Fact#12. Wedding seating arrangements?


Bishop: Another major difference between weddings in Japan and the US is who attends.

In Japan, co-workers and bosses come to the wedding. In the US, they’re not invited

to the wedding, unless they are quite close to the bride or groom.

JinK: That’s true. At Japanese weddings, there are usually different tables for your bosses

or university professors, friends from high school and university, co-workers who joined

the company before you, co-workers who joined the company at the same time you did,

and relatives. The bosses or university professors will usually give a speech.

Bishop: I understand inviting relatives and friends, but why do people invite their bosses

and co-workers to their wedding? Personally, I’d rather separate my work life and private life,

and I’d feel more comfortable having a wedding with only people I’m close to.

JinK: I understand how you feel. Japanese often hold their reception with only close friends.

But the wedding ceremony itself has a different significance in Japan than it does in the US.

Bishop: What do you mean?

JinK: While the Japanese wedding is a ceremony for bringing the groom and bride together,

it’s also a ceremony for bringing their families together too. At the entrance to the wedding hall,

the signs say how it is a marriage between the xx family and the xx family.

So the ceremony is not about showing the marriage between the two people,

but the marriage between the two families.

Bishop: So the families are getting married, not the bride and the groom?

Jink: Of course it’s the couple who is getting married, but it also represents the bride’s family

and the groom’s family coming together to form one big family.

Bishop: I see.

JinK: So the groom has to show the bride’s family that he is fit to be a member of their family,

and the bride has to likewise show the groom’s family that she is fit to be a part of theirs.

So they get their superiors to give a speech as an o-sumitsuki (stamp of approval).

Bishop: O-sumitsuki?

JinK: Yes, o-sumitsuki. From the groom side, usually their boss from work will give

the speech talking about how competent they are, then go on to talk about what a bright future

they have, mixing in a bit of humor. From the bride as well, usually their boss will give a speech,

talking about how attentive and loving she is, how she has plenty of hobbies and interests,

and what a great wife she will make. Of course, if she’s a career-woman, the speech would

be similar to the groom’s. The o-sumitsuki is done by someone with authority in order to

assure both families that “this person is OK.” In the past, they actually stamped

an official document giving their seal of approval. The boss’ speech is considered a success

if people come away with the impression that the groom works for a good company

and would make a good husband.

Bishop: I see. So if only close friends were invited, there would be nobody to give the o-sumitsuki.

JinK: Exactly. Also, it’s a place for the groom and bride to show thanks to their parents for

raising them, and show them that their future together is secure. So it’s important

for their boss or professor to talk about how they’ve grown and become independent.

Bishop: I see. Another interesting thing is how co-workers will often put on a song and dance performance.

JinK: These type of party acts are a standard part of Japanese weddings. If it was all formal speeches,

the wedding would be boring. It’s also a chance to show how the bride and groom are surrounded

by people who care about them and know how to have a good time. Finally, there’s the presentation

of the flowers to the parents, and the speech. The ceremony starts our solemnly,

and as it goes along you get to know the bride and groom, and there is laughter and tears;

that is the ideal wedding.

Bishop: I see.

JinK: By the way, the guest who gives the speech is the one who gives the o-sumitsuki

(seal of approval), so they sit in the highest-ranking VIP seat.

Bishop: That’s another thing. The whole seating arrangement is so strict. It’s just like the rules

about who stands where in the elevator. The younger person has to stand near

the buttons while the older or higher-ranking people stand toward the back.

JinK: Bishop-san, your knowledge of elevator etiquette is quite impressive.

At weddings, the tables nearest to the bride and groom at the front are the highest-ranking seats.

Among those, the one in the center nearest the bride and groom is the highest, and within that

table the seat at the front nearest the bride and groom is the highest. So you can tell

at a glance who is highest ranking in the room.

Also, a seating chart is handed out so that nobody will get it wrong.

Bishop: I see.

JinK: By the way, the families of the bride and groom sit all the way in the back.

They are farthest away from the bride and groom in the rear table,

which are considered the worst seats.

Bishop: In the U.S., the parents sit the closest to the bride and groom.

You’d never put poor old Grandma at the table in the back.

JinK: I see. I suppose it’s because in Japan the families are the hosts,

whereas everyone else is a guest, and hosts would never sit in the higher-ranking seats.

How close you are has no relation to your social ranking;

actually the closer you are the less you need to worry about seat order.

Bishop: I don’t get it… this seating order thing is much too complicated.

JinK: It’s not so complicated once you get used to it. Japan is a largely seniority-based society,

so you can just look at the person’s title and assign the higher ranking people to the best seats.

Bishop: I guess it’s not so hard then. But since the seat order shows people’s social ranking,

wouldn’t it be difficult to place your friends in order? It seems that would involve some

hard decisions – who to put in the high-ranking seats and who to put in the low-ranking seats.

JinK: Yes it can be difficult, but there are two ways to think about it.

One is to decide from the top who sits where based on seniority. The other is

to not worry about it at all when assigning your close friends.

So a lot of times your closest friends will be at the rear table with the families.

Bishop: Oh, really? That’s pretty interesting.

JinK: So, by putting them alongside your family, you’re implying that you’re so close

that you don’t have to worry about offending them. So, that can actually make them

happy that they’re not at one of the higher seats.

Bishop: I see. Interesting.

JinK: Since there are multiple ways of looking at it, nobody gets hurt. This sort of ambiguity is

very important in Japan. If you’re in a good seat, you can tell yourself that it was nice of them

to put you in such a high-ranking seat. And if you’re not in a good seat, you can tell yourself

that you’re so close they didn’t feel they needed to worry about you.

Of course, there are still people who care about the small stuff.

Bishop: I see. So when I have my reception in the U.S., I’d like you to do my o-sumitsuki,

as my old boss. But, we’re also good friends, so you can sit at the rear table.

JinK: Um, actually that wouldn’t work. I’d be happy to be counted among close friends,

but then I’d lose all authority to do the o-sumitsuki. What to do… ha ha.

Bishop: Don’t worry too much; nobody cares about the seating arrangements in the U.S. anyway, ha ha.

Fact #12 At Japanese weddings, higher-ranking people sit in the good seats, while closer people sit in the bad seats

by Bishop & JinK.

One thought on “Fact#12. Wedding seating arrangements?

  1. Interesting post and definitely a culture shock to me coming from a Chinese decent. I was wondering why this Japanese guy I was dating seems to be offering dishes to his female colleague first before anyone else, including me. Oddly only Japanese female colleagues got served, not the other ones of other nationality. So her ranking must be higher than everyone else.

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