Tying the Knot
The Club’s wedding planners specialize in crafting celebrations as unique as the couples in the spotlight.
On a sun-drenched afternoon in October 2013, a bride and groom sipped three times from the same three cups of sake. Within Miyajima’s iconic Itsukushima Shrine, the couple maintained a stately comportment in traditional kimono, as a handful of family and friends watched Shinto priests guide their every move.
“Because that was such a traditional Japanese-style wedding,” says Member Mariko Watanabe-Ara, “we wanted to do something very opposite.”
“We wanted to experience two wedding styles,” adds Watanabe-Ara’s husband, Shogo Ara. “One traditional and one Western.”
Both husband and wife have good reason to expect to have their wedding cake and eat it, too. Though both now call Tokyo home, Watanabe-Ara was born in New York City and Ara spent his formative years at the University of Iowa in the American Midwest.
The newlyweds-to-be were happy to embrace tradition for their ceremony, but the rigid routines of modern Japanese wedding receptions didn’t seem to reflect their international nature.
“After you go to a lot of Japanese weddings, you get the pattern,” says Watanabe-Ara, 37. “There’s a video of the people getting married, then the parents come out, then there’s a speech from the company’s boss or something.”
“It’s boring,” says Ara, 37.
Watanabe-Ara had been to so many of those cookie-cutter receptions that she had trouble distinguishing one from another.
“I didn’t want my friends to think of our wedding that way,” she says.
A week after the ceremony on Miyajima, the bride traded her kimono for a flowing gown and the groom donned a sleek tuxedo. Then, more than 80 of their family and friends arrived at the Club for a reception that was to be far from forgettable.
“I don’t want to plan the same wedding every time,” says Chizuka Yamakita of the Club’s wedding team. “Each couple is different, and everything is possible.”
While wedding venues like hotels and restaurants might hold several hundred weddings each year, the Club hosts far fewer. Less volume leads to more attention from Yamakita and her fellow planners, whose experience working with international clients from China, Russia, India and more means they hold no preconceptions about what a wedding must be.
The vanilla wedding packages of other venues, says Yamakita, inevitably disappoint. They certainly failed to inspire Anna Sakagawa when she was hunting for a wedding spot.
“My best friend is a singer and I really needed him to sing as I walked down the aisle,” says Sakagawa, 31. “This wasn’t an option at some venues. I had to use their emcees for our ceremony, and what the emcee would say was all scripted.”
Sakagawa was close to giving in when she attended one of the Club’s bridal fairs, like the upcoming event on June 2. Sakagawa toured the Club facility and tasted entrées and desserts from sample menus.
Most importantly, she chatted with Yamakita about her wishes other venues deemed impossible. Yamakita explained that she didn’t have to compromise at the Club.
“I think a lot of brides in Japan give up somewhere because they think it’s not doable or it’s too expensive to customize their weddings,” Sakagawa says.
“Maybe people think brides have a thousand dreams, but that’s not it,” says Yamakita. “They just want something different from others.”
In March, with her best friend singing and her sister officiating, Sakagawa married her longtime boyfriend in a ceremony on a Club terrace, followed by a reception in the New York Ballroom. The room was decorated with tropical blooms of the variety Sakagawa fell in love with when growing up in Taiwan.
“The Club really listens to you and tries their best to make your wedding day ideal,” Sakagawa says.
After the traditional Shinto ceremony, Ara and his wife were determined to make their Club reception truly unique.
“Usually at Japanese weddings, my friends want to celebrate [the couple],” Ara says. “But we wanted to give something to them.”
Weeks before the reception, the couple and their eight groomsmen and bridesmaids began regular dance practices at the Club. Yamakita brought in a professional choreographer from a Shibuya studio, and Ara swore his friends to secrecy.
After the couple made their grand entrance in front of their 80 guests in the New York Ballroom, their wedding party assembled around them on the dance floor.
Without warning, the 10 broke into a group dance routine to rival any J-pop sensation. The room erupted in cheers and laughter and guests pulled out smartphones to capture the moment.
“My dancing was OK, they said, but [Mariko] was beautiful,” Ara admits.
After dining on generous slices of roast beef and an exquisite selection of desserts, the party moved upstairs to CHOP Steakhouse, where the top-shelf whiskey and champagne flowed.
When the last toast was done, the couple retired to their complimentary Guest Studio, with enough memories to last a lifetime.
“If you want your wedding to be something original,” says Watanabe-Ara, beaming as she flips through her wedding albums, “the Club should be your No 1 choice.”
According to Yamakita, she doesn’t plan weddings. She helps arrange everything a couple needs for their “jinsei no saisho no hi,” the first day of their life.
In April, Watanabe-Ara and her husband became Members of the Club, along with their sons, Ryuhei and Kohei. Now, every date night at CHOP and every family buffet in the ballroom is a chance to step back in time and relive the first day of their life.
Words: Owen Ziegler
Images: 37 Frames
July 7 & 28