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.



The Ethiopian Wedding Tradition–One of the World’s most Beautiful and Egalitarian

The Ethiopian Wedding Tradition–One of the World’s Most Beautiful and Egalitarian

-Ethiopia has close historical ties with all three of the world’s major Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the country’s wedding ceremonies are informed by those traditions, along with native customs. In the 4th century, Ethiopia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion, thereby becoming one of the first Christian states in the world. Today, approximately two-thirds of the country’s population is Christian, and approximately one-third is Islamic. A significant population of Ethiopian Jews resided in the country until the 1980s.

-Traditionally, a young man’s parents search for a suitable bride for their son. It was once customary for Ethiopian men to marry at age 30, inspired by the Biblical tradition of Christ’s beginning of his ministry at age 30. It is not uncommon, however, for the parents of Ethiopian boys of the age of 18 to begin looking for a suitable bride.  In Christian Ethiopian weddings, the virginity of the bride is almost a requirement, shame falling upon her family in cases where she is not. Consequently, traditional Ethiopian brides tend to be younger than their husbands.

-Traditionally, in order to ensure that a bride and groom are not related by blood, at least seven generations of family lineage were researched. Today, however, five generations free of consanguinity qualify.

-Once a prospective bride has been identified by the young man’s parents, a mediator is dispatched to the parents of the young lady to inform them of the interest in the union.  The parents of the young lady oftentimes imposes conditions, which the mediator take back to the parents of the young man, thereafter arranging for a date and place for both sets of parents to meet.

-When both sets of parents have reached an agreement, the young man and young lady are engaged and a date for the wedding is set.

-All of the wedding expenses are borne by both sets of parents.

-The bride and groom first see each other on the day of the wedding.

-The wedding ceremony begins with music and dancing, then the bride’s family gives the groom a dowry, typically consisting of money, cattle, and other valuable objects. (In some traditions, the groom’s family provides a bride-price to the family of the bride).

-Both sets of parents prepare food and drink for the wedding and invite guests. Meat is especially prominent at Ethiopian weddings.

-At the end of the wedding ceremony/reception, the groom takes his new bride to his parents’ home, where he is expected to take the bride’s virginity within three days.

-(The Ethiopian concept of the nuclear family is broader than the Western concept thereof. When the groom takes his bride to the home of his parents, the eldest male of the household—in some cases not the groom’s father, but his grandfather—is the patriarch of the family and head of the household).

-Depending on the economic circumstances of the groom’s parents, the honeymoon, which takes place at the home of the groom’s parents, lasts from one week to three months.  The best man/men remain(s) with the groom during the honeymoon period. For the duration of the honeymoon, the bride is prohibited from leaving the house during daylight. She may, however, leave the home after sunset.

-After the honeymoon, the bride and groom, accompanied by the best man/men, return to the home of the bride’s parents for a set period of time.

-Non-traditional, urban, and foreign-dwelling Ethiopians oftentimes do not adhere to many of the wedding traditions outlined above, arranged marriages being one of them. But familial approval of spouses is still expected.

-Part of the ritual of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church requires that both parties to the marriage promise never to divorce.

-Due to increasing Western influence, modern Ethiopian brides generally wear white wedding gowns, and modern grooms don tuxedos.

What to Wear to a Buddhist Funeral in China

What to Wear to a Buddhist Funeral in China

-Dark clothing is not required at a Buddhist funeral, though the color red should be avoided as it is regarded as a sign of disrespect at a funeral. White is the color of mourning in Buddhism, consequently family members will wear white clothing. Non-family members should avoid wearing white, the way one would avoid wearing white at a Western wedding.

-If the funeral takes place in a temple, attendees will be required to remove footwear. Presentable socks, therefore, should be worn.

The Business Etiquette of the Arab World

Business Etiquette in the Arab World–from what to wear, to what to say and do, to what to avoid doing.

-Traditional Arab men wear a thobe (a long, white robe made of cotton or wool) with the headdress, which consists of the tagia (a small, white cap); a gutra/guthra (a large square of cloth, usually made of cotton); and the igal/agal (a doubled black cord, originally made of camel leather).  The tagia prevents the gutra from slipping off the head, and the igal holds the gutra in place. The thobe may be worn for all social and business occasions. And it is sometimes complemented on formal occasions with a “bisht,” a cloak of exquisite fabric which is typically embroidered along its edges with gold or silver threads.

A Western man should wear a suit and a tie. Even in extremely hot weather, shorts and short-sleeve shirts are regarded as highly inappropriate.

Arab women cover their hair and wear the traditional black abaya in the public outdoors. In conservative Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, foreign women are expected to dress likewise. And prominent makeup, especially lipstick, is discouraged. In less conservative countries, foreign businesswomen may wear conservative business suits. Jacket sleeves should be long; skirts should extend to below the knee (even when sitting); pants are allowed; and blouses should have high necklines.  Dark business clothing is preferred. A foreign businesswoman should cover her hair.

-Arab culture, like most ancient cultures, is a genteel, dignified, formal culture, and greetings, departures, and forms of address are of paramount importance.  Men shake each other’s hand when greeting and parting. However, a gentleman should be guided by an Arab lady’s behavior during business and social encounters:  Many Arab women do not shake hands with males who are not family members or with non-Arab males. If an Arab lady extends a handshake to a gentleman, however, he should graciously accept it. (A Western businesswoman should be guided by the overall demeanor of an Arab male counterpart:  Some ultra-conservative Arab men will not touch a woman to whom he is not related by blood or marriage.  In general, business women shake hands with each other).

After shaking hands, gentlemen are expected to inquire as to each other’s health, the health of each other’s family (in general), and other matters; immediately engaging in matters of business after shaking hands is discouraged as it insinuates an impatient nature and a lack of genuine interest in other people.

When circumstances dictate that hands should not be shaken, the cultural alternative is for a gentleman to place his right hand over his heart, simultaneously bowing his head ever so slightly.

-The standard, all-encompassing Arab World greeting is “salam alaykum,” which means “peace be unto you.”  And the proper response for that greeting is “Wa alaykum as-salam,” which means, “And upon you be peace.”

Other standard greetings are:


Greeting                                  Meaning                               Response

-Ahlan wa sahlan                     Hello                                     Ahlan bik

-Sabah al-khayr                       Good morning/afternoon      Sabah an-nur

-Masa al-khayr                        Good evening                        Masa an-nur

-Tibash ala-khayr                    Good night                            Inta min ahlu


The general form of address for men is “Sayyed,” which means “Sir,” followed by the man’s full name. Women are addressed as “Sayeeda” or “Sayedity,” followed by the woman’s full name. A woman may also be addressed as “Madame,” followed by her full name.

A man’s full name typically comprises of his given name, followed by the name(s) of his father and/or grandfather, then his family name or the name of his tribe. So, for example, Nadir bin Hamad Jaber Al-Jaiek is Nadir, son or grandson of Hamad Jaber (of) Al-Jaiek, (Al-Jaiek being either the name of his tribe or the family’s surname).   A gentleman’s full name should be used in formal situations and on correspondence. Never, in a business context, should a man be addressed on a first-name basis (e.g., “Nadir”); and he should never be addressed in the affectionate or diminutive (e.g., “Nadi”).  Names should also never be abbreviated in formal or business correspondence: Mohammed, for example, should never be shortened to “Mohd.”  It is, however, permissible to delete the patronymic, such that the example provided above would be styled Sayyed Nadir Al-Jaiek. After the formal address/salutation, “Sayyed Al-Jaiek” would be appropriate.

The forms of address for rulers and members of the ruling and governmental classes vary from country to country. A gentleman should consult with the cultural attaché of the country prior to his arrival. A king, for example, may be addressed as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness,” depending on the country, while senior members of ruling families are typically addressed as “Your Excellency” followed by “Sheik” (pronounced “shake,” not “sheek”), then the person’s full name. When inquiring as to the proper forms of address, a gentleman should be sure to inquire as to the style to be used in official, written correspondence; the form of address upon being introduced face to face; the form address during ongoing conversation; and the form of referral when speaking about a particular person.

-The “weekend” in the traditional Arab World occurs Thursday/Friday. However, the tradition is slowly shifting to Friday/Saturday and even Saturday/Sunday.  A gentleman visiting and/or doing business in Arab countries should become acquainted with the local and regional traditions.



The Correct Way to Eat Corn-on-the-Cob at the Formal Dinner Table


No reasonable host would serve corn-on-the-cob at a formal dinner. Why not serve corn dogs as well if that is the case? As delicious as it is, corn-on-the-cob is clearly a casual-meal-type food and should be presented at meals consistent with its nature. But who is a gentleman to tell his generous hostess what courses to serve? No gentleman would—of course. Therefore, he must be prepared to correctly eat corn-on-the-cob if it is presented at a formal sit-down. Generally, a considerate host (to the extent that one would consider a host who serves corn-on-the-cob, considerate) will serve the vegetable with cob-holders already inserted into both ends (How considerate!). On other occasions, the little, two-tined implements, sometimes made of sterling silver, are placed on the left side of the plate-setting with the other forks. And when no cob-holders are provided, a gentleman must use both index fingers, with his thumbs serving as additional support, to hold the ends of the cob as he eats the corn. But cob, snob, it should be eaten as follows: Only three or four rows, running half the length of the cob, should be buttered and seasoned at a time. The cob is then picked up, held by the cob-holders or with the fingers as described above, and eaten. Additional butter and seasoning should be applied as described above in intervals as the prepared segments are eaten—as clean as possible—for having to observe another diner’s half-eaten kernels can be most unappetizing. When the entire cob has been eaten clean, or when no more is desired, the cob is placed to the upper left side of the plate from which one is eating, or, preferably, onto the separate plate on which the cob was served. If served with corn-holders, whether pre-inserted or not, they remain inserted in the ears, to be removed by the service staff.

Some guests, for various reasons (at least one being teeth-related), cannot, or prefer not to, eat corn directly from the cob. Such persons should stand the cob up on one end, supported by the fingers (or a cob-holder held in the fingers), in the plate, then and use a sharp knife to cut off three or four rows of kernels at a time. And after applying the desired seasoning, the kernels are conveyed to the mouth with a fork, as one would eat rice or peas.

So the moral of the story is that if a hostess insists on serving garden-fresh corn at a formal dinner, the kernels should be removed from the cobs in the kitchen, for who needs all the table-side drama described above just to enjoy a few, succulent kernels of corn?



The Artful Way to Eat an Artichoke at the Formal Dinner Table


There is art, if not also artifice, in the proper eating of an artichoke. Presented in all its prehistoric-looking, botanical glory, an artichoke, actually the flower bud of the artichoke plant, can prove intimidating or, at best, bewildering, to the novice. Traditionally, the “vegetable,” which resembles a cross between a pine cone and a breadfruit—or a sugar apple on steroids—is boiled or steam-cooked and presented on a salad plate with a separate, little bowl of melted butter or some other sauce or dip. A second salad plate is sometimes presented to serve as a depository for the fibrous remnants of the eaten leaves.

The leaves of an artichoke are always to be plucked off the bud and conveyed to the mouth by the fingers—no matter how formal the occasion. (Thank God for finger bowls!) Beginning at the bottom of the bud, each leaf is individually plucked by its tip. The base of each leaf is then dipped into the provided sauce and placed into the mouth as the tip of the leaf is held fast by the fingers. The succulent base of the leaf is then pulled through slightly clenched front teeth (incisors) so as to separate the flesh from the fibrous portions of the leaf. The fibrous portion of the leaf, still being held by the fingers, is then placed onto the extra plate or towards the upper left side of the plate on which the artichoke is presented if no extra plate has been provided. The process is continued, leaf by leaf, until all the leaves have been consumed and the heart of the bulb, arguably its most delicious part, is revealed.

Held in place by the fork, the hairlike covering of the heart should delicately be scraped away with the knife. At last, the “fond,” the base-core of the heart, is found! It is then eaten with knife and fork, flavored with the sauce.

“Race”: The “Unspeakable” Word of the 21st Century

Race—The “R-Word” that should be deleted from a gentleman’s vocabulary.

There are two infamous “R-words” in the human language: religion and race. But whereas a cogent argument can be made that “religion” has done humanity at least as much good as harm, one would be hard-pressed to demonstrate how the word “race” has not wreaked immeasurably more havoc than benefit bestowed—from xenophobia to slavery to hate-crimes to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The word “race” is without a doubt the single most emotionally charged, divisive concept of the human experience—more so than disparities of wealth and education and differences in nationality and religion. As such, if there is ever a word to be declared “unspeakable,” it is the word “race.”

Even if one were to subscribe to the traditional anthropological construct put forth in the 17th century then honed in the 19th century, which relies primarily on phenotypical (physical traits) divisions to separate and categorize humankind, the irrefutable fact remains that all humans are of the same species (Homo sapiens) and subspecies (Homo sapiens sapiens) and are, as such, as “different” from each other as a black German shepherd versus a white German shepherd versus a black-and-tan German shepherd. Man’s best friend seems to see the “distinction” as a distinction without a difference. But, alas, humankind has not.

Clearly, Usain Bolt is black; Bruce Lee is Asian; and Cate Blanchett is white. They are the easy cases— a racist’s dream team. But at least half of humanity—take for example much of the Middle East, South America, and the Indian subcontinent—does not conveniently fit into one, traditional race division. “Race” then, as it is anthropologically defined, is as accurate as it is inaccurate, rendering the concept, for scientific purposes, untenable. Nowhere else in science can something be “right” half the time and “wrong” half the time, yet be regarded as scientifically sound.

As a social construct, race is even more problematic: No one gets half-lynched; quarter-admitted to the exclusive men’s club; or eighth-ghettoed. Who can tell Halle Berry that she is not black? And if Rachel Dolezal can declare herself black and convince the NAACP that she is, what is to prevent Oprah Winfrey from declaring herself white?

Race, as a concept, serves little social purpose other than to divide humanity. And it is those divisions that are at the root of much human suffering. And to the extent that racial classification has been and can be used to achieve positive social ends, is it, in the long run, worth the inevitable down-side?

Considering the destructiveness of the concept of race, then, a gentleman should avoid it like the plague. And he should advocate for the deletion of the concept from the human psyche, the human vocabulary, and the human experience. Eliminating the word “race” does not, as some contend, eliminate a people’s heritage, identity, history, ethnicity, culture, etc.  Words such as  “heritage,” “identity,” “history,” “ethnicity,” and “culture” already do an excellent job at expressing those concepts.


The Elegant Ritual of the “Cleansing of the Palate” at a Formal Dinner

The Cleansing of the Palate

It is not uncommon at very formal meals where multiple courses are being served, for somewhere midway in the dinner, usually between the fish and meat courses, that a palate-cleanser is served—oftentimes a fruit sorbet (called “sherbet” in the United States) or granité of some sort. Theoretically, it refreshes the mouth and neutralizes the taste buds after the tongue has been teased with the various flavors of the first half of the meal. This mini course, which also prepares the palate for the many flavors to come in the second half of the meal, can be likened to intermission at a theatrical performance, or the changing of ends during a tie-breaker in a tennis match, or perhaps even a recess break in elementary school. But in addition to serving a practical purpose, the course should be remarkable and memorable—like a cameo appearance by a beautiful actress in a Hollywood drama.