The Wedding Traditions of Japan



 Japanese Wedding Traditions

-Marriage in Japan is a civil event that may thereafter be blessed by a religious ceremony, the religious ceremony having no legal significance.

-Japanese weddings commonly take place during the spring and fall seasons. Historically, the Shinto (which means “the way of the gods”) tradition is relied upon by Japanese for weddings—even by followers of the Buddhist faith. But when couples have their marriages blessed in a manner consistent with their faith, Buddhist weddings take place in temples, Shinto weddings occur in shrines, Christian weddings are held in churches or chapels, and secular weddings are conducted in various wedding venues.   Since the 1980s, fashion, more so than religion, has been the determining factor in deciding which religious tradition a couple selects for its wedding ceremony.  The 1981 wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles inspired many Japanese couples of the Buddhist and Shinto faiths to have Western-style weddings—in chapels (though not officiated by Christian clergy), with white dresses, best-man and bridesmaids, the exchange of rings, and wedding cakes, for example. But regardless of which religious tradition informs the wedding ceremony, Japanese couples must first be legally married by filing for marriage with the local government, then must present the official marriage documentation before any religious or secular marriage ceremony can take place.  No ceremony of any kind—religious or otherwise—is required under Japanese law.

-Traditionally, marriages were categorized into two types:  miai (resulting from arranged introduction); and ren’ai (when the principals met and decided to marry on their own volition). Today, the distinction is almost meaningless, and the number of arranged marriages has declined significantly with modernization and urbanization.

-Shinto weddings are officiated by a priest (male or female). Only very close family members attend. Traditionally, for arranged marriages, an older married couple called “nakoudo” (matchmaker) also attends. There is no best-man, maid-/matron-of-honor, or bridesmaids at the traditional Shinto wedding ceremony.

-In the ceremony, the couple is purified, drinks saké during the ritual of “san-san-kudo,” and the groom reads the words of commitment.

-The “san-san-kudo” ritual is performed by the bride and the groom and both sets of parents. Each person takes three sips of saké from each of three cups. The first three sips represent the three couples (the bride and groom and both sets of parents). The second three sips represent three human flaws:  hatred, passion, and ignorance. The third three sips represent deliverance (“do”) from the three flaws.

-Another major component of the wedding ceremony is the 21-bead rosary, which represents the couple, their families, and Buddha, all unified. (An example of a merging of Shinto and Buddhist elements).

-During the ceremony, parents are honored with flowers, a toast, and the reading of a letter expressing the love and gratitude of the couple for their parents.

-In Japanese culture, the crane is a symbol of longevity and prosperity. One thousand and one origami cranes made of gold-colored paper are presented to the couple at the ceremony.

-During the wedding ceremony, the bride wears the traditional white kimono (“shiromuku”/ “shiro”). (A bride in a Buddhist ceremony would don a colorful kimono). The bride’s body is sometimes painted entirely in white, symbolizing her declaration of her virtue to the gods.  The bride’s hair is traditionally worn in a bun decorated with colorful kanzashi accessories.  A white wedding hood called a “tsuno kakushi” is worn to hide the two front golden tsuno horns (called the “horns of jealousy”) of the bride’s headdress, the hood symbolizing the bride’s promise of obedience to her husband. The bride also carries a tiny purse called a “hakoseko”; a small, encased sword called a “kaiken”; and in her obi belt, she wears a fan, which represents happiness and a happy future.  The groom wears a montsuki, the traditional black, formal kimono, a haori (kimono jacket), and hakama (kimono pants).

-At the end of the ceremony, special offerings are made to the “kami” (Shinto gods).

-After the wedding ceremony is a reception, called “kekkon hiroen,” which relatives, neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc., attend. In modern Japan, many wedding-reception venues also have shrines, temples, and chapels so as to facilitate the transition from ceremony to reception.

-Guests are expected to dress formally to attend a wedding reception. Female guests wear dresses, suits, or kimonos; male guests wear black tuxedos or black suits.

-Invited guests are expected to give gifts of cash. Unlike the Japanese funeral, where the cash gift should be of old bills, the cash gift for a wedding should be of new bills (suggesting that the donor prepared for the event in advance), and it is to be presented at the reception in a special envelope called “shugi-bukuro”—typically made  of gold or red paper. Shugi-bukuro are readily available in convenience stores all across Japan. The amount to be given is sometimes specified on the invitation. Otherwise, the amount is based on the relationship to the couple. Thirty thousand yen (approximately $250) is regarded as an appropriate amount for the wedding of a friend in 2016. The guest’s name is to be written, preferably in calligraphy, on the outside of the envelope, which is handed over to the person at the reception desk upon arrival. Thereafter, the guest should sign his or her name into the guest book.

-The wedding reception typically begins with an introduction of the bride and groom. Generally, the bride and groom change outfits several times during the reception.   The bride traditionally wears the colorful uchikake kimono (also called “iro-uchikake”) of brocade for the reception.

-During the reception, the newlyweds sit on a dais and are entertained by guests in the form of speeches, songs, performances, etc.

-A multi-course meal is served at the reception. The number of courses, however, is never in a multiple of four since in Japanese, the word for the number four sounds like the word for “death.” The food served typically has special meaning. Clams are oftentimes served with both shells, for example, to symbolize the union of the couple. And red foods such as lobster and crabs are usually served since the color red represents good luck in Japanese culture.

-During the reception, the bride and groom visit the various tables, lighting candles and thanking guests.

-At the very end of the party, the couple makes a speech thanking everyone for attending the wedding.



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