give money but it doesn’t cover the cost of the venue, food, and the wedding dress, and sometimes kimono (or a mix between the two)
and cocktail dress, that the bride will wear on her special day, let alone guests’ transport costs.
What do the guests get in return for their investment, apart from the chance to witness a friend or friends tie the knot? An afternoon and evening of small talk in a beautiful venue, speeches and tear-jerkingly wonderful or vomit-inducingly cheesy video photo montages. Alongside that, a particularly fancy dinner and a goody bag full of presents and souvenirs of the day from the couple.
One of our Japanese-language reporters, P.K. Sanjun, recently overheard a conversation between a group of friends in a cafe, where one speaker exclaimed,
“I’ve been invited to a friend’s wedding in Hokkaido but they won’t even foot the bill for transport costs to get there! Can you believe it?”
This got him thinking.
Who to invite and who not to invite is a potential minefield; accidentally invite someone who doesn’t consider themselves to be a close friend and you face resentment for being socially obligated to attend. Don’t invite the person who you sometimes nod to in the office but who considers you to be lifelong friends and the fallout could be equally catastrophic. If, as the couple-to-be, you might also be forking out for guests to come all the way across the country to attend, it becomes trickier still. For most Japanese people though, while it’s tradition to receive, there isn’t any real expectation to receive subsidised transport to the occasion. Much like the round system of buying drinks, most people will cough up when it’s their turn to attend someone’s wedding, knowing that everyone else will get their turn and it will all work out about the same in the grand scheme of things.
▼ Guests might attend from the other end of the country, or even further afield.
Let’s consider it from the side of the inviting couple and of the invitee. For the couple, they have to consider things like if the invitee is so hard-up that they won’t be able to attend unless helped out with transport costs, or whether they absolutely have to invite someone from far away, even if they’re not particularly close friends. In the former case, for example if the invitee is a student, the couple probably won’t quibble about paying the money if it’s someone they really want at the ceremony. In the latter case, the couple should offer to pay the transport fees, while the invitee should (hopefully) politely, and magnanimously, decline the offer.
As the invitee, while there’s no clear rule of thumb, if your first instinct is to worry about whether or not you’ll be ferried to the event on the bride and bridegroom’s money, perhaps you’re not as close as you could be, so not going might be an idea. It’s also a good way to gauge your relationship with someone; would I pay the train/bus/car/plane fare to go to their wedding where I’ll also be called upon to chip-in? If you find some money coming your way, it’s just an added bonus to being able to share the couple’s special day.
▼ A successful wedding ceremony.
While weddings and wedding receptions are incredibly expensive things, there are ways to keep costs down, or ways to make it a bit more personal, as this couple did by hiring out an amusement arcade for the event. If you really want to do away with the stress of deciding whether or not to pay for your guests’ transport fees, you could make your wedding day a day for one with none of the fuss of finding a partner.
[ Read in Japanese ]