Rieko Hayashi had always dreamed of living abroad, which is why she studied English and European culture at university. While most of her classmates traveled the world before starting their careers, Rieko went straight to work. During her vacations, she traveled to more than 20 countries, and was eventually inspired to work and live in Europe.
First, she worked as a bank teller for four years at the Bank of Tokyo before becoming a facility manager at Citibank Private Bank in Japan. There, she managed the opening of branches in major cities across Japan. In her time off, she also worked as a master of ceremonies (MC) at weddings after receiving a diploma from a specialized school in Tokyo. In Japan, wedding MCs ensure that the events during the wedding reception go as planned. Rieko discovered her talent in this role when her bank asked her to be an MC at a large event.
After seven years, Rieko left the bank, deciding to create a new job for herself: organize destination weddings for Japanese couples in Europe. Normally in Japan, if a couple wants to get married abroad, they hire a company in Japan that offers a package with everything pre-selected, including photo locations and flower arrangements. But no one who understands Japanese style, culture and language is available on location to help with the details of the wedding. For that reason, Rieko decided not only to be on location to assist the couple on their special day, but also to help them create a more personalized wedding.
Many Japanese couples dream of a romantic setting for their wedding because they do not have legal wedding ceremonies like those in Europe. They prefer to get married in a church or outdoors with a scenic backdrop as they have seen in movies and television.
To decide which location she would focus on, Rieko held a competition to discover which European destinations Japanese couples most preferred for their weddings. The one winning couple got a free wedding in that location. The results showed that 40 percent of the Japanese couples wanted to get married in Italy. With that information, she expanded her existing MC business, le Maestro (www.le-maestro.com) and began organizing destination weddings.
Initially, she came to Florence for short periods of time to study Italian, research different European destinations that might interest couples, and develop contacts with local wedding planners. Two years ago, however, she decided to stay in Florence permanently; she subsequently married a Florentine and gave birth to her first son.
Since Rieko has been in business, she has assisted many couples in realizing their dream of getting married in places like the Amalfi coast, Santorini, Florence, Tuscany, Côte d’Azur, Paris, Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Prague.
After living many years in Tokyo, one of the liveliest cities in the world, Rieko wasn’t sure that Florence would be dynamic enough for her, but she quickly adapted to the different pace and lifestyle. ‘Florence has everything I need: it’s a full-functioning city with a wonderful night life, and a rich cultural history, too.’
Rieko also appreciates the Tuscan countryside, which she discovered when she organized her first wedding near Pienza. (She remembers getting goosebumps when she saw it for the first time.) After traveling throughout Europe, she discovered how rare it is to live in a city and to travel only a half hour to be surrounded by rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves.
Another aspect of life in Italy that she appreciates is the importance of personal relationships. ‘In Florence, I have a social life that includes my husband and my girlfriends; while in Japan, my social life consisted mainly of my colleagues.’
Rieko enjoys organizing weddings so much that she hopes eventually to organize weddings with a Japanese flair for Italian couples-maybe even having the bride wear a traditional kimono.