JAPANESE WEDDING Made in USA

"Kazuko, I promise with God's help -- to be your faithful husband, to love -- and respect you and do -- all I can to help you."m "Seiichiro, I promise, with God's -- help, to be your -- faithful -- wife. . . ."m

And so with all the pomp and circumstance and broken English, the Stout forest ranger from Tokyo and the shy telephone operator from Nagoya, in northwest Japan, were happily wed in the quaint brown-shingled church on a hill, overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Seiichiro Shimizu and Kazuko Mizuno's wedding was one of the nearly 500 Japanese weddings over the last year in the Sausalito Presbyterian Church, and these ceremonies are part of a thriving travel agency brainchild known as the "wedding package" tour of San Francisco.

Marketed and peddled in Japan alongside sightseeing package tours of Carmel and Yosemite, the $400 "wedding package" (offered by a half dozen Japanese travel agencies in San Francisco) includes a chauffeured limousine from the couple's hotel to the Sausalito church, alterations of the wedding gown (rental fee for a wedding dress in $90 extra; a tuxedo is $35), a bouquet, the minister, organist, best man and maid of honor, two witnesses, wedding cake, five 8-by-10 wedding photographs (12-hour processing), a wedding certificate, and a cassette tape of American marriage counseling translated into Japanese.

Lured by such matrimonial marketing, an increasing number of young Japanese couples are shunning the lavish, traditional weddings in their homeland and choosing the more intimate and cheaper (a traditional Japanese wedding can easily cost $10,000) arrangement of getting hitched in the United States.

As a Japanese model in one of the "wedding package" brochures promises: "Have a wedding for just the two of you. You will never forget that heartfelt day, the clear blue sky, the ocean, hills and cable cars of San Francisco where you promised your love to each other in this beautiful city."

It continues: "We will take care of everything. You don't have to go into stores where the salespeople only speak English. We will plan your whole wedding. If you forget your gloves you can rent them. You don't have to bring anything, you can rent it all from us. Go to your travel agent and apply now."

Just as the brochure promises, the bride and groom can be in and out of the church and on the next Gray Line tour of San Francisco in a matter of hours. It's the Japanese wedding California-style, and for couples like Seiichiro Shimizu and Kazuko Mizuno, it goes like clockwork:

10:00 a.m.: Takeshi Onishi, owner of Kotobuki ("Wedding Happiness") Bridal Salon which offers the "wedding package," arrives at San Francisco's Hyatt Regency in his aging Ford Granada. The right door handle is torn off and the intrior has a sweet rotten scent from an overripe banana he left overnight in the front seat. Seiichiro and Kazuko, the bride and groom scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. wedding in Sausalito, are waiting in the hotel lobby.

Kazuko, a short, round-faced telephone operator, is wearing blue espadrilles, tight white Levi's, a canary jersey, a purple windbreaker, tinted sunglasses, and stoplight-red lipstick. She is unusually quiet and defers to her fiance, Seiichiro, a jovial forest ranger, in a blue blazer, gray V- necked sweater, checked trousers, black wingtips, and white sweat socks. He carries a brown Naugahyde gym bag, which contains his movie camera.

Kazuko and Seiichiro arrived yesterday from Tokyo. They have already been on their first bus tour of the city. This morning they are accompanied by Takeshi Fujiwara, a San Francisco photo lab assistant, who atended high school in Tokyo with Seiichiro ten years ago. Takeshi had no idea his friend was coming to the US but happened to be processing photographs of Japanese tourists in Golden Gate Park the day before and recognized his old school chum in the crowd. He called the tour agency, got the name of Seiichiro's hotel and is joining the wedding party for the day.

10:37: The five of us arrive at the Kotobuki Bridal Salon wedged on Sutter Street between a Peking import shop and an acupuncture studio. A year and a half ago Takeshi Onishi noted the boom in Japanese tourists getting married in San Francisco and he founded Kotobuki, which now specializes in providing the "wedding package." Behind the wood veneer doors of the second floor shop are racks and racks of wedding dresses in clear plastic bags, along with tuxedos, veils, silk bouquets, parasols, gloves, suspenders, earrings, and other accessories. Beyond a divider is a desk, telex machine (to confirm reservations from travel agencies in Tokyo) and an ironing board, where Chikako Onishi, Takeshi's wife, is a short order seamstress for wedding costume alterations.

10:57: Chikako helps Kazuko find her size among the nearly 100 wedding gowns. "I encourage brides to be a little outlandish, not to pick the plain white chiffon dress," says Chikako, a slender, savvy woman in a purpule print dress. "Japanese women want something that is cut with frills and lace, so we import all our dresses from Japan." At the moment Kazuko grabs a gown from the rack and timidly shuffles into a dressing room of telephone-booth proportions. Seiichiro snickers at the rustle of petticoats coming from behind the white louvered doors.

10:59: Takeshi Onishi rushes out the front door gripping the "optional deluxe" wedding photo album ("only $187 extra," he says). he is delivering it to yesterday's bride and groom who are leaving today for Los Angeles.

11:03: Seiichiro cannot make up his mind between the black and white tuxedos. "Japanese men never fet a chance to wear white suits," says Chikako. "They dress in conservative blue and black business suits back home. When they get outside Japan, like in the united States, they all seem to want white tuxedos." Defying the law of averages, Seiichiro selects black. "White embarrasses me," he says, ducking into another dressing closet.

11:14: With the wedding dress and tuxedo pants under one arm, Chikako retires to the back room and gets out her needle and thread. Seiichiro and Kazuko, as casual as two high schoolers on their way to the junior prom, sip black tea and explain their decision to get married in the United States. Seiichiro's former classmate translate for him: "Our hometowns, Tokyo and Nagoya, are 300 miles apart. We first met last year on my birthday, July 23, at a tennis tournament I was playing in." Seiichiro takes out a stick of Wrigley's speamint gum and continues. "Our families live so far apart that the price of getting everyone together at a traditional Japanese wedding would have cost more than having a wedding and honeymoon in California.

"I make about $10,000 a year as a forest ranger and this trip runs about $4, 000. We don't have much money and so we aren't getting the deluxe photo album. We're saving our money to buy souvenirs. Tomorrow we fly to Los Angeles and see Disneyland for our honeymoon."

Kazuko, who has been fidgeting with her sunglasses, suddenly pipes in: "A wedding in America is something different. It's romantic. More Japanese couples are doing it but their parents certainly don'r approve."

11:26: Chikako has just finished shortening the wedding dress and takes a few minutes to chat. "This is a new breed of Japanese couples. They're leaving the old ways behind. They don't want traditional weddings attended by their fathers' business associates. Weddings in Japan have become fashion shows for the bride's parents to show how much they spent on their daughter. The bride changes her costume two, three, maybe four times on the wedding day. Just the rent of a kimono for a couple of hours can be $1,000. It's less formal here and now all the big travel agencies in Japan are beginning to advertise the relatively cheap San Francisco "wedding packages." Business is growing. Last year we did one wedding a month. Now we have four or five weddings a week and all kinds of people, schoolteachers, truck drivers, artists."

Most of the Japanese couples coming here to be married are from Buddhist or Shinto background, but to them the religious content of a Western-style ceremony is not much of an issue. Being in a Christian church is just part of the romance and informality of the western culture which more and more young Japanese are aspiring to.

11:48: Chikako shuttles the wedding dress and trousers into the front room. The bride and groom seem unruffled by her announcement that the limousine will arrive in 12 minutes.

11:56: Kazuko emerges from her dressing room in a blizzard of ruffles and petticoats. In the floor-length mirror she adjusts a veil covered in white silk roses. Chikako hands her a pair of white mesh gloves and two fake-pearl earrings.

12:02 p.m.: The limousine is now waiting. Kazuko, her leather purse still dangling a green luggage tag, look impatient. Seiichiro is still in the dressing room warbling a Japanese ballad to himself. He can't seem to figure out how his vest works.

12:05: Kotobuki's air-conditioned black Cadillac Fleetwood limousine careens down Sutter Street with a wedding party bound for Sausalito. Takeshi is at the wheel. Rock 'n' roll is on the radio.

12:08: The limousine comes to a halt near the corner of Van Ness and Vallejo at the Hana Ichi Florist. "She's a friend of ours," says Chikako. takeshi leaves the car running and scurries inside. He returns with a boutonniere and a bouquet of orchids, pink rose. and carnations.

12:35: The limousine cruises past Sausalito's waterfront avenue of boutiques and on up the hill to the First Presbyterian Church. A Japanese couple from Osaka is just exchanging rings at the altar. Seiichiro and Kazuko go downstairs into a basement lounge where they wair their turn.

12:37: In the basement, Martha ("Don't you dare put a 'p' in my name") Thomson, the churchs's "wedding hostess" is juggling the ceremony schedule. Through some oversight Jetour and Visit USA, tow Japanese-run travel agencies, were both signed up for noon weddings. "That's OK, Jetour is always slow in dressing. We squeezed the other wedding in right before them," says Mrs. Thomson, a kind, matronly woman capable of mustering a drill sargeat's authority. "We've been doing this for about five years and average 40 Japanse weddings a month. We've had in here as many as nine in one day."

12:44: Mrs. Thomson writes down Kazuko and Seiichiro's names in large letters and delivers the notecard to the church pastor, the Rev. George McLaird. He smiles. "These will be hard ones to pronounce." Mr. McLaird has just come from the 12:30 wedding and takes a short rest in his office. He is an intelligent young man with a beard, white robe and a Friar Tuck joviality about him. On his desk is a placard: "Resist the Draft."

"I was told that these Japanese weddings began when a famous Japanese movie star got married in Hawaii," says McLaird. "The ceremony was televised in Japan and it became fashionable to get married in the United States. Some travel agency found this church -- and away they went.

"You know, I don't approve of these Reno-Las Vegas style weddings with the plastic flowers, neon lights, the assembly-line coldness of the judge. One woman who got married in Las Vegas told me she could hear an office typewriter during her wedding ceremony. At our church we provide flowers and candles and live organ music and record the ceremony on cassette. The donation to the church is only $120.

"Obviously there are some couples who come here with the Reno attitude and think this is just like a trip to Disneyland. But when they see how seriously we do it, they quickly change their minds. Some couples laugh during the ceremony. Some cry. Both Japanese and American couples shake during it. I have to repeat the vows as slowly for the Americans as the Japanese who don't speak English. Some Japanese have such trouble with the vows that their partner bursts out laughing when they try to speak English.

"We give the Japanese couples a 90-minute tape of marriage counselling in Japanese. I talk about fairness, the equality of husband and wife. I recommend a few books like 'The Intimate Enemy,' which teaches people to argue constructively."

12:52: Mrs. Thomsom has just finished coaching Kazuko and Siichiro on their English vows. (Kazuko can't seem to get her tonque around "respect" and "faithful wife.") The pastor joins the couple and, through a Japanese translator , asks that bride and groom a series of questions: Have you traveled to America before? What other cities are you going to visit? Are you going to visit Disneyland? When did you first meet? When did you decide to get married? Does Kazuko have a job? Will she work after you get married?

12:58: Kazuko begins to get the jitters as she climbs the side stairs to the front of the church.

1:00: The church organist hits the opening notes of the "Sweetheart Tree" processional (as he has, on the hour, for the last four hours) which rumbles through the high wooden rafters. Kazuko wobbles down the red carpeted aisle. Mrs. Thomson whispers to her: "Hold your bouquet lower!"

1:12: Before the altar and a row of flickering white candles, Reverend McLaird asks: "Seiichiro, do you willingly commit yourself to Kazuko . . . ?" A tiny microphone clipped to a fold in the front of his robe records every word. Again Kazuko stumbles over "faithful wife," a taped blunder she can now share some day with her grandchildren. The Onishis flank the wedding couple, Chikako as the maid of honor and Takeshi as best man.

1:29: Reverend McLaird pronounces: "You are now husband and wife." Seiichiro tosses a puzzled look in Takeshi's direction as if to ask "Is this when I kiss her?" Takeshi nods and Seiichiro obediently pecks his bride on the lips. On cue , the organist strikes up the "Wedding March."

1:34: A Japanese-speaking photographer, hired for the occasion, snaps the five "wedding package" photographs. The final shot is of the entire wedding party which includes the bride and groom, the Onishis, Reverend McLaird, Mrs. Thomson, the organist, Seiichiro's high school fried, and the reporter ("You rode over in the car," reasoned Seiichiro, "Why not get in the picture?")

1:35: As we leave the church, Eddy Chiiba of Visit USA arrives with the 2:00 wedding couple. It is his firm's third Japanese wedding that day. "Even I got married in Japan," says Chiba "and paid more than $10,000. It's much cheaper here. And during the wedding season, June through October, our organization alone does four weddings a day."

1:47: On the terrace of the Alta Mira hotel's restaurant, overlooking San Francisco Bay, Seiichiro and Kazuko eat their individaul slices of German chocolate wedding cake. Takeshi presents the couple with their wedding certificate, Reverend McLaid's tape, and a Japanese translation of the entire ceremony.

2:45: As Seiichiro and Kazuko leave the hotel terrace they encounter the 2:00 wedding couple. Each looks slightly embarrassed but nevertheless bows politely to the other.

3:14: At the Golden Gate Bridge, a paunchy toll collector takes 75 cents from Takeshi and drawls "Congratulations" to the newlyweds in the back seat.

3:34: Kazuko trips over her wedding gown as she runs up the stairs to the Kotobuki Bridal Salon.

3:37: Kazuko heaves a long sigh as she emerges from the dressing room in her Levi's, gym jacket, and sunglasses.

3:41: Seiichiro digs $139.51 ($90 for wedding dress rental, for tuxedo, $6 for two pairs of shoes, plus tax) out of his pocket. He already paid the $400 "wedding package" fee in Tokyo. Takeshi promises the couple to have their wedding photos at their hotel room by 45 a.m., in time for them to catch their flight to Los Angeles.

3:53: The Kotobuki limousine draws up in front of the Hyatt Regency. Takeshi is at the wheel. Jazz music is on the radio. Out steps Kazuko in sunglasses and Seiichiro with this gym bag. He offers the reporter a Japanese coin for good luck and nearly knocks down a doorman twice his size as he bows deeply to say "Sayonara."

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