Real Weddings

Obyan Beach Wedding – Sam & Ken

Saipan is a part of America that not many people have the pleasure of seeing (or even hearing about). It is a US commonwealth, located North of Guam and East of Japan. Because of the location of this beautiful little island, there are so many different cultures and traditions, especially when it comes to weddings.

Sam tells the story of how he met the love of his life, Ken, “through a dating app (a reflection of our modern times, indeed) called “GROWLr,” appealing to a specific strand of the queer community: “bears” (i.e., bigger, stockier, thicker, bearded, and/or barrel-chested lads).  The app’s connections are based on proximity during use, so — in January 2016, en route to my new life in Saipan, with a 24-hour layover in Narita — Mr. Furukawa popped up on my phone during my brief, inaugural visit to Japan, and we started talking.  The conversation was calm (unhurried), kind, polite; neither of us were really expecting this to develop into much, but…we kept talking.  I moved to Saipan, and we kept talking.  We soon exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, and continued to correspond, getting to know each other virtually, and picking up each new conversation right where we’d left the old one.”

“As our conversations developed, my first few weeks in Saipan turned into my first few months, and by June of that year, I felt I already had a new, special friend (and pen pal!) in Japan, at the very least.  I had made plans to travel back to the U.S. Mainland for a conference that summer, and — since my flight route had me back in Narita overnight, once again — Ken I decided to meet at that point.  It was almost “love at first sight,” as cliché as that most certainly sounds.  Ken was so nervous and cute.  And because our conversations had all been in writing up to this point, I had admittedly forgotten that Ken was Deaf.  “Does he have a cold?,”  I thought to myself upon first hearing him speak, and then it dawned on me.  I saw his hearing aid.  “I’m such an idiot,”  I thought to myself.  “Of COURSE he’s deaf — that was one of the first things he TOLD me!”  And for a brief, flicker of a second, I asked myself — as a singer and composer, someone with a deep, passionate relationship with sound and timbre — “…does this matter?”  And it honestly didn’t.  And doesn’t.”

“From there, our relationship continued to grow, and — ultimately — bloomed.  On my way back to Saipan that summer, I stayed with Ken at his small but ultra efficient apartment in Tokyo, in a shockingly quiet area of Shinjuku.  I met his beloved companion, roommate, and trusty service (“hearing”) dog, Momo, a 6-pound, 11-year-old (at the time) chihuahua with a tongue that perpetually hangs out of one side of her mouth (almost as if it’s slightly too heavy), resembling pink, sugary gum excitedly pulled from a Bubble Tape dispenser.  That night with Ken in Tokyo pretty much “sold” me:  we went to a “sushi-go-round,” ate green tea (“matcha”) ice cream, and explored the neighborhood of Takadanobaba, holding hands.  Sometimes talking, sometimes enjoying the moments of peaceful silence between us.  Even then, Ken had begun to teach me American Sign Language (ASL); I was curious about it from the start…”

“Several months passed, and after thinking about it (though not thinking too hard — this was too exciting to question, after all!), I made plans to visit Ken, specifically, for a longer period (a full week), that October.  By then, everything clicked — being with Ken felt effortless, and so natural.  We spent Christmas and New Year’s by each other’s side that year.  The following Spring brought Ken to Saipan two different times, to visit; he loved it, and was “wowed” by the natural beauty as well as the warmth of such a tight-knit, welcoming, and diverse island community.”

“Since then, we’ve had (more) adventures in Japan, California, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia, and our love for each other has only been reinforced by the accumulation of experiences, both good and bad — the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and the triumphs.  Every little moment, thus far, continues to teach us that this “together” thing is not always easy (who’d’ve thunk it?!), but — in the pit of our souls, from the bottom of our hearts — it makes more sense than we could ever possibly explain.”

They chose to have their intimate wedding ceremony in the morning, on one of the most luxurious, secluded beaches that the island has to offer.

Both grooms decided that they wanted their wardrobe to be as comfortable and as clean as possible, while also remaining cool. They settled on linen white shirts and khaki shorts and added floral accents. As opposed to flower crowns, which have been in the wedding industry for many years, the couple had traditional Mwars and tea leis made, adding a little big of Chamorro/Carolinian culture to their day. Their wedding bands were custom made.

A mix of culture was thrown into their ceremony. Sam, who is a librarian, included a number of songs and readings from their closest friends and family. A few of the readings included: Modern Declaration” – Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Love is more thicker than forget” – e. e. Cummings, “So Much Happiness” – Naomi Shihab Nye and ending with a beautiful rendition of “Moon River” – Henry Mancini. Before the vows, the couple included “San San Ku-do” with sake. This is a traditional, age-old Japanese wedding custom that represents love, wisdom and happiness which grow over time in a marriage. They each took three sips of sake and then shared the rest with the crowd during their community vows.

The most emotional part of the ceremony, were the vows. Due to Ken being deaf, their vows were not only said but signed as well. There was not a dry eye among the guests, and for the deaf guests they also had an interpreter sign the vows. The vows ended with Ken’s aid dog “Momo” bearing the rings.

With American, Japanese, Chamorro, and deaf cultures all mixed into an intimate beach ceremony in the middle of the pacific ocean, this wedding was one to remember!

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Photography: Lauren Benson Photography // 

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  1. Lauren Benson

    June 6th, 2019 at 5:06 am

    Thank you SO much for featuring Sam and Ken’s wedding to share with the world! Their wedding was so unique and emotional, it will forever be one of my favorite days! Happy pride month!

  2. Kristin

    June 6th, 2019 at 5:17 am

    Aww this is too sweet! What a perfect love story and sweet pictures to remember their perfect day. I love love!

  3. Audrey

    June 7th, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    These are so beautiful…. and I had no idea that an app like that existed!!! Congrats to them!!

  4. Kate

    June 7th, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    I am obsessed with their flower crowns!!

  5. Lauren

    June 7th, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I had no idea about this little island or its beauty, lovely.

  6. ashton kelley

    June 7th, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    What a beautiful couple and a lovely tropical affair!

  7. Tasha

    June 7th, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    That is one beautiful island. I can see why you should marry there

  8. Karen Shoufler

    June 7th, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    So much love and emotion!

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