The Reel Deal: Memoirs of a Videographer
Posted Nov 1, 2008

Who knew that my duties as WEVA’s public relations chairperson would take me halfway around the world into a culture that I previously didn’t know? Well, that’s just what happened when I went to Japan in July to present "The Power of Video" to videographers and other wedding vendors in Tokyo and Osaka (see September’s installment of The Reel Deal).

Tokyo and my hometown of Chicago have a few things in common: Both cities have Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) chapters; both are in contention for the 2016 Summer Olympics; and both cities are avid followers of Kosuke Fukudome, the Chicago Cubs right fielder who played nine seasons for Japan’s Chunichi Dragons. But in my encounters with our business counterparts in Japan, I found myself just as interested in the differences.

My first impression was that the Japanese are very efficient, organized, and gracious. The culture thrives on schedules and organization. It is not unusual for the Japanese to be at work early in the morning and stay past 9 or 10 o’clock at night. We met with Yoshi Kohara, ABC’s director of Asian marketing, on a daily basis to fine-tune WEVA’s "The Power of Video" presentation. After dinner one Saturday night, we stopped at Kohara’s office, and his employees were still there at 10:30 p.m.

When Kohara told me we’d be attending two bridal fairs at two different hotels, I was excited. I was hoping to get a chance to speak to other wedding vendors to find out more about the Japanese wedding market. Bridal fairs in Japan and in the U.S. are not alike at all. There are no vendors to meet since you automatically get a list of vendors to use when you pick a hotel. As I mentioned in my September column, each vendor works exclusively for the hotel and pays a commission to be there.

At the bridal fair we watched a live wedding ceremony demonstration (models pose as the bride and groom) in its entirety (about 15 minutes). We then toured about a dozen banquet rooms decorated in various wedding themes using various budgets. We then went to the temple where we saw a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony in which the bride wears a traditional kimono.

In Japanese weddings, there is no bridal party. Thus, there is no need for matching bridal party dresses or tuxedos. It’s typical for the bride to change clothes several times throughout the wedding day. The wealthier she is, , the more she changes clothes. Most brides wear a white wedding dress, change into traditional Japanese dress, and then change into another "colored" dress for the end of the evening. Kohara said the brides spend so much time changing clothes that they sometimes don’t get much time to interact with their guests.

Only about 20% of Japanese weddings are Shinto-style. The majority of Japanese weddings today are Western-style. There aren’t many Christian weddings since most Japanese are Buddhists. But the Japanese are very interested in American wedding trends. I found the traditional Japanese wedding to be very beautiful and ceremonial, and I was surprised that so few couples choose that style. I have found that more and more American wedding couples are introducing traditionalesque "personal heritage" into their weddings (e.g., dress, food, music, decorations) as a way to stand out and be different. It’s interesting to see the Japanese moving in the opposite direction.

Kohara said about 70% of Japanese wedding couples use a videographer hired through the hotel’s services. The norm is to use just one camera, on a tripod, at the ceremony and reception. The Japanese do not have the bridal preparations photographed or videotaped, Kohara said, because the Japanese women are ashamed to be seen without their makeup. I was very curious to see a Japanese wedding video, so Kohara showed me one. It was made in 1998! When I noted that the video was 10 years old, he said it didn’t matter because in the last 10 years, Japanese wedding videography hasn’t changed at all.

A company called Andante provided both videography and photography services for the ABC Tokyo Seminar. Kei Hasegawa was shooting with a Sony DSR 250. I asked him what Japanese videographers think of HD cameras. He said the response is so-so because the cameras introduced so far don’t work well in low light. He noted that HD cameras cost a lot of money and that most Japanese don’t have HDTVs, so there isn’t a lot of demand for HD. Since most HD technology and equipment are developed in Japan, I expected HD to be more prevalent there.

After my Osaka presentation, I met two Japanese videographers and learned that both of them had been shooting HDV for 2 years with the Sony FX1 and loved it. They told me they weren’t delivering in HD because Blu-ray players are very expensive and not many of their clients have them. Videographers in both Tokyo and Osaka said they were getting about $1,000 (U.S.) per wedding after paying their commission to the hotel; keep in mind that this price was for one camera and about 3 hours of shooting time. Because weddings are only 3 hours long, videographers can easily shoot more than one wedding in a day. Hotels in Japan book weddings back-to-back all day long.

All in all, "The Power of Video" was a home run in Tokyo. I only wish the Cubs and Fukudome had done as well in the 2008 playoffs. Just wait till next year!

Kris Malandruccolo (kris at elegantvideosbykris.com), an EventDV 25 honoree and 2007 WEVA Hall of Fame inductee, is the owner of Chicago-based Elegant Videos by Kris and Elegant Storybooks by Kris. She is a certified Master Wedding Vendor through the Association of Bridal Consultants, WEVA Public Relations Chair, an international speaker, and past-president of the Illinois Videographers Association.