24 August ChiIzu!*
After a leisurely start to the day, the new and the old Mr and Mrs Denney set out for a bit of fun. Actually, the new Mrs Denney is officially known as Mrs Yasuko Nagayama, which apparently simplifies things for Japan's creaking bureaucracy. A rose by any other name...
Funnily enough, Mrs Denney senior's Christian name is Valerie. This is almost impossible for Japanese people to pronounce. The V, the L, the R all pose difficulty. The nearest thing most of them managed was “Bala” which means “Rose” (as in the flower). But I digress.
We had a mid-day appointment at “Studio Theta”.
Studio Theta is a photography salon offering a package deal for wedding photos. We had arranged to have the “Traditional Japanese” package. Yasuko was first to be dealt with. Val went in with her and the long process of hair & makeup commenced. The make-up artist worked on her for over an hour before Stephen and I were admitted, in time to see the placement of the wig and all its inserted pins and other decoration.
It was now Val’s turn to be dealt with. The make-up was not really a problem, although it ended with Val wearing rather heavier make-up than she would normally do. The real problem lay with her hair. Val has red hair, which is not a natural Japanese colour. A wig was apparently out of the question (I guess that a black wig would contrast so much with her pale skin tone that she would have ended up looking like Morticia from the Addams Family). As the stylist looked thoughtfully at what she should do to make Val’s hair look even vaguely Japanese, Stephen interjected with the Japanese TV game show catchphrase: “Challenge!”. Eventually, the stylist fished a reddish hair extension from her kit and installed it (what is the right verb for wiggery?) in a swept-up style rather different from her usual one. The two women were whisked away to be dressed.
After half an hour, during which we could hear assorted gasps, grunts and giggles from the robing room, we were called in. Yasuko was dressed in a breathtaking white silk costume. It was almost literally breathtaking, for poor Yasuko was so completely trussed up with the many layers of the costume, and its belts and its tight knots, that she could hardly breathe, let alone move. Val was dressed in a - dare I say - matronly, spectacular hand-painted kimono. Stephen later confessed that when he first caught sight of his mother attired thus, his first thought was “Mrs Evitt!” Mrs Evitt had been the first-rate head teacher of his “through primary” school (ages 5 to 11), and was much admired for her dynamism by the fathers, though somewhat feared by the mothers. Gill Evitt knew what she wanted, and she brooked neither delay nor opposition. There was certainly a passing resemblance and I assured Val that Stephen’s reaction was entirely complimentary.
It was now the turn of the groom and his father to be dressed. We stripped to our underwear, and the two dressers (one the make-up artist, the other the photographer’s assistant) helped us with our costume, which we had earlier picked from their extensive wardrobe. A white cotton yukata (sort of dressing gown) came first, with its obi (belt) tied on the left side with a tight knot. White linen (or maybe cotton - I’m not a fabric technologist) ankle-socks with a split toe were next. Naturally, gaijin like us had bigger feet than the regular Japanese clients, so it was a tight fit even for the largest size. They were fastened with bent-metal clips down the back. Similarly, the sandals (with the toe-grip held between the big toe and its neighbour - hence the split-toed socks) were a few sizes too small, which made Stephen and me walk like old men. A skirt of grey-striped, pleated fabric was next, again tied with a belt, this time knotted elaborately at the back with a wide sash.
The effort expended in knotting the sash seemed rather wasted, since the sash is not visible due to the black cotton over-coat that completed the outfit. I remarked (via Stephen’s interpretation) to this effect, and the dresser said that we would not stand properly if we did not have 100% authenticity in the way we wore the garments. Furthermore, a Japanese expert would instantly be able to spot that we were improperly dressed, even if things seemed invisible to us. Somewhat chastened, I ventured no further comment on the costume. The final touches were to equip us with fans to hold (furled, not opened), and a sort of white fluffy pom-pom worn round the neck. We were wearing the traditional aristocratic daimyo outfit as worn by the Japanese toffs in days of yore.
We were then inspected critically by the dressers, who kept complimenting us for having the traditional Japanese kit, so unlike the modern trend they bemoaned for Japanese people to dress in traditional English wedding style (penguin suits etc.). Good to keep the old traditions going, what?
Having passed muster, we were then ushered into the studio. First the photographer posed Stephen and Yasuko and took a number of shots. He took a great deal of time in getting the pose just right, and the dressers fussed around, ensuring that their garments hung exactly right. Then it was time for Val and me to join them. We posed sitting and standing, and there was a good deal of hilarity at my inability to understand the difference between putting my foot forward or to the side. I was given instruction as to holding my left hand in a particular strength of clench - not too tight, but not too relaxed. Much direction, too, in the exact way to hold my fan in my right hand.
Having shot several rolls of film, the photographer pronounced himself satisfied. We had been forbidden to take our own videos or photographs inside the studio, but we were allowed outside for a few minutes in costume so that we could take a few shots ourselves. Then it was back inside, and a disrobing, de-wigging, hair retraction, make-up removal, and reversion to our own clothes that only took a few minutes.
The whole process had taken three hours from start to finish. We had had fun, and felt we had been in the hands of a very professional outfit.
Off we went, in search of something to eat. We lunched on spaghetti and sashimi in the “Saizeria” family restaurant just up the street. We caught the subway to central Tokyo and visited the Yasukuni Shrine.
This is where the souls of the dead Japanese military are enshrined. The Prime minister had caused a major diplomatic incident recently by visiting the shrine on the anniversary of the ending of the 2nd world War. The problem was that fairly recently, the souls of six senior officers who had been convicted and hanged by the war crimes tribunal in 1946 had been admitted to the shrine. The shrine had thus become especially meaningful to the small but vociferous extreme right-wing factions in Japan, who yearned for a return to the pre-war way of life, and who saw no shame in Japan’s treachery and atrocious behaviour during the conflict. Thus China and Korea, who had suffered immensely right from the conquest of Manchuria up until the end of the war in 1945, felt that the Prime Minister, by visiting the shrine, was giving moral comfort to those who had wronged them so badly. There is a military museum here, apparently, which houses among other things a steam locomotive from the Thai-Burma “Death Railway” built by Allied prisoners of war. I am glad we were too late to gain access.
We visited the shrine, which, in late afternoon, had few visitors. Yasuko explained that the “Yasu” element in her name (meaning “peace”) was the same as that of Yasukuni. We passed through two enormous torii along an avenue lined with stone lanterns.
The shrine was tranquil, with a restful fountain.
There was a fine display of ikebana (flower arranging) in glass-fronted cupboards. While we were admiring the displays, a colossal semi (cicada) settled on Stephen’s shoulder, to his alarm (Stephen’s, not the cicada’s). It was the size of a small bird. It was eventually persuaded to relinquish its iron grip, and flew off towards a lamp that had suddenly come to life.
We left the shrine and walked along to part of the Imperial gardens, used as a park. We passed the famous Budokan (“where the Beatles performed”) and watched a dog-training club in action. There were a number of strange shapes and species of dog, and similarly there were a number of strange shapes and species of owner. The typical owner was middle-aged, female, and utterly without ability to command her dog. Dogs and owners, though, were clearly enjoying themselves, as were we, watching them.
Eventually, as dusk fell, we left the Imperial Gardens and caught the subway to Shinjuku. We browsed in a huge bookshop and then took ourselves to the Maharajah Indian restaurant. It somehow seemed strange to be in an Indian restaurant where the Indian waiters spoke Japanese. It was a good meal, and we strolled for a while to work the excess calories off. Eventually we took a lift to the 60th floor of the New Century Hotel. After a long wait, we secured a table in the bar, where we toasted the bride and groom in genuine French champagne.
· · * Oh - in case you were wondering - “Chiizu” is Japanese for “Cheese”, and it’s what you say to evoke a smile when taking a photograph in Japan. (And don’t forget the “peace” sign.)