Charlene & Leon
I don’t think, this Wednesday, that we could be sharing a wedding more full of colour, more full of culture and more full of community than Charlene & Leon’s. There are no less than three beautiful wedding gowns, 253 (yes, that’s Guinness World Record breaking!) flowergirls and 600 witnesses to the vows unfolding,
These two Aussies even kept a little nod to home, inviting photographer Sunlit Studios and cinematographer Lemon Tree Film House asking them to capture their day that not only celebrated Japan, but their own life together.
These two met while at university! Charlene sharing “We both lived in an off-campus accommodation site for Brisbane university students. I lived downstairs and he lived upstairs across a courtyard. We could communicate with our light switches!”
Leon decided to pop the question on the couple’s anniversary. “We were celebrating our seventh anniversary in Yakushima” remembers the bride. “A beautiful rainforest island in Japan. After hours of trekking, we entered the cave-like remains of a huge 3000-year-old tree called Wilson’s Stump. Looking up from the interior to the sky, the outline of the trunk naturally forms the shape of a heart. We stood there looking up in awe while rain poured down on us. We were soaking wet but we didn’t care. At that moment, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him!”
Although a Guinness World Record was underway, for Charlene and Leon, this wedding was more about community than record-breaking, in the bride’s words “The best part about planning this wedding was doing it with the Hita community. They really took care of me when I was living there and we still have a really strong relationship! The idea for the Guinness World Record actually came about after the earthquakes that hit the year prior to our wedding. The Guinness World Record attempt and wedding plans became a community-led project, as a way to spread joy, raise funds and awareness for earthquake relief efforts, and shine a light on Hita and it’s beautiful people.”
Leon remembers “Listening to the music and seeing the huge line of flower girls heading my way built up the moment for me. I was watching them all go by, and then there was a break in the line. I knew she was next, but it just hit me so suddenly when I finally saw her. I was thinking, “Wow, here she is…here comes my WIFE”.”
Each of the 253 flower girls carried their own rose petals. “The petals scattered by the flower girls came from leftover flowers from a larger florist – we didn’t know the exact kinds we would receive until they arrived! They turned out to be a lovely mix of pink, yellow, and red rose petals. On the morning of the wedding, a group of local parents and other volunteers pulled the roses apart and placed the petals into paper cups for the flower girls to carry.”
Charlene walked down the aisle with her father to the Wedding March.
From the flower girl dresses to the decor, it was all handmade! Almost everything was DIY, from the flower girl dresses to decorations, to entertainment (our friends sang and performed music), to food and cake! We had a huge team of people from Hita helping us to plan this wedding!” tells Charlene.
Of their ceremony, performed by the couple’s friend, “Our ceremony was short but full of love. We had the support of about 600 people around us as we said our vows. It may seem like a lot of people, but it felt very close! We made our vows to each other with an “I do” and then Luchi asked, “Do you, the families and friends of Charlene and Leon, promise to support and uphold them in their marriage now and in the years to come?” and then everyone replied, “We do” in unison. I remember being reminded at that moment of all the wonderful people around us. I looked around at the flower girls, our friends and family, and back to my husband. It was a really special feeling.”
And of course, there had to be a celebration of the many, many flower girls! And somewhat of a tradition began! Charlene explains “Alana and Cameron from Sunlit Studios came over from Australia! Alana came up with the idea for the flower girls to stand together to form a giant heart for the official bridal party photo, and that’s what you can see on page seven of the 2019 Guinness World Records book! To get the shot, Alana stood on a rooftop in the rain and wind with Cameron working at the ground level, even speaking Japanese (he once lived in Japan too!) to get us all in position. Once the photo was taken, our friend called out to the girls, “You did it! You completed the challenge!” And all the girls started squealing excitedly and running around giving us high fives.
After the wedding, my sister suggested that we start some kind of tradition to celebrate each year as a couple. Although Alana didn’t know it at the time, she inspired us to continue with the heart theme! Since we already had a photo of us engaged under a heart, and married with a heart, we decided to take a heart-themed photo together every year for our anniversary. For our first one, we stood with a huge heart-shaped rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California! We’re going to keep building our heart photo collection!”
There were plenty of bright and beautiful blooms throughout the day, styled by local florist Hana ya Fuu. Charlene explaining “I had a bouquet of green and white for the walk down the aisle. The stems were wrapped with “something old” and had “something new” and “a silver penny (actually an old Japanese coin in this case)” attached. I wore “something borrowed” in my hair and my earrings were “something blue” – these were all from friends in Hita. With my kimono, I held a fan and colourful ball-shaped bouquet suspended by a ribbon. These bouquets were prepared by a local florist and he did a fantastic job!”
Guests celebrated with sake. “Drinks for the day came from a giant barrel of sake gifted to us from friends. Breaking the barrel together was a fun part of the day! Our friend then led a big “Kanpai!” (cheers/toast) to start the festivities.”
And then it was time for cake! The couple feeding each other cake off of a wooden paddle, also a gift from a friend.
Charlene and Leon chose Mikumagawa Park for the festivities, telling “Our friends Luchi and Eriko helped us pick the venue. It was actually where they had planned to celebrate their own marriage many years prior, but were forced to change everything at the last moment because of a typhoon! So they called this their “revenge” wedding!”
Even the groom donned multiple outfits! His final look (alongside Charlene) adorned with a custom brooch by broochesmoyai. Charlene telling “Leon wore a silver suit for the ceremony. Then he changed into a haori/hakama for the reception. He wore the suit again for the dance, but with one addition! Our friend gave us a surprise little gift on the day – she had made us brooches of each other (“Mini Charky [my nickname]” and “Mini Leon”) to wear over our hearts as we danced. So we added them to our outfits!”
There were so many beautiful gowns worn by Charlene on the day, with help from Tsutsumi Bridal House and Akira Akiyama. Her final look topped with a skirt drawn on by her students, she remarks “My friend Yoko runs a hair salon and professional kimono dressing service in Hita with her mother. She liaised with a service called Tsutsumi Bridal House and they graciously loaned us our wedding attire for the day. Yoko and her team did our hair, makeup, and kimono dressing for the wedding. They worked so hard all day and were just amazing!
I wore a wedding dress and veil for the ceremony and then changed into a pink kimono for the reception. I wore an iro-uchikake style by renowned wedding kimono designer Akira Akiyama. For our dance, I wore a white dress with Japanese cranes on the back.”
Even the first dance was about community! The newlyweds dancing alongside their very important guests, Charlene remembering “My brother-in-law is a sound engineer and put together the track for our first dance. It started with the waltz “Over the Waves/The Loveliest Night of the Year” and then transitioned into “Only You” by The Platters. We danced to the first part with our parents (it was my actually mum and dad’s first dance song at their wedding!) and then swapped over to dance with each other when the music changed.”
And then it was time to celebrate with a picnic reception, tells Charlene “The picnic reception was hanami-styled, with blue tarps laid on the ground to sit on and as a place to eat and relax together.
To finish the reception, we completed a local clapping custom together did a big “Banzai!”.”
And of course, with such a wedding, it was natural that it needed to be captured in as many ways as possible! Lemon Tree Film House flying out to join Charlene and Leon’s celebration to capture it on video!
A big congratulations to you both Charlene and Leon! Thank you for sharing your beautiful day with us! Thank you to Sunlit Studios for sharing today’s beautiful images!
This post features the following wedding vendors. If you've been featured below, we'd love to get to know you. Click here to join Polka Dot Bride.
- Bride's Reception Dress
- Akira Akiyama
- Hana ya Fuu
- Hair & Makeup Artist
- Vogue Beauty Salon Hita
- Mikumagawa Park