1980 Vintage Wedding: Dan & Reiko

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.vintage buddhist wedding

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.

vintage buddhist wedding

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.

vintage buddhist 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.

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  • That dessert table looks incredible! What a beautiful couple! Their love is really inspiring.

    • Edelweiss

      I love Keiko’s expression looking at the dessert table!

  • Yay! Love them :-)

  • Jess

    I was also a high school exchange student – I spent my junior year of high school in a tiny village in Belgium. While I didn’t meet my future spouse there (met him senior year of high school back in the states!), I did meet “my people.” My host family and I clicked almost immediately. We still keep in close contact, and seven Belgians flew in for our wedding in August. The bonds made during an exchange year are some of the most beautiful and important bonds you can make.

    What a beautiful and inspiring couple :-)

    • Jen

      I was also a Rotary Exchange Student my senior year of highschool (to Denmark) and have very similar feelings about it as you express here. You know it’s a part of you when I read that line about Reiko being a Rotary student and my first thought was: “no drinking, no driving, no dating, no drugs” —how did they get away with dating!?

  • Wow, what a long-distance relationship! And I love this theory of planning: “We wanted a meaningful ceremony, participation of friends, expediency, ease of planning and execution, minimal expense, and long-lasting investments.” All of that sounds right to me, no matter what decade. Congratulations to Dan and Reiko, and wishing you 30 more years together!

  • This story made me teary! Perhaps because I am also in an international marriage and moved to my husband’s country, perhaps because today is our two year anniversary, or perhaps just because it’s a beautiful marriage story. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Edelweiss

      Happy Anniversary!

  • Awwww :) What a wonderful couple.

  • Cassandra

    Cute! And I love that Dan wrote this. A sweet and practical wedding, and I love the photo at the end – beautiful couple.

  • I love my parents; I love this post. (Thank you for sharing it, Meg and APW team!) And what I love most about this whole vintage weddings thing is that I directly asked my parents what their wedding was like, and I got THEIR story, from THEM. Not just from their photos; not just pieced together from all the little bits that they’ve brought up in conversation over the years. I knew the general story but a lot of it was fabricated by my own mind or misunderstood, like what happens when you play a game of telephone over many, many years. So I got to learn about their courtship and wedding just by asking… and I don’t know why I didn’t ask before!

    • Thanks so much for sharing a little of your family history! Such a great post.

    • I LOVE this Elissa! And this is seriously making me want to ask my parents the same thing! (All I know of their wedding at the moment is that my dad never officially proposed to my mom, she had no engagement ring, and he was a bit of a pain/rather opinionated in the planning process – which does not surprise me at all. haha)

      Anyway – thanks to your parents for sharing! You’ve inspired me to go ask my parents for more of their story. :)

      • mimi

        Me too!

  • So beautiful and peaceful and inspiring!

  • So sweet and lovely. I’m tearing up a little reading this. Thanks for asking your parents, Elissa, and for sharing their story with us!

  • LOVE. What a great story. And I just adore simple weddings. Congrats to 30 years of marriage!

  • This post is so beautiful and inspiring! It’s inspiring to hear that your long distance relationship worked out – international, no less! I studied in Japan 3 months away from my boy; I can’t even imagine 7 years! And congrats on 30 years of marriage!

    And your wedding really focused on the important things. I love it!

  • JenM

    I love that he called it a “gentle celebration” It all just sounds so dreamlike and serene…

  • Moz

    God I love these. My favourite part is when we see them all these years later.

  • I love this so much. His sureness in their love (at 19!), their incredible overcoming of long-distance and inter-cultural odds. And that lovely picture of them together looking so happy and serene. I just love this.

    I also love the significance of the moment of commitment. I really felt like our engagement was the moment that changed my relationship with Brian–everything else was fun and ceremony, and getting our community in on the wonderful secret of our together-forever-ness. But for us, the engagement was the moment where everything changed.

  • Love love the photo at the end. It’s a perfect finish to the post.

    • Yay! Thanks :) It was actually taken at *my* wedding!

      • –Lisa

        That makes it even better!

  • Thanks for sharing (Elissa , Dan & Reiko). This is truly a lovely wedding and a meaningful post. I guess I could relate because we are both from different cultures, and we went through the long distance courtship, even long before we knew we would be together, we were there writing to each other and we even sent stuff by real post to each other since the very beginning once or twice. And this: “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.” is how relaxed and simple and happy we would hope it would be. Congratulations on 30 years of marriage .

  • As the mother of the groom, I was privileged to be part of that lovely day. The aunt of whom he speaks is my sister, and the two of us baked many of the sweet items on that table. It was fun to do that, but it all paled by comparison to the beautiful and delicious Japanese foods prepared by Reiko’s friend.

    It has been a rare and wonderful experience to have Reiko become a member of our family. The many cultural differences in our lives seemed large at first, but over the years they have become simply part of living. I am so glad Dan stuck with that seven years of separation to be able to live his dream.

    A beautiful story, beautifully written.

    (Jean Sloan)

  • Robbie

    Such a beautiful wedding and story! I teared up towards the end. It was lovely reading about how you fell in love and are still in love. Beautiful

  • What an amazing story; thanks for sharing, Elissa, Dan, and Reiko. I am a high school teacher and I currently have an exchange student from Germany. I can’t imagine her marrying one of my American students, but hey, it could happen!

  • Jen

    What a beautiful story! I love the photo at the end so much.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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