When Thomas and Kimiko met, a downpour had sidelined Thomas inside a busy butcher shop. An avowed vegetarian for ethical reasons, Thomas kept his nose pressed against the glass so as not to look back at the warrens of flank steaks, T-bones, ham hocks, ground round, and goose liver inside multiple glass cases.
“Though I tend more towards seafood myself, I was in charge of the food for a charity event and had stopped in to talk with the owner about catering,” Kimiko said, recalling the moment their eyes met. “Thank goodness for the storm, and the fact that he turned around at least for a second.”
A year later, they proposed to each other over miso soup. As Kimiko had come to the U.S. while a teenager with her parents, Japanese customs dominated her family life and their wedding needed to reflect that. By the same token, Thomas’ Scottish parents had met as college students in the U.S. and stayed for their jobs, raising a family with traditions that harkened back a thousand years.
For wedding planner Karen Keith, the blending of two very different cultures was not an easy task, though she’d done what she calls “dual heritage nuptials” before. Acknowledging that details are important, going overboard can become ponderous, tiring, and confusing for guests, she explained, many of whom are from neither culture. “Finding what it is about each society that makes it unique and using the other one to frame it, and vice versa, are the ingredients for a memorable day,” she affirmed.
For some couples, two separate ceremonies may be necessary for full expression of their cultures, but many do not have the time and funds nor the desire for such. In that case, Keith said, some choose a ceremony steeped in the bride’s culture and a reception in the groom’s, or the other way around.
For Kimiko and Thomas, an objective to integrate their lives from the outset took precedence over different ceremonies, or a ceremony in one’s tradition and reception in the other’s. “While we wanted to honor our families and traditions, on that day we also wanted to start a few of our own,” Thomas said.
Advised to select five or six important aspects of their respective cultures, including wedding vows, blessings, clothing, rituals, and food, Keith used these as a foundation on which to build the event. For Kimiko, her Shinto heritage which connects the past and present was essential. But while she didn’t wish to be painted white from head to toe, as is the custom, she opted for a less revealing white wedding gown (defying the path many Western brides take) with Asian elements. She also wore a wataboshi–a traditional white hood.
At a traditional Celtic ceremony, the bride and groom draw a circle around themselves to symbolize their unity with God, reciting a specific invocation to protect them. Thomas’ family had done this for generations, and Kimiko was willing to memorize the words and participate. Later, for the pinning of the tartan, which could be a sash or rosette gleaned from the family or “clan” tartan, the groom’s mother fastened theirs to Kimiko’s dress, signifying she was accepted into the family.
With Thomas a strict vegetarian and Kimiko almost there, wedding cuisine included a flavorful confluence of sushi, sashimi, vegetables, donburi (rice topped with other food), kare raisu (curried rice) and yakozakana (grilled fish), along with Scottish delicacies like smoked salmon, black pudding (a sausage to please Thomas’ father!) neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), and more. Because the bride and groom didn’t like the idea of a buffet, preferring guests mingle at their respective tables, relax, and be served, culturally-garbed servers circulated platters of everything, artfully labeled with names and ingredients.
For dinner music, the bride and groom chose Japanese musicians and Scottish bagpipers, who alternated, of course(!), and later a cross-cultural rock band that fittingly defied convention let guests defy a little of it themselves.
With a two-culture wedding, Keith said the bride and groom are limited only by their imaginations. “In fact, while many come into this believing carrying out both traditions will constrain them, the opposite is true,” she said. “A blending of cultures is the opportunity to demonstrate that marriage is most definitely a creative venture.”