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 Traditional Persian (Iranian) Wedding–One of the World’s Most Beautiful and Highly Symbolic Nuptial Rituals

-Today, most Persians are Muslims, but for certain rituals and ceremonies—Nowruz, which literally means “new day,” (the Persian New Year, which is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring) and weddings, for example—Iranians rely upon the traditions of their ancient, pre-Islam faith, Zoroastrianism.

-Generally, Persian weddings are lavish events, with hundreds of invited guests. The groom’s family is expected to finance the wedding. As weddings are regarded as the ultimate social event, guests are expected to wear their finest clothing. Wealthy Persian ladies wear their most impressive jewelry to weddings.

-Today, Persian brides wear Western-style white dresses, and grooms wear suits or tuxedos. Female guests wear evening gowns, and their male counterparts wear suits or tuxedos.

-(Iranian Muslims generally do not marry during Muharram, the month of mourning for Imam Husayn, or during his “cheleh” [fortieth day of death], which occurs in Safar. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and Safar occurs during the second month).

-While Iranian weddings may superficially resemble Western weddings—with white bridal gowns, wedding rings, and wedding cakes—Iranian weddings are imbued with many uniquely Iranian elements.

-In the past, and still today in rural areas, marriages were arranged by parents and elder family members. Today, most Iranian couples choose their own mates, but parental consent remains important. And even today, after the man and woman have already agreed that they would like to marry, it is the man’s parents or relatives who officially ask for the bride and her family’s consent. Traditionally, the man’s family goes to the woman’s house with flowers, sweets, and gold coins and jewelry to ask for her hand in marriage. During the negotiations, the family of the groom is served tea, “sekanjebin” (a sweet-and-sour drink made from vinegar and sugar), and members smoke water pipes. Only when an agreement, including the “mahr” (bride price), is reached is the groom’s family served sweets in a ritual called “sheerne khoran,” which means “eating sweets.” With an agreement reached, other gifts are given to the bride-to-be in a tradition referred to as “khoncheh.” Men of the groom’s family, dressed in festive costumes, would carry the gifts on their heads in large, flat trays, called “tabaghs,” to the bride’s home. There would be singing, clapping, and music playing along the way. Mirrors and candelabras, which figure significantly in the Zoroastrian religion, are significant gift items of the khoncheh tradition. Other gifts included espand (also “esfand”) (a popular incense); large, decorated sugar cones; henna, cardamom, rosewater, fabrics, candles, and a prayer mat (called “janamaz”). Also included was a specially decorated bread called “noon-e sangak.” Once the men arrived with the gifts, they would not go beyond the entrance of the bride’s home: Khoncheh would at that point transform into a female-only event.

-An engagement party is planned, and simple gold rings are exchanged. In Iranian culture, engagement rings do not feature precious stones; wedding rings do. The engagement ring is delivered to the bride-to-be by the female members of the groom’s family. The bride is also given a shawl. One of the female members of the groom’s family (other than his mother) places the engagement ring onto the bride’s finger, and another member of his family places the shawl onto the bride’s shoulders. Thereafter, there is music—played by female musicians—and dancing.

-Traditionally, the marriage contract is negotiated by both fathers.

-Per long-standing Persian custom, men received written invitations to weddings. Otherwise, they were informed by word-of-mouth. Women, on the other hand, received personal visits to inform them of an impending wedding: A servant or female relative [Presumably from the groom’s family since it is his family that traditionally finances the wedding] would visit the invitee with noghl and nagal (both sweets), and cardamom (an expensive spice) wrapped in a lace-decorated silk handkerchief delivered upon a small glass plate. The messenger would then offer the handkerchief and its contents and inform the recipient of date, time, and place of the wedding. The recipient would then eat a few of the sweets, express satisfaction about the impending union, then, in the case of a servant, give a small tip and sweets. (Today, sweets such as noghl and nagal are given as wedding favors).

-In ancient Persian culture, unmarried women would not remove body hair. So three days before the wedding, the bride would either visit or be visited by a female beautician for the hair-removal ritual. Using thread, the body hair would be removed at the root in a practice called “band andazi.” And done three days in advance, the bride would have enough time to recover from the ordeal.

-The day before the wedding was a day designated for special baths for the bride and groom. The bride and her female relatives would go to a bathhouse, where she would be thoroughly cleansed, exfoliated, massaged, and rubbed with oils and perfumes. (On the day of the wedding, beauticians would arrive to apply her makeup). In a less elaborate ritual, the groom was also cleansed.

-Traditional brides provide a dowry primarily of household items, specially woven fabrics, and, in the case of wealthy families, real property.

-There are two traditional components to a Persian wedding: the first is called the “aghed,” meaning “knot,” which usually lasts from forty-five minutes to one hour; and the second is the “jashn-e aroosi” or “aroosi,” the wedding reception and celebrations, which may last as long as seven days. Typically, the aghed and jashn-e aroosi occur on the same day. But in the past, especially in the case of very young brides, the aghed could have occurred several years before the celebration so as to allow a young bride to mature into womanhood.

-The aghed is the legal component of the wedding: There are an officiant (a “mula” or a priest, for example), witnesses, a marriage contract, and a notary—in addition to the close family and friends—in attendance. (Of course, Persians who marry outside Iran must comply with the marriage laws of their respective jurisdictions). Traditionally, the aghed takes place at the bride’s home during sunlight, but today it oftentimes takes place in a special room at the ceremony venue. Having the aghed during daylight harkens back to the Zoroastrian period, where darkness was associated with evil spirits. Guests arriving for the aghed are ushered into the room by close relatives of the bride. In very traditional families, the sexes will be segregated. When all guests are seated and witnesses are present, the ceremony begins.

Central to the aghed is the “sofreh aghed” (also “sofreh-ye aghed”), a luxurious display of symbolic items laid out onto the floor atop an exquisite fabric (the “sofreh”) such as “termeh” (gold-embroidered cashmere), “atlas” (gold-embroidered silk-satin), “abrisham” (silk), or linen. The sofreh aghed faces east. And when the bride and groom are seated at the head of the sofreh aghed, they face east, into “the light.” The bridegroom is always the first to take his seat at the sofreh aghed. The bride then positions herself such that the groom is on her right side. (In Zoroastrianism, the right side is the place of respect). When the bride enters the room, her face is covered with a veil. When she sits besides the groom, she raises the veil, revealing herself to him in the mirror before them. The bridegroom sees the face of the bride (traditionally, for the first time) while looking straight ahead into “the light” and into the mirror. Throughout the aghed, the bride and groom have their backs towards those in attendance (except for those participating in the ceremony).

-Several items are placed onto the luxurious fabric to comprise the sofreh aghed:

a) A mirror [of fate] (“aayeneh-ye bakht”) flanked by two candelabras (representing the bride and groom). The mirror is a symbol of light, and the candelabras are symbols of fire, two very important elements of the ancient Zoroastrian culture.

b) A tray of seven multi-colored herbs and spices (“sini-ye aatel-o-baatel”) to protect the couple from “the evil eye” (“chashm zakhm”), those malevolent glares cast—oftentimes unbeknownst to the subject of the glare—out of jealousy or envy; witchcraft; and to ward off evil spirits.

-poppy seeds (“khash-khask”) as an antidote to spells and witchcraft.

-wild rice (“berenj”)

-angelica (“sabzi khoshk”)

-salt (“namak”) to blind the evil eye.

-nigella seeds (“raziyaneh”)

-black tea (“chaay”)

-frankincense (“kondor”) to burn the evil spirits.

c) Noon-e sangak, a special flat bread that is decorated with a blessing inscribed upon it in calligraphy. The inscription is typically done with saffron, cinnamon, or nigella seeds. The inscribed bread symbolizes prosperity for the feast and in the couple’s life thereafter. (At the end of the aghed, a special platter of the bread, feta cheese, and fresh herbs is shared with guests in order to bring prosperity to the couple).

d) A basket of decorated eggs and nuts to symbolize fertility.

e) A basket of pomegranates and/or apples for a joyous future. (Pomegranates are regarded as heavenly fruits, and apples symbolize the creation of mankind).

f) A cup of rosewater extracted from special Persian roses to perfume the air.

g) A bowl made of crystallized sugar to sweeten the life of the newlyweds.

h) A brazier containing live coals upon which wild rue (“esfand,” a popular incense) is sprinkled. (In Zoroastrian custom, wild rue is believed to foil the evil eye and bring health).

i) A bowl of gold coins representing wealth and prosperity.

j) a scarf or shawl made of luxurious fabric which is held by over the head of the bride and groom throughout the aghed by the happily married female members of the bride’s family. (Until the 19th century, the fabric was always of a green color, the favorite color of Zoroastrianism. Since then, fabrics of other colors, especially white, are used).

k) Two sugar cones called “khaleh ghand” which are ground when rubbed together over the heads of the bride and groom (shielded by the scarf/shawl being held over their heads) in order to bestow sweetness upon their lives.

l) A cup of honey to sweeten life. (Immediately after the couple has exchanged vows, the bride and groom each dips his/her “pinky” finger (the fifth finger) into the cup of honey and feeds the other with his/her finger).

m) A needle and seven strands of colored thread to “sew” the mouth of the groom’s mother shut so as to prevent her from speaking unkind words to the bride. (A corner of the shawl/scarf being held over the couple’s head is symbolically sewn for this purpose).

n) A copy of the couple’s holy book, whether Avesta (for Zoroastrians), Qur’an (for Muslims), or Bible (for Christians). The holy books symbolize God’s blessings of the union and the couple. Non-religious couples typically use passages from famous poems.

o) A prayer kit is placed in the center of the sofreh-ye aghd to remind the couple of the need to pray during both good times and bad. The typical prayer kit is comprised of a small prayer rug called a “sajadah” (also “sajjaadeh”) and prayer beads called “tasbih” or, in the case of a Christian couple, a rosary or cross and the Holy Bible.

p) An assortment of pastries and sweets to be shared with guests after the ceremony.

-The aghed typically consists of preliminary blessings; questions to the witnesses, the parents or guardians, and the marrying couple; the solemnization of the ceremony by the reading of religious passages from a holy book of choice or from the works of esteemed poets; and finally the signing of the marriage contract (which may, for example, contain clauses to protect the bride against polygamy; the right of the groom to unconditional divorce; property rights, etc.).

-After the blessings and a sermon about the importance of the institution of marriage, the officiant confirms with both sets of parents that they wish to proceed with the ceremony, then asks if there are any objections to the marriage.

-The officiant then asks the couple for mutual consent to enter the marriage. The groom is always the first to be asked. If he consents to the marriage, he renders a quick affirmation.

-The bride is then asked for her consent to the marriage. Traditionally, she must keep her groom waiting for her response; she does not respond to the first and second inquiries. In rich families, it is the tradition for the groom’s mother or sisters to place gold coins or jewelry into the hand of the bride after the first and second requests so as to symbolically coax her to acquiesce to the marriage. Then, finally, after the third request for her consent, the bride (if it is her desire to marry) utters: “Ba ejazeyeh pedar va madar va bozorgtar-ha, baleh,” which translates to, “With the permission of my parents and elders, yes.” The couple is then officially married.

-After the mutual consent, the bride and groom kiss and exchange rings.

-Thereafter, the bride and groom each dips his/her pinky finger into the cup of honey and feeds the other with the sweetened finger in a gesture symbolizing the commencement of their marriage with sweetness and love. The guests then shower the couple with “noghl” (almond flakes covered in sugar and rosewater), rice, flower petals, and gold coins in a ritual called “shabash.” When real gold coins are not used, specially minted fake coins with the word(s) “shabash” or “mobarak bad,” which means “congratulations,” engraved on them are used.

-After the exchanging of vows, the couple is then pronounced husband and wife. The couple is then presented with gifts.

-The ceremony is followed by feasting and dancing, sometimes lasting a week. The many guests who were not invited to the aghed are invited to the reception. It is customary for guests to give monetary gifts—enclosed in decorative envelopes. (The amount of the monetary gift depends upon the guest’s relationship to the couple: the closer the relationship, the more generous the gift. In some instances, the requested amount is specified on the invitation. When not, the amount given should at least cover the cost of hosting the guest at the reception).

The wedding cake is one of the traditions borrowed from Western culture. A dish of sweet rice called “sheereen polo” is obligatory at wedding feasts. Thereafter, during the course of the following several weeks, parties will be given by various close relatives from both families in order to introduce the two newly related families. These parties are called “paghosha,” which means “clearing the path.”

-The concept of the honeymoon is still unfamiliar to most traditional Iranians. In rural societies, the bride and groom either go to their own home or to the home of the parents of the groom. In such societies, after two or three days, a stained handkerchief is presented as proof of the bride’s virginal status.

-It is customary for brides and grooms to be the first to visit the homes of their parents on their first Nowruz as a couple, and relatives and friends make a special point to visit the new couple on that holiday.