The Wedding Happening
Friday, November 23, 2007 was the annual “Kinrokansha no hi” holiday in Japan. It is what passes for Thanksgiving here. It means Thanksgiving for Work Day, when Japanese are supposed to be thankful for having a job. It reveals a distinctly different cultural view of the role, function and purpose of labor in human life. Japanese see work as the purpose of life so that we live to work. Whereas in the West we see life as the purpose of work - we work to live, and labor is a punishment meted out following the Original Sin, our fall from Grace and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. All those ideas are alien to Japanese and other Asians. Because it was a national holiday I had two wedding jobs. The first was before noon in Harajuku where I experienced my third wedding “happening.” The second was at the Strings Hotel in Shinagawa, previously owned by All Nippon Airways and called the ANA Strings Hotel, but now sold and owned by the Intercontinental hotel chain and called the Strings Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel occupies the top 10 floors of a 36-floor office tower.
The first “happening” that I witnessed was in July 2005. I was doing a wedding at the Ramages (pronounced “rhamhaj”)wedding venue in Ometesando when a strong earthquake happened during the service - during the groom’s entrance, actually, at 4:35 p.m. It briefly paused the ceremony.
The second “happening”occurred last August 2007 when the music soloist fainted during the ceremony - just at the start of the ring exchange. Dehydration and the summer heat were probably to blame.
Certainly my most spectacular “happening” was the event of Friday, November 23rd. The wedding video cameraman collapsed in a fit of some kind (I saw his legs and hands shaking) and the ceremony had to be stopped for 20-minutes or so until a Fire Department ambulance crew arrived and took him away. Thank goodness it was not me, because it would have just added to the
repertoire of stories Japanese have about foreigners not to mention being the end of my employment.
The cameraman collapsed just at the document signing. The groom had signed his name and was passing the pen to his bride, “Crash!” I was close enough to reach over and catch the video camera tripod before it hit the ground, but the man was already on the floor. The pianist kept her head about her and never stopped playing her piano. She kept up her gentle background accompaniment until the situation was resolved and we were ready to resume.
At this particular chapel we are in fairly close quarters. I stand in a glass nave about 2-meters wide. (It gets really hot there in the summer time with bright sunlight shining on me from behind, left, right and above. It’s like an oven in the hot weather.) I stand behind a glass table passing as a communion table, there is a large cross hanging directly behind me and a glass chandelier hanging from the glass ceiling above. The video cameraman stands right next to the table on my left, wedged between the glass wall and the glass table. So when he fell he fell against the wall and slid to the floor. And as I said, he was close enough to me that I could easily grab his tripod. When the signer lady fainted in August I was too far away to do anything abbut it, even if I had seen it happening and acted quickly.
The cameraman wasn’t getting up. When the soloist fainted in August she was up again in 10-seconds, but this time the man was right out. The first to reach him was the still photographer (his partner) who was on my right, sitting between the table’s other side and the glass wall to my right. The still photographer is very mobile during the ceremony. He moves around all the time taking pictures from different angles. I kind of like it because he gives me something other than the bride and groom, or the words I am reciting to concentrate on. He is a good distraction. But the video man doesn’t move (except to turn his camera left or right or to adjust his lens to zoom in or zoom out). He stands still like me for the 15-to-20-minute duration of the ceremony. So whereas I see and hear the still photographer all the time as he moves around I do not see or look at the video man. I am not very aware of him because he doesn’t move and makes no sound. So if anyone asked me (no one did) if I noticed anything wrong with him before he collapsed I could not have reported anything.
So, being rather mobile, the still photographer dashed behind me to reach the guy and was met by the father of the groom, the next closest person. First they checked that he had a pulse and was alive. He was. They loosened his belt and necktie. They took off his shoes. A cook from the kitchen came upstairs in his kitchen whites bringing towels to put under his head. Then the wedding hall staff (who are equipped with little telephones clipped to their collars and ear pieces in their ears) announced to the congregation that they were calling an ambulance and please to wait.
After it was apparent that the man was not getting up and that an ambulance was being called we had the dilemma of what to do with the ceremony. Cancel it? Out of the question because we were already there and more than half way through the ceremony. As I said, Miss Abe stayed cool and kept up her piano playing and we brought out stools for the groom and bride to sit and I just stood off to one side, quietly out of the way.
I wondered what the response time is for an ambulance crew in Tokyo. I read in the papers that it was something like between 8 and 12 minutes (but getting slower every year due to the deteriorating influence on the service of an increasing number of fraudulent calls by the elderly looking for taxi service rather than emergency treatment). Standing in the chapel in front of the congregation I could not glance at my watch to check. But I estimated the ambulance arrived 15-to-20 minutes after the man collapsed. Wearing the white helmets and the white uniforms of Fire Department paramedics they at first looked hesitant to enter this chapel filled with suit-and-kimono wearing people, plus a foreigner. But they were quickly waved in. They arrived with a gurney that folded into a chair (making it easier to negotiate confining staircases and elevators with heavy loads, I guessed). The first thing they did was put a clip on one finger to keep a check on his pulse. Next they tried rousing him by speaking loudly into his ears, “Can you hear me?” “What happened?” “Do you know where you are?” They got no response from him because, like I said, he was right out of it. They quickly went about their work, not administering any medicines, only readying him for transport. I was impressed, though, at the sight of people helping people so efficiently and quickly, and then I wondered what effect witnessing ambulance paramedics at their work might have on the career dreams of the few children who were in the congregation. When they had the man strapped onto the gurney they picked up his shoes and left.
There was another time when I did an evening wedding afterthe dinner party had already finished, and many of the congregation were drunk as a result. Male guests were harassing the singer girls. The bride’s father was so drunk that he almost could not walk his daughter down the aisle. But the wedding came off okay despite the rowdiness of the guests, so I do not count it as a wedding “happening.”