Toshi's imports: The wedding planner-- from Japan

Charlottesville has long topped "best of" lists as a vacation destination or place to live, but Toshi Sato has won Charlottesville unexpected acclaim: as a wedding hot spot for Japanese couples.

Each year, Sato's business, Pinnacle Planning, brings more than 70 Japanese couples to Keswick Hall to tie the knot. How did he begin making connubial connections between Charlottesville and the Land of the Rising Sun?

"I was desperate," Sato laughs. "I had to do something."

Sato was working in sales for Keswick Hall, coordinating trips for international– particularly Japanese– travelers. With encouragement, he says, from Keswick's top brass, he separated from the resort but continues to work closely with it. In fact, nearly all of his couples spend three or four nights at the hunt country resort developed by Sir Bernard Ashley in the early 1990s.

Ironically, luxurious Keswick is a cheap option for many Japanese couples. Back in the home country, Sato explains, tradition dictates that couples invite to their wedding not just family and close friends, but work acquaintances as well. These massive events, which can cost as much as $50,000, are held in hotels and generally last only two hours or so.

"They're so boring," Sato says.

Add to that the Japanese recession over the past decade, and Sato says his $10,000 Virginia wedding packages look ever more appealing.

He lines up a Japanese priest– the Rev. Theodore Kitchen, who was a missionary in Japan for 40 years– as well as a Japanese beautician and photographer. He arranges for flowers, transportation, accommodations, videographer, and a wedding-night meal. The couples usually rent the UVA chapel for the ceremony.

Planning a Japanese wedding in Jefferson country requires a few adjustments, Sato says. Brides typically do not want colorful bouquets, and they generally wear less make-up than American brides. There is also no sugar in the Japanese wedding cake.

Problems are few, he insists, but he does recall one affair that quickly turned into a wedding planner's nightmare.

"The groom was already married," Sato laughs. "One day before the wedding, in the middle of dinner, he told the bride and her family he was not divorced yet."

Fortunately, the bride was understanding. The couple held the ceremony anyway, but didn't make it legal until they returned to Japan.

Not a problem for the wedding planner. David Eklund, owner of deVideo, the company that films each of the events, insists Sato is able to handle anything that comes his way.

"He's very levelheaded," Eklund says.