Today’s vintage wedding (vintage weddings, by the way, are among my favorite things) is from the parents of Elissa of Elissa R. Photo. The fact that Elissa is the spitting image of, well, both of her parents, only makes this a happier read for me. Dan and Reiko’s wedding has all the hallmarks of current international weddings (some things change, other things never do), with multiple ceremonies stretched out over time. But it also speaks of a time when doing it simply was a little easier, and it points to what’s really important—the marriage.
Reiko and I met in suburban Minneapolis in the Fall of 1971, about two months after she arrived in the United States from her native Japan as a Rotary Exchange Student. During this time, we met regularly and experienced High School together. We couldn’t call it dating because she was on an exchange program and the sponsor forbade it, but together we shivered through ski-jump meets, downhill skiing, and other outdoor winter activities.
I made my first trip to Japan in 1973. At 19-years-old, looking over the waters of Lake Chuzenjitoward Nantai-yama, we talked about our future together. To my proposal, she did not say yes. But most importantly, she did not say no. For seven years, we courted. I made several trips to Japan; Reiko made several trips here. We exchanged a few dozen letters (it took almost a week for even an airmail letter to arrive). In the end, both Reiko and her family agreed that we could marry, so she bought a one-way ticket on Pan Am’s nonstop flight from Tokyo to New York where I was living and working at the time.
I met Reiko at JFK Customs and we drove into the city to my very tiny apartment in a huge sky-scraper across the street from a large hospital. Neither of us was hungry. She was jet lagged; I was tired. We had a simple but meaningful talk over a cup of very bad instant coffee. We now celebrate that date (it is engraved in our rings) as the day we began our lives together and forever.
Some weeks after our commitment to each other, we asked my mother’s uncle to meet us at the New York County (Manhattan) Marriage Bureau where we were legally married by a judge. A passer-by in one of the corridors outside the Judge’s office used my 6×6 camera to make a photo record of us as we looked that day since photos weren’t allowed in Chamber. With the time-clocked and signed marriage license safely stored in an envelope, my great-uncle took the train home to New Jersey and we took a subway up-town.
In committing to each other, we satisfied my requirements for a wedding. In filing the legal paperwork, we satisfied the conditions of the visa on which Reiko traveled to the USA. Reiko asked to be married in a temple of her denomination of Buddhism, of which there was only one in New York City, and with that we started to plan a wedding.
We resolved that it would be practical. We wanted a meaningful ceremony, participation of friends, expediency, ease of planning and execution, minimal expense, and long-lasting investments. Invitations were hand lettered and addressed by Reiko or me on good paper. Unlike similar temples in Japan, our guests could sit on chairs, not the floor, but we would be seated on zabutons (Japanese floor pillows) on the floor in front of the priest.
My aunt offered her apartment for the reception, which limited the size of the celebration to about thirty people. The only person who flew in was my mother, who lived in the Midwest. In the few months she lived in New York before the ceremony, Reiko made friends with a number of the Japanese ex-pat community. We invited many of them to share the day with us. One of Reiko’s friends immigrated from Japan to New York to open his own restaurant and offered to cook Japanese food for our reception for just the cost of materials.
The Buddhist ceremony we used doesn’t call for attendants, so we had no bridesmaids or groomsmen. We shopped for a diamond on 42nd Street. We narrowed the selection to two stones, took a cup of coffee to talk over the decision, and Reiko chose the smaller one because it looked better on her hand. When we shopped for wedding rings, we had the pleasure of watching the jeweler make the bands and engrave them.
We didn’t hire a photographer. The pictures we have are gifts of our guests who made prints from their own negatives. And we didn’t hire a band. We played some soft background music with my aunt’s hi-fi, but mostly we hoped our guests, who came from two very different corners of the world and traditions, could talk over food and drink and have a pleasant afternoon. In the end, it was a gentle celebration. The chef “made the party” with a selection of Japanese foods (there were leftovers of the kosher food, not of the Japanese). The setting and group were small enough that everyone had a chance to talk with each other. And we are still married more than 30 years later.
Vintage Photos By: Friends and Family
Present Day Photo By: Matt M.