Ishigaki Wedding

     The man in the tall gray hat and robes shook a white set of ribbons on a handle, not unlike a small mop, in different directions around the room. Although I don’t speak Japanese and could not understand his incantation, it looked like the Shinto priest was purifying the room.
     He was, it turned out. Long after the ceremony, the priest sat next to me in street clothes drinking beer and sake until the wee hours, at a party at the groom’s father’s house on the island of Ishigaki. I had no idea who he was until only a few people were left.
     On one side was the priest, a thoughtful and peaceful person, and on the other was the man who had played the shamisen most of the night, a cross between a guitar and a violin, with three-strings and held upright.
     A gregarious man with an open smile, he had played at the wedding ceremony and for hours afterwards at the party, along with a drummer banging on the side of a large, upright drum, and another shamisen player.
     The musicians played while sitting cross-legged on tatame mats, made of rice straw. On small plates in front of each instrument was a can of the Okinawan beer Orion, alongside a small clear glass and a bottle of local sake.
     The sake brewer had himself dropped off a number of cases for the wedding and the party afterwards.
     Between songs, the musicians took a long drink.
     Both the priest, who is full time, and the shamisen player, who works in a dental office during the day, had been top students of the groom’s father who is a master shamisen teacher.
     Despite listening to Japanese tapes for a months, I could understand little of what was said. The islanders combine an indigenous language called Hougen with a local variation of Japanese such that what was taught on the tapes, a proper mainland version of the language, was practically useless here.
     But both men understood a bit of English and my girlfriend, the groom’s sister, took a break from helping her mother, to translate.
     For the most part, men sat in the main room, all cross-legged, on the mats, and the women sat in an adjacent room or helped in the kitchen. At picnic tables outside, it was more relaxed with families sitting together on western-style chairs and drinking while kids ran around.
     At the ceremony earlier, all the guests had to take their place in line outside the ceremony room, in the same order as they would be sitting inside.
     Entering the room in two lines, the guests sat in two rows on either side of a middle space where the bride, in resplendent white kimono and ornate white, crisp, wrap-around hat, and the groom, in a black kimono, stood to drink from the cup of happiness.
     Or so I took it. A special sake was handed out by the Miko or shrine maidens, considered shamans in the past, who assist the priest. First, they hand cups of the sake to the bride and groom and then to the guests, one by one.
     Since I could not understand a word, I tried to understand what I could from the symbols and physical movement, a bit like a play, as the priest spoke and moved around the area, where the couple stood, with the two female assistants moving quietly in support.
     A group of musicians played during interludes.
     I noticed a good-sized round mirror at one end of the room. At times, the priest would speak to the mirror.
     In my later questioning of the priest, he said the mirror was the pathway to the gods on the other side. He had asked them to accept the new couple.
     He explained that there was another set of mirrors, closer to the couple, where each could see the other. Those mirrors, another set of pathways, showed the true face of the other, the person within.
     A big board, almost like a driftwood plank, stood in a central spot, forward and to one side of the couple. The plank, the priest told me, came from the main, Shinto spiritual center on the mainland, and it was meant as an extension of the center’s influence.
     There was also a big piece of what appeared to be rope hanging off the plank. But that was a question I never got to ask.
     The priest and the lead musician and I were the last guests. It was past three in the morning. They bid the mother of the groom goodnight and walked off through the neighborhood to their homes.

%d bloggers like this: