Rent-a-Guest

So I came across a rather bewildering article yesterday about a new trend in 450px-Bride_at_meiji_shrineJapanese weddings: rental guests. Apparently, people who are concerned that they will look like a loser if they don’t have enough people to invite to their wedding are shelling out for rentals. It will run the couple about $200 per fake guest, with half that fee going to the “guest” and the other half to an agency. For an additional fee, they will even give a speech about your completely fabricated history together, telling everyone what a swell person you are.

At first, this idea seemed like one of those things you would only find in Japan. Of course, keeping up appearances would be much more important than celebrating one of the most important days of your life with your real friends and family. But as it turns out, Japan is not alone in this trend. Rental wedding guests are also a booming business in India.

Thinking about the idea some more, I realized my confusion comes from a difference in the way Americans think about the significance of the wedding ceremony and who it is actually for.

burgercakeFor most Americans, I think weddings are all about the bride and groom and celebrating their relationship. Couples generally plan ceremonies that reflect something about them, whether it is the religious traditions they choose or the individual touches like reading vows they have composed. Or a wedding cake that looks like a giant burger.

Friends and family are invited to “share” the day with the couple, and everything in the ceremony and reception is meant to celebrate the bride and groom. From “ranking” of the wedding party to the speeches given by the best man and the maid of honor, to the first dance being just the the happy couple, all indications are that the day belongs to the nuptial pair. And as an American, that seems totally right to me. With our notions of independence and the pursuit of individual happiness, the choice of a marriage partner and the decision to get married are personal things and the people in your life can only stand by and celebrate.

In Japan, I feel weddings lack that focus on the bride and groom, with a sense that it is the guests who are the, um, guests of honor. Of course, the guests are there to congratulate the couple and also to give them a whole lot o’ money , but I often get the feeling when attending Japanese weddings that the focus is on the guests and their role in witnessing the couple’s transition. It’s as if marriage is the final step to becoming a full-fledged adult and joining society (then again, maybe babies are the final step). For example, it’s common for the bride and groom to give speeches thanking their parents for raising them. And even at Western-style weddings, there aren’t usually bridesmaids or groomsmen. Instead, it’s often the groom’s boss or company president who gives a speech. The couple also make a series of costume changes throughout the event, generally moving from formal Western-style wedding attire, to kimonos, to a cocktail dress and suit. After each change, the guests  line up to take pictures with the couple in their new gear. And finally at the end, every guest is given a parting gift, which is significantly nicer than the wedding favors you find at American weddings. Sometimes you even get a catalogue from which to choose a gift. And if you have come from far away, you can also expect to receive some money for your trouble.

Rereading that, I guess Japanese weddings don’t sound so different, but I guess what really seems strange to me is that every one I’ve ever been to has been exactly the same. Without a little something to show the couple’s individuality, how could the day possibly be about them? It looks to me more like they are fulfilling a duty or doing what is expected of them rather than holding an event that joyously celebrates their love and commitment. But I suppose that says more about me than about the Japanese.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I have an easy part-time job to apply for…

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