About Me

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Born in Stockholm (Sweden), now live in Sapporo (Japan). Hold a Ph.D. in computer science and work with computers during the days, perform magic in a bar during the nights (and weekends, for kids). Also used to teach historical fencing back in Sweden.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wedding in Sapporo

Since coming to Sapporo I have been invited to and gone to a wedding in Tokyo, a wedding in Kobe, and two weddings in Taiwan. I have been to several weddings in Sapporo as a performer, but I have never been invited as a normal guest to a wedding in Sapporo.

The wedding traditions here in Sapporo and in Honshu (the mainland of Japan) are a bit different, so I had no idea of the rules to follow here. The groom himself taught me most of what I needed to know the night before the wedding.

This time, a magician in our magic bar invited me to his wedding, and for once I actually knew people at the wedding. Previous weddings I have been to, I have known only the bride or at most one of the other guests. This time, there were more than 30 other guests there that I knew, which was a new experience.

The view was great.

I broke my new expensive camera a month and a half ago, and the repairs were scheduled to finish three days after the wedding. As it turned out, they finished before schedule and at 10:30 in the morning the camera store called me and said that my camera was ready. I looked at the watch and decided that I would probably just about be able to pick it up and still make it to the wedding on time. Then a friend of mine called and asked if I was still at home. He was afraid that someone would ask him to show some magic, and he had forgotten to bring anything at all with him so he asked me to bring a deck of cards of his favorite brand.

I threw down a deck of cards in a bag, grabbed a white shirt and a black jacket and rushed to the camera store. Once there, there was an almost endless line of other people waiting at the same counter... When it finally became my turn, the service was very quick and my camera was working fine again. I rushed to the place where a chartered bus would take you to the wedding (which was on top of a mountain outside of town and a bit difficult to reach). I saw a bus and lots of people dressed for a wedding and figured I was still on time. It turned out to be a completely different wedding, though. My bus had probably already left.

I took a taxi and made it with 5 minutes to spare, so everything worked out fine, though. When I got out of the taxi, a guy came up and asked me for my name. The groom had told me that I was listed as 湖山鳩, which is what my name would be if it was directly translated into Japanese. I said that I was listed as that, and the guy looked at me with a strange expression (since that would be a Japanese name and I am obviously not Japanese), looked at his list, looked at, looked at the list, and then he asked me: "Could you tell me which wedding you are here for?" So I gave him the name of the groom and he was relieved that I seemed to be in the right place.

Everyone has photo books with great photos of themselves. I want one too.

I met the owner of the magic bar where both I and the groom perform. He also came almost exactly when the ceremony was about to start. Another guy related to our magic bar arrived but noticed that he had forgotten his shoes so he went back home to get them and arrived way after everything started.

Since me and our owner arrived just in time, we missed an announcement they gave right before that that no photography was allowed in the church (but outside and at all the later parties it was OK). Since I had my new camera and had brought my old camera too, in case the new one was still not usable, I had one more camera than I could use. I gave one to our owner and said: "Take lots and lots of photos". So both he and I did during the church service, until someone came up and told us to stop. Especially our owner did, because he had a better seat than I did. So when someone tried to get his attention and tell him to stop, I was not taking pictures because my angle was bad, so I gestured OK to the staffer and then turned to our owner and with a serious face informed him that photography was not allowed, looking like a very serious and proper wedding guest. I later apologized to him, because the only reason he was doing that was because I had asked him, of course.

Fancy stairs leading down to the food

After a nice church ceremony, we all went outside. The view was amazing. We threw some flower petals at the bride and groom, got some drinks, and let a huge mass of balloons loose. Then we got into a bus and went a few hundred meters down the mountain to a place where the main event was to take place, and where there was lots of food waiting.

At weddings in Tokyo or other parts of southern Japan, you put money in an envelope as a gift to the couple getting married and leave the envelope in a box when you enter the wedding reception. The amount is not specified, but "everyone knows" the right amount (though you can give more if you are a close relative or want to support the couple extra much), which is 30,000 yen in Tokyo, I am told. In Hokkaido, apparently you instead pay in cash when you enter (no envelope) and the amount is specified as a "participation fee" on the invitation. It is also much cheaper here (15,000 yen is common, I am told). Now that I finally thought I knew the basics of participating in weddings (having been to one in Tokyo and one in Kobe), I learned that everything I knew was wrong, haha.

Back row on the left: Japanese Koyama (小山). Back row on the right: Swedish Koyama (湖山). And some couple getting married in the front.

At the reception entrance, I was indeed listed as 湖山鳩, so that part was fine. I know another guy also called "Koyama" (which is how those kanji are read as a name), though he uses the much more common writing 小山. He was also at the wedding and noticed my slightly weird name next to his when he paid, he said.

Before the big party started, my friend the groom sprung a surprise on me. When the bride and groom arrived, there was a welcome toast, and I figured out enough to notice that I would probably need a glass very soon to participate in this toast. Just as I started looking for a glass for myself, I heard my name being called. My friend called me over and introduced me to everyone by saying: "This is Jonas. He will now do the welcome toast!" ... I have no idea what people usually say in these situations in Japan, and I don't think I know the proper Japanese to use in situations like these even if I knew what things to say... Also, I did not have a glass. But my friend thought it was hilarious to see me flustered.

Me waiting for a glass and my friend having a good time seeing me flustered.

A few days later he said that he would have liked me to talk more, but that it was OK. I just said: "Right, I don't have a glass and I had no idea that this would happen, so I am not prepared." One waiter came running with a glass for me and I continued with: "So, hope you live happily from here on too. Kanpai!" I figured short and to the point would be better than boring and unfocused (even if slightly longer and funny would have been much better, of course, haha). It seems everyone except me knew that I was the one to give the toast. Normally this is done by the groom's boss or someone senior like that, but apparently this time they thought it would be funny to put me on the spot instead. Which it kind of was, I guess.


While we were waiting around for the bride and groom to arrive after changing clothes, there was a magician entertaining groups of people in the waiting area. It was the same guy I met at a Halloween party last year. He is called Johnny Samoa, and he is from New Zealand. He also walked around and did magic when we were having desserts. Considering there were at least seven professional magicians at the wedding, and at least 15 people who has seen hours and hours of magic, I guess he had a fairly strange crowd to work with, haha.

Waitresses suddenly dancing
Live jazz
Songs you could request to hear live

There was a lot of entertainment like that. There was a funny DJ that kept imitating Usain Bolt and a very entertaining master of ceremonies who was possibly from Argentina. The whole staff also participated and there were moments when suddenly all the waiters and waitresses burst into dance and things like that. There was also a jazz band that played live music during the whole process, and you could make requests to them and get to hear your favorite songs.


At Japanese weddings there are also some traditional elements that seem to be present at every wedding (that I have been to or heard of, at least). There is a speech by someone close (usually a close friend). This time it was another magician in our magic bar, who is famous for telling long stories and laughing a lot himself, but falling completely flat with everyone listening. His speech was quite good, though.

Reading letters and crying

There is also a reading of letters. The bride had written a letter to her father and another letter to her mother, thanking them for raising her in a good way and for approving of the wedding etc. These are usually very emotional and most women cry enough to ruin their makeup at weddings here (not only the bride).

The rare sight of me drinking beer

The parents of the couple getting married also walk around to all the tables and pour beer for the guests, asking them to keep supporting the couple etc. I detest beer, but since the symbolism is nice, I got my glass filled with beer by the grooms father and drank it to show my continued support.

Cutting the cake
First bite
Very big spoon
Second bite

There is also something called the "first bite". The couple getting married make the first cut in the wedding cake, and then the groom feeds a small bite to the bride with a spoon. Then the bride does the same, though usually with an unusually large spoon. Here too, the spoon was extremely large.

While the bride was away changing dresses (this happens many times during Japanese weddings), it was revealed to us that the groom wanted to surprise the bride by having a "flash mob" dance happen later. The staff would start singing and dancing first, then the groom would join in, and towards the end, everyone was supposed to join in and dance in a synchronized way. We had a few minutes of training while she was away, and they had come up with a fairly simple set of moves for us to learn, so that seemed fine.

Right before the flash mob started

When the time came, the groom had to dance quite a lot (with many more difficult moves than when we joined in), which went well. Then everyone joined in and it was quite impressive to see this mass of people suddenly start dancing. One of my friend was away taking an important phone call when the whole flash mob thing was discussed, so he had no idea this was going to happen. He was more surprised than the bride, he said.

Photo of me doing the welcome toast

There were also photos taken during the wedding projected on the wall for all to see, and I was in a few of the ones selected to be shown. I was in one photo in the video introducing the lives of the bride and the groom since they were kids and up till now, too. We once went to a festival in Otaru all three together, and there was a photo of us there in the video.

In Japan, after the wedding ends, the bride and groom hand out presents to everyone that came. We got some towels and some very tasty cheese breads with the names of the bride and groom.

The slightly more casual second party
I met a friend who works on Saturdays but had time to come to the second party. Which was too hot for me to keep my jacket on.

Then, everyone goes to the "second party". There we played a "name bingo" game where you filled out a bingo card with names of people you knew were there or who you could ask what their name was. This was a good way to get people talking to people they do not know, since your small group of friends would not be enough to fill the bingo card. The bride and groom then drew photos from a bag with Polaroids of everyone entering the second party. The winners got some very nice and expensive prizes. One of my friends sitting at my table said: "If they draw me as the next photo, I will get bingo with myself as the last name!" And then they did draw him, so he got the first prize.

I then had to rush to our magic bar, which was fairly busy since it was a Saturday. The rest of the crowd continued on to a third party. Then they split up into one fourth party for only the groom's side and one for the bride's side. There was also at least one fifth party.

All in all, it was a very entertaining wedding to attend.


One of many small dishes
Meat. Excellent!
Before the meat arrived, the sauce with a half cooked egg arrived. At that time, the boss in my magic bar and the owner of our magic bars were away getting drinks. When I went to get a drink for me, I came back to the table to see them eating the sauce with a spoon. They were saying something like "this egg dish is very sweet, isn't it?" I said: "You know that that is the sauce for the meat, right?" They just stared at me and did not understand what I was saying, maybe because there was no meat at our table yet. I tried saying the same thing again in a different way, and when they finally got it they put down their spoons and laughed. Then the slightly embarrassedly pretended like this had never happened.

Curry! Extremely good.
Watching the wedding cake being assembled
Fruits in smoke
There were 400 types of sweets available


  1. Jag kan förstå att brudparet kan behöva få ekonomiskt bistånd av gästerna!! :-) Vilket häftigt bröllop!!

    1. Ja, det är väl lite billigare här i Sapporo än på andra ställen, men det kostade dem väl 2 miljoner yen ungefär för första partajet på det här bröllopet, så all hjälp de kan få är nog välkommen.