But this time, I thought I should discuss the role and responsibilities of the toastmaster during a Japanese wedding reception. Well, in terms of role, there is basically no big difference compared to a toastmaster at a European wedding reception; they are the ones making sure that the speeches and events fit in well in the program, and are in charge of making sure that things go somewhat according to plan.
For a Swedish wedding, this is not an extreme challenge since time does not need to be so strictly managed and there is a lot less risk of offending anyone by mispronouncing the name or having the order mixed up and making relative X hold his/hers speech before the much more important relative Y. As you can understand, it’s much stricter in Japan …
This area was probably the one where me and Mrs. Sunshine-Salaryman had the most arguments (thinking about it, this was basically the only area of friction) since she was very concerned about things going correctly according to Japanese customs so none of her more traditional and conservative relatives would be insulted, while I wanted to have it in a relaxed and personal way. The difficulties we had was in finding a middle ground in this and also how to solve the language problem since the guests would be a mixed bunch of Japanese and English speakers with quite a few not bilingual, requiring either a bilingual toastmaster or a translator to one of the languages.
Most people in Japan probably use a professional toastmaster/MC since that gives some assurance on things being managed professionally and with a minimum of mistakes. The toastmaster/MC would then be exclusively committed to that role and would not participate in the overall dinner and merriment. I was very resistant to the idea of having a professional toastmaster and especially the one bilingual American MC they had available annoyed me with that "HEY EVERYONE LET’S HAVE A GREAT WEDDING, MY NAME IS HARRY" faux-foreign style that some of you fellow foreigners who have lived in Japan might understand (it’s foreign, but packaged in a way that makes Japanese more comfortable with it, but makes the non-Japanese crowd feel awkward). Not to mention that it would cost a significant amount of money (around $2,000 USD…).
Since things were reaching the desperate stage and we needed to decide how to deal with this. After asking around among some of my bilingual friends here who I thought might be up to the task, but considering that these friends live in Japan and know how a wedding here works they also knew what kind of pressure this would mean, and as a result; they politely declined (just enjoying the party probably was a lot more appealing to them).
In the end, I turned to my good old friend Mr. Politician who was coming for the wedding, all the way from Sweden, and used to public speaking. In the normal Swedish way he accepted the task with honor, mentioning who he had been the toastmaster at some weddings in Sweden previously and was very honored to be asked and gladly accepted... I believe that he probably thought it would be a fun and relaxed task...
However, after waiting a few weeks after having him accept the task and making sure that it would be too late for him to turn back on his promise, I started to gradually reveal the extent of the task before him...
I am not sure on how he reacted to the stuff we mailed to him in advance to allow him to prepare for the task at hand; the time schedule charts in excel, down to individual minutes, and long strings of text that it was VERY IMPORTANT that he read exactly as they were at exactly the right time. To solve the issue of translator, with a non Japanese speaking toastmaster, we simply assigned that to The Boy, who I perceive as a cross between my son and an immigrant worker I can abuse. He only needed to follow the toastmasters lead, so the work was considerably lighter.
One of the first things I did after my friend arrived in Japan was to take him to the wedding planner for a detailed review of the activities and his tasks during the reception together with the wedding planner. During the two hour long meeting where all details and events were discussed, my friends face got gradually whiter and whiter as the extent and responsibility of his task sank in, with a tight time schedule to manage, Japanese names to remember and things he needed to take care in, to not risk offending any conservative Japanese family member.
With the risk of ending this post with a little anti-climax, in the end, he passed it with flying colors and managed to keep a nice balance between Japanese time keeping and Swedish informality, making both sides of the family very happy with the event. But at the end, he looked completely exhausted and mentioned to us that "this isn't like a Swedish wedding at all, now I know how it must feel to be the MC of a royal wedding in Sweden...".