Photo:J3SSL33 on Flickr

Japanese Weddings: Past and Present

Japan is a rich cultural country with various religions and each religion has its own customs as well as ceremonies. Speaking in term of marriage, an occasion unlike any other of one's life, of course there will be lots of differences between religions, but in Japan wedding traditions have also changed quite a bit over the years. Some couples choose to go with traditional ceremonies, while others opt for more casual or Western-style ceremonies, and as a result wedding customs in Japan are very diverse. As Japan's traditional religion is Shinto, let's first take a look at what a traditional Shinto wedding is like.

There are many customs in a traditional Shinto wedding, the bride and groom wear traditional clothes. The bride usually wears a shiromuku (white kimono and "hat"). The wedding is held at a shrine with the attendance of both bride and groom's parents as well as relatives and a limited number of close friends. A kannushi (Shinto priest) performs the ceremony after the couple walk from the first gate of the shrine through the courtyard to the inside the shrine. In some cases there are a couple priests that conduct the rituals. There is lots of bowing, and at the end they drink some sake to commemorate the newly formed family bond.

Photo: Guilhem Vellut on Flickr

Relatives and friends wait outside for the couple to finish their ceremony and walk out to receive their blessings along with the wedding gift, or gift money, called 'shugi bukuro'. This is a cash envelope with usually between 30,000 and 40,000 yen inside, with a short message for the couple. After the couple take photographs with their guests, all the guests will receive a bag full of little presents and trinkets from the couple, usually consisting of sweets, something practical such as a bowl, and some tea.

Nowadays, not many couples choose Shinto-style weddings for their big day. Many young people also choose to wear colourful kimonos instead of the traditional costume. Some couples choose to mostly embrace this tradition but decide to make some changes, adding non-traditional features with an emphasis on the elegance of Western opulence.

Man and lady in kimono
Photo: Brücke-Osteuropa, retrieved from Wikimedia

Up to two-thirds of couples practice Western-style weddings, and Christian couples will choose churches with a Christian clergyman to perform their ceremony. In other cases the bride and groom are not particularly religious, and they will choose the attire according to their personal preferences, and make their vows in front of their attending guests. But mostly these two types of weddings share some features in common.

The venue normally is a hotel (with the couples who have no particular religion), preferably a luxurious hotel. Guests are assigned to sit at tables and usually the people sitting together at a table are acquaintances. One big difference between a Japanese wedding and a Western wedding is there's no dancing by the guests and the couple at a Japanese-style wedding, just lots of speeches from the couple's parents or their bosses, congratulating them and wishing them all the best for their new life together. It places emphasis on the Japanese reverence for formal traditions.

Photo: Hideyuki KAMON on Flickr

The costumes for the bride and groom are different too; the groom typically wears an expensive tuxedo while the bride wears a modest bridal gown. Couples usually choose their dress in the bridal shop recommended by the wedding planning company they used. Other brides order a dress from a foreign website.

In civil weddings, typical Western-style customs such as cutting the cake together have also been happily adapted in Japan. Towards the end, the bride and groom each give a speech to thank their parents.

After the rituals are finished and while everyone is enjoying the meal, the couple is very busy making their rounds from table to table to say a few words to the guests, take pictures with them, and show their appreciation to everyone in person. Of course the alcohol flows freely and some of the couple's family members also visit the tables to pour wine, champagne, or beer and socialise with other guests.

Photo: Yuichi Kosio, retrieved from Wikimedia

Both traditional and Western-style weddings in Japan are widespread, and regardless of the general style it’s interesting to see how Japanese newlyweds show reverence towards their culture. It would be an unforgettable experience to attend a Japanese wedding!

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