Attending or planning a Japanese wedding can be an enriching and memorable experience, but understanding the cultural nuances and expectations is key to fully appreciating the event. From the traditional attire and ceremonial rituals to the unique customs and etiquette, this guide aims to provide you with valuable insights and practical tips for a seamless experience.
Being a foreigner at a Japanese wedding for the first time might be very perplexing due to the various cultural, traditional and expectations. Planning a wedding in Japan? A lot harder. To ensure that you are prepared to plan or attend a Japanese wedding without being met with surprises at every step, we have done the research and suffered endless wedding advertisements (despite being tragically single).
We hope you find this guide helpful in navigating Japanese wedding customs.
Types of Japanese Wedding Ceremonies
In the past, neighbors and family members would gather around a small dinner table to celebrate a Japanese wedding. Over the years, they began having weddings in hotels, ceremony halls and shrines.
A Shinto, Christian, Buddhist or non-religious wedding ceremony can be performed in Japan. Wedding ceremonies are customized by the couple and may not follow the norms of the couple’s respective religions.
The traditional Japanese ritual is now conducted at a shrine and is done in a Shinto manner by a priest. With just immediate relatives and a select few guests present, the ceremony itself is quite formal and generally very private.
Shinto Wedding Ceremonies
The most traditional type of Japanese wedding is a Shinto ceremony, which is still highly common in that country. These marriages are performed in front of a Shinto shrine by a Shinto priest. The bride dons a conventional white or silk kimono (shiromuku), which she pairs with a white hood (wataboshi) or paper cap in place of a white dress and veil (tsunokakushi). The family crest is embroidered in white on the black kimono the groom is wearing. Only the couple’s matchmaker and extremely close family members attend the wedding.
Due to the high cost of acquiring one for a single use, kimonos for weddings are rising in demand. Kimono rentals are typically included in the ceremony packages offered by Shinto wedding planning businesses, along with other services like hair and makeup. However, keep in mind that expenditures for these marriages begin at about 80,000 yen for the ceremony alone, omitting payments to the temple (about 300,000 yen), photographic fees and any additional expenses related to supper and after parties.
The primary event of a Shinto wedding is the san-san-kudo ritual, which involves the sharing of sake. The ceremony lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The groom, the bride and then all of the parents consume sake from three little glasses that are placed on top of one another. The two families’ reunification is symbolized by this ritual. The priest and a representative from each family present gifts to the kami (gods), after which the groom reads his vows. The exchanging of rings follows.
Christian Wedding Ceremonies
Japanese proverbs like “Born Shinto, married Christian, died Buddhist” are rather prevalent. Currently, Christian marriages are the most common in Japan; they are often referred to as “the white wedding.” These weddings are popular because of the appeal and romanticism attached to them. Expect a typical Church wedding with bridesmaids and flower girls, hymns and music and a priest dressed in Western attire as the celebrant.
It’s not known whether the location is a real church or whether the “priest” is a real priest. The couple rarely practices Christianity. The ceremony’s appearance is more important to them. A chapel rental for a wedding ceremony normally costs around 100,000 yen (900 USD) and lasts for about 30 minutes.
Non-Religious Wedding Ceremonies
There are no regulations for civil marriages. These weddings are organized precisely how the couple wants them to be and can take place anywhere, from hotels to beaches. Since there is typically no wedding officiant present, the marriage itself is not “legally binding.” In any case, the couple would file for a marriage license to make their relationship legal.
These weddings provide more latitude in terms of price and duration. These wedding rituals are typically highly distinctive, and the couple may truly choose how they wish to commemorate their union.
The couple will often host a reception regardless of the sort of wedding ceremony. The reception is often attended by a large number of guests and hosted in a banquet hall. Smaller wedding rituals, like the Shinto ceremony, encourage couples to invite a larger number of guests.
All of the guests will be seated at tables, with the couple taking center stage at the front of the room. The pair frequently visits each table to meet everyone, take pictures and even light candles at each one. The reception party will feature several images and directions on when to snap photos and when to take group shots will probably be read out at the start of the celebration. Be prepared for several performances, whether they come from the newlyweds, other visitors or paid entertainers. Speeches are taken very seriously and will undoubtedly take the majority of the celebration. Expect to cry!
There will probably be a couple cutting into their wedding cake, but there will also be some customs from Japan. The couple breaks open a sake barrel, known as the kagami-biraki (鏡開き), and serves it to everyone in attendance. As the pair begins their new life as a married couple, this signifies the passage to a new phase of life.
Funny speeches, dancing with other guests, and socializing with other guests are things you shouldn’t anticipate. Additionally, receptions are formal affairs, so despite the sake and wine that will be given, now is not the time to binge drink and become inebriated! (Always wait till the after-party!)
What to Wear to a Japanese Wedding; Groom, Bride and Guest
The bride and groom typically wear bridal kimonos at a traditional Japanese wedding. The bride dons a white “shiromuku” bridal robe and a white headpiece. It denotes innocence and the fact that the bride would take on the hue of her husband’s family. As for the phrase “become the color of her husband’s family,” in Japan, it is not legal to maintain the last name on both sides, but the majority of people still change the bride’s last name to the groom’s when they get married. Because of this, it is a common belief that a bride joins the groom’s family as a new member.
The bride has a choice between two different kinds of headpieces for her wedding. One is known as “wataboshi.” The wataboshi is today worn as the Japanese counterpart of the wedding veil in Western custom, but it was originally worn outside to ward against dust and the cold. The bride’s face is concealed from everyone but the husband while wearing the wataboshi until the wedding ritual is over.
“Tsunokakushi” is a different style of headgear. It literally means “to hide horns” in Japanese. The notion of horns stems from the folktale that says when women feel envious, they sprout horns and transform into demons. Interestingly, the term “tsunokakushi” refers to protection from a wife who is a monster!
The groom dons a kimono, hakama and haori, which are often black or gray and embroidered with the family crest.
During the wedding ceremony and the wedding celebration, the bride and, on occasion, the groom typically change their attire numerous times. The custom of changing clothing multiple times dates back to the 14th century and represents the bride’s preparedness to join the groom’s family as a new member.
The bride will be dressed in a long, white kimono called a “shiromuku” for a Shinto wedding. She could then arrive at the reception wearing a “uchikake,” a vibrant, embroidered kimono, before changing into an evening gown or a party dress in Western fashion.
In a Western-style wedding, the bride wears a white wedding dress for the ceremony before changing at least once and perhaps twice into a vibrant evening gown or party dress.
As a Man
Men should dress in a suit while attending a Japanese wedding. The couple will not anticipate you showing up in a traditional Japanese costume, regardless of the style of the ceremony. You can wear a colorful or black suit, but try to stay away from wearing a white one! The most crucial piece of advice is to avoid wearing a black suit and black tie since it is what you would go to a funeral in Japan. Men who attend a Japanese wedding are most frequently seen wearing a black suit and a white tie.
As a Woman
Women are advised to wear a one-piece dress and stockings when attending a Japanese wedding. Your dress should be knee-length, and you should wear a shawl or sleeves to cover your shoulders. Unexpectedly, wearing black to a Japanese wedding is okay, but going with color is usually the best choice. Avoid wearing open-toed shoes, fur, leather and bulky purses. Additionally, like with any wedding, avoid wearing white and avoid wearing anything overly ornate. Allowing the bride to shine is essential!
Do You Bring Wedding Gifts to a Japanese Wedding?
One of the distinctive wedding customs in Japan is for the guests to present the bride and groom with a financial gift. For wedding money presents, there are envelopes with ornate decorations. Every convenience store and even 100 yen shops carry these envelopes. Make sure you do not purchase the incorrect one, such as for funerals. Depending on the relationship between the visitor and family, wedding presents might range from 10,000 and can be ￥30,000, ￥50,000 or ￥100,000. Usually, the visitors don’t bring any store-bought presents.
Typically, the wedding guests are the ones who leave with presents. “Hikidemono” refers to the presents given by the couple to the wedding guests. This is a historical custom that was once utilized to demonstrate the prosperity of the family. Gifts sometimes consist of baked goods, dinnerware and a personal choice from a catalog.
Japanese Wedding Venue
In a traditional Japanese wedding, choosing the location is an important part of the planning process.
As a result, some individuals start looking at wedding venues two years in advance. The couple chooses the venue’s decor and goes bridal dress shopping during this time. The bride and groom choose the locations for the ceremony, reception and nighttime after-party for those who want to end the celebration with a night of dancing and partying. But after you’ve settled on a price, the venue takes care of everything else, including photography, videography, a florist and makeup artists. They also point the couples toward the top bridal boutiques where they can rent wedding gowns.
Japanese Wedding Invitations
The invitation to the wedding ceremony and reception is often sent to the guests by postal mail. The invitation includes a postcard asking for a response on whether you plan to attend or not. Guests are required to respond to the invitation within a specific amount of time. Even for Japanese people, it might be challenging to complete the postcard correctly.
Customs, Traditions and Rituals of Marriage
Japanese wedding customs sometimes include objects with deep symbolic importance. The mizuhiki knot given at Japanese weddings is frequently fashioned like a crane, indicating wealth and long life, while bamboo, because of its strength and understated elegance, signifies both prosperity and purity. Another custom is to make 1,000 gold origami cranes. Cranes are a symbol of luck, longevity and harmony in marriage since they form lifelong bonds with their partners.
The customs surrounding a Japanese wedding begin with the proposal, during which the pair may trade fortunate trinkets. These can include Suehiro, a fan that represents happiness, Kinpo-zutsumi, a ceremonial quantity of money, Katsuobushi or dried bonito, which indicates lasting quality and Tomoshiraga, linen thread, which denotes strong bonds in the marriage.
Japanese brides frequently wear something “ancient, new, borrowed and blue,” adopting certain Western customs. They throw the bouquet, ask their friends to scatter rose petals and share their first cake bites with each other.
During the reception, Japanese wedding couples also give their parents a present of flowers, make a toast or write them a heartfelt note of appreciation.
Chopsticks, folding fans and sake glasses are a few wedding favors that may be distributed to guests. It is customary for wedding guests to present little, exquisitely designed paper packets filled with cash.
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At the shrine, a traditional Shinto-style Japanese wedding is held. The shrine might be outside on a ranch or indoors at a hotel. Usually, only the couple’s immediate relatives and a select few close friends can attend. The ceremony is officiated by a Shinto priest.
The priest cleanses the cups before the bridal pair sips from them to represent casting out any bad spirits. At the shrine, the Japanese bridal couple swaps rings and makes their vows. To officially cement the marriage, a sake-sharing ritual is also held in accordance with Japanese tradition.
Saka is typically served in unique cups called sakazuki. The pair has three cocktails, one each from a small, medium and big sakazuki.
Every sip has a purpose:
- Small: Represents appreciation for your parents’ support in bringing you up to the stage of marriage.
- Medium: Shows your determination to collaborate with your spouse over the duration of your marriage.
- Large: Promises your partner will be forever loved no matter what and represents your hope to have a lovely family together.
To further strengthen the bond between the two families, parents from each of the two households alternately sip.
The ritual only takes 20 to 45 minutes to complete.
Symbolic Nuptial Cups
The exchanging of wedding cups or san san ku do, is the most well-liked custom during a Shinto wedding. San denotes three, whereas ku denotes nine. San San Ku Do therefore denotes 3, 3 and 9. Three times apiece, the bride and groom sip sake from sakazuki, which are three different-sized sake cups. They are symbolically exchanging their wedding vows while swapping drinks.
The relationship between the two families is then sealed when their parents take a taste as well. From each of the three glasses of sake, each participant takes three sips. The first three sips stand in for the three couples, the next three for the defects of hatred, desire and ignorance, and the last three for emancipation from the three flaws.
Many places for ceremonies offer a chamber with a little Shinto shrine where couples can exchange wedding vows. Following the vows and the purification rite, the bride and groom exchange sake as part of the san san ku do ceremony, which binds them and their respective families. At the conclusion of the event, God is given symbolic offerings of little tree twigs known as sakaki.
This traditional wedding is less common. Nowadays, the majority of weddings follow a more Western format, complete with a procession down the aisle.
The groom would stay with the bride’s family and provide his work for a while back in the days when physical labor was so highly prized. It was known as muko-iri. However, by the 14th century, a practice known as yome-iri, in which the lady wed into the household of the man, had generally superseded it. Back then, parents would frequently arranged marriages. Over 40% of Japanese marriages were planned as late as 1970, but currently, that percentage is less than 10%.
The After Party
The couple and their guests unwind at the nijikai or after-party. Families hardly ever attend the nijikai because it is a wild party that ends the celebration and may take place in the same hall where the wedding reception was held, a leased restaurant or bar or a sizable karaoke room. The cost for friends to attend the after-party will be between 5,000 and 10,000 yen. The event is frequently the high point for visitors and perhaps even for the couple who can now finally unwind! As the night goes on, there could even be an after-after-party!
Serena & Dominic are a married couple and parents to 3 wonderful children. They plan weddings, run multiple small businesses, and curate wedding events.
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