Japanese Weddings

A Japanese Wedding

Weddings In Japan 結婚式

Jennifer May

Japanese wedding

In spite of the many western influences on Japan, the Japanese wedding has maintained most of the Japanese traditions. There are a few aspects borrowed from western custom, but they have not replaced original Japanese traditions.

Spring and fall are the most popular times to get married in Japan. Lucky days according to the almanac are specifically popular.

Shrine Weddings

A Japanese wedding is an all-day event. It usually begins with the traditional ceremony held at a shrine. A Shinto priest will perform the wedding ceremony. Sometimes, Japanese couples are married in a Christian church by a minister or priest. Several couples opt for two wedding ceremonies - one Shinto and one Christian.

This is not because the bride and/or groom necessarily believe in the Christian faith, but because it is fashionable. At one such Christian ceremony, the minister addressed this issue by saying he hoped some in attendance believed, or would begin to believe, in the Christian faith.

At a traditional Japanese wedding, the bride and groom usually wear Japanese wedding kimono. The bride wears a white wedding kimono called "uchikake" with a white headdress. The headdress is big and bulky and is said to hide the bride's "horns" as a symbol of submission. The groom's kimono is usually black and has his family's symbol embroidered on it in white.

Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony at a Shinto Shrine.
Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony at a Shinto Shrine

Japanese Wedding Ceremonies

Japanese wedding party.

Only close family members and the matchmakers (nakodo) attend the wedding ceremony. The mothers of the bride and groom are often dressed in "tomesode," which are formal, black kimono embroidered with colorful designs. The men wear black suits with white ties.

A Shinto wedding ceremony starts with the priest offering prayers to the gods. The couple is purified, and the groom gives his oath to the bride. The couple partakes of "san-san-kudo." This is literally, 3 x 3 = 9. The bride and groom share three nuptial cups of sake.

Each takes three sips from the small, medium, and large cups. The ceremony ends with symbolic offerings to the gods. Many couples now exchange wedding rings, which is one of the traditions borrowed from the West.

After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom change their clothes, and meet their families and matchmakers for a celebratory meal. The groom wears a suit and tie, and the bride changes her hair, make-up, and kimono. This second kimono is brightly colored. The place and small meal are usually traditional Japanese. Tables are arranged in a tatami room with the head table seating only the bride and groom looking over the party.

Wedding Receptions

Japanese wedding ceremony - speeches and drapes.

The wedding reception includes family and friends and can be quite large. There is usually a set entrance fee for the party. These fees can range anywhere from $50 to over $100. It all depends on where it is held, how many people are attending, what is being served, and other various things.

Receptions are held in hotel convention rooms or wedding halls that are decorated with white pillars and draping fabrics with mood lighting. These party sites are equipped with background music to enhance mood as well. This party is organized in the same way as the family party.

The head table seats only the bride and groom and is the center of attention. A microphone is located only a few feet away from the head table and in front of all of the guest tables. Soft music plays in the background as family members and friends make speeches about the bride and/or groom. Guests sit at assigned tables and listen to the speeches as they eat and drink to their hearts' content.

Japanese wedding ceremony - the bride and groom cut the cake.

This party begins with the entrance of the bride and groom. They are now in traditional western-style wedding clothes. The groom wears a tuxedo, and the bride is in a white wedding gown. The bride's hair and make-up have changed again to go with the new dress. A wedding day is often an all-day beauty make-over for many Japanese women.

Selected family members and friends approach the microphone to talk about the bride and groom. This is an organized event with a speaker schedule. Many times other entertainment is included in the schedule. Weddings can include comedians, martial artists, professional dancers, singers, and magicians. Quiz games and bingo are also popular wedding party activities. Famous Japanese TV personalities can be hired to perform and run games.

The bride and groom may choose to cut a wedding cake in western fashion. Usually, these are not wedding cakes in the western sense. The top layers of the cake are fake and the quality of eatable cake is not up to western standards. Many times, there will be a couple, or few layer cakes served to the guests.

Changing Outfits

Japanese wedding ceremony.

There is an intermission during the reception to allow the bride and groom to leave the room and change their clothing one more time. The groom may change his tuxedo, or maybe just his waistcoat. The bride, on the other hand, will go through an entire overhaul for the last time. It is common for a bride to wear a brightly colored gown for her last entrance.

Notice the red flowers in this bride's hair when she was in her purple kimono, and the pink flowers that adorn her hair in her pink dress. Her hairstyle has been dramatically changed, as well. The first make-up of the day was the traditional Japanese bride make-up much like a geisha. Its quite different from her last, more natural look in her pink gown.

A bride's kimono and dresses are usually rented. Each is rented for more money than an average western woman would spend to purchase a wedding dress. All of the accessories are included in the rental of the kimono and dresses. The groom is also in rentals for the events. Some exceptions include his suit worn at the meal after the wedding ceremony.

Wedding Gifts

The couple gives gifts to their wedding guests. This is an old tradition that is meant to display the family's wealth. There is no wedding registry or gift list, and guests do not bring store-bought gifts. It is tradition to give a gift of money. There are elaborately decorated envelopes specifically designed for wedding money gifts. These gifts start at $300 and the amount given depends on the relationship of the guest and families.

There is a closing speech that ends the wedding party. Young friends continue on to the second party, and possibly a third party. There are fees for these parties, as well, but are much less and range from $25-$80. These parties give the younger guests a chance to mingle. They are held at bars or karaoke venues. Usually, a DJ, band, and/or dancing is not part of a wedding reception or any of the parties. The only wedding I attended that included a DJ and dancing was the wedding of my Salsa instructor.

Japanese bride in a western-style wedding dress.
Japanese bride in a western-style wedding dress

Wedding Trends in Japan

Some new trends of Japanese weddings included wedding ceremonies overseas. This is a great way to cut costs of the wedding by combining the wedding and honeymoon. It cuts the number of guests, as well. More Japanese women are deciding to wear fewer kimono and/or gowns. One bride said at one point, she was thinking of not returning to the wedding party during one of her changes.

If you are lucky enough to be invited to a wedding, go. It is a great experience and a lot of fun. Even if you don't understand Japanese perfectly, you will enjoy the day's events.

Things to remember if invited to a wedding:

  • Men: wear a dark suit (preferably black) with a white tie (can be purchased at 100 yen shops). Do not wear a black tie, as they are for funerals.
  • Women: wear a dress or skirt (little black dress is perfect).
  • Know the costs of the parties you'll be attending
  • Take a money gift if invited to the wedding ceremony
  • Do not bring a guest
  • If you are chosen to speak at the wedding party, be prepared

Books on Japanese Weddings

The Japanese wedding: a representation of the wedding ceremony in Japanese high life: Arranged as a costume pantomime for public performance at church ... school exhibitions, social gatherings, etc.
Japanese wedding ceremonies: Old and new

Japan Articles by Jennifer May

Underwear Theft
Japanese Match-making - omiai and nakodo
Iwakuni Castle
Surgery in Japan
Tanabata Star Festival
Kamikochi Hiking Guide

Books on Japanese Culture

Goods From Japan to your home or business.