Sweaty Kilts, dried sharks and a Japanese wedding at Izumo Taisha, Shimane

It’s Wedding day for Ryan and Keiko, and it seemed a little jet-lag had crept in. I was up around 11am, kicked out of bed by richard as he’d been up since 7am due to the time difference. I was feeling pretty rough but Ang offered to take us along Hinomisaki cape to see the lighthouse and the views so couldn’t really refuse! It was worth the trip though, and the tiredness melted away as we drove along the

spectacular coastline, Ang’s pretty erratic close-to-the-cliff-egde driving adding a little spice to the otherwise mellow journey.

The lighthouse was mainly pretty lighthousey, but the views from the cliff were impressive and reminded me a lot of the craggy coast off the great ocean road in Australia. We hiked back up to the car past stalls selling dried sharks, stopping to poke a dessicated hammer-head about a metre long.

After that we were straight into the kilts and off to the wedding at Izumo Taisha, reportedly the 2nd biggest shinto shrine in Japan (the japanese love ranking everything in sight). Scottish garb definately isn’t made for Japanese summer though and Richard and I were sweaty messes by the time we reached the shrine, Richard more so than me as he’d elected to wear the full she-bang, waistcoat and jacket included. We managed to be late for the bus, adding a bit of Scottish punctuallity to the strict Japanese schedule. Despite our best efforts there was still time for the green tea and formal introductions as well as a little tour around the temple grounds. Here we discovered another disadvantage of being Scottish in Japan – the otherwise very civilized custom of removing your shoes before entering a building. This is fine in a pair of flip-flops, but anyone who’s had to lace up a pair of formal brogues might imagine the challenges involved in having to constantly put the damn things on and off. We caused a few more delays while twisting the laces for the 12th time.

The wedding was actually taking place in a separate building from the Taisha itself, but it was just as elaborately decked out and had the same impressive and craftily woven 1m thick rope crowning the entranceway – supposedly it’s good luck if you can flip a coin so that it sticks into the rope, but sadly my sporran was bare. Soon we were ushered into the Taisha for the ceremony, and walked in to see two rows of stools lined up along the long sides of the hall, with an altar in the middle at the end (sorry, I’m using the british religious equivalents here, I have no idea what it was called in Japanese, ignorant Gaijin that I am). Similar to home, the bride and groom’s guests took a side each, but here each side faced each other in a big pre-nuptial stare-off.

The ceremony was really interesting to watch, and started with a kind of prayer-come-dance performed by 4 shinto monks. Droning church organs were replaced by booming drums and a haunting wooden flute, and the monks moved around the shrine in a choreographed slow dance. Ryan and Keiko then stood up and were offered bowls of sake from a sacred jug, which looked like any normal jug, but instead of a small handle on the rear it had a long stick protruding from the side with a handle on the end, which was used to turn the jug to pour. Sake drunk and words of vow said, they clapped 4 times, inviting the Kami (spirits) to bless their union. After that I got an unexpected surprise as the guests were asked to line up and take their own little nip from the sacred chalice. Only too happy to oblige I strode up, necked my sake, bowed to the holy dude and retook my seat, full of relief that I hadn’t tripped on my brogues and landed head-first on the altar, or something equally shameful that a gaijin in the shrine would most likely be expected to do. All that was left now was to sit out for 10 minutes to lace up my brogues (again) and then head back for the party!

The evening do was held in the smallest bar you’ve ever seen, but apparently a barn by Japanese standards. Everyone had crammed in well enough though and it was kicked off by an informal christian version of the wedding for Ryan’s family. Andrew, one of Ryan’s friends, apparently made a good living in Japan by working as a wedding conductor. No need to go to divinity school or any such like, in Japan you can perform Christian weddings just by doing a quick test – “Follow this script please sir. Ah, well done, you can read!” – so he performed a quick ceremony for the happy couple, after which a few speeches were read out, the most memorable being Keiko’s dad who could barely get the words out through the tears. Having always imagined Japanese men as stone faced, hardened Samurai it was pretty moving to watch!

That evening I was plyed with all sorts of drinks, ranging from the local sake, very tasty, to a pretty nice malt whisky, bought for me by Ryan’s Glasweigan mother. Posh bourbon like Maker’s Mark cost the same as a Jack Daniel’s so that made the late night refreshments an easy choice too, and we rolled out of “Edge: Spirit of Hangover” (yep, that’s it’s actual name) about 1am. Not wanting to make the following day any easier though we nipped into Area Due, the bar from the night before, on the way home for a quick nightcap, and were promptly offered 3 drinks and a huge bowl of noodles. This guy had obviously heard of our standard chip-run at 3am on Forrest Road in Edinburgh and planned accordingly. Not ones to turn down a man’s hospitality we attacked it with gusto, and soon three Gaijin in Izumo were staggering home, our best clobber covered in sake, whisky and noodles. You can take the boy out of Scotland…

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