Photo:Vincenzo Mercedes on Flickr

The Big Day: Weddings in Japan

In spite of my best efforts, I am still single, some might even say painfully so!

And yet I still harbor hopes of one day meeting the lady of my dreams and walking down that aisle with her. As time passes and more and more of my friends find themselves settling down, I find myself receiving more than a few wedding invitations. Anyone who has ever been to a wedding in Japan will tell you it is quite different from a conventional wedding in most western countries.

Bride and groom in a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony
Photo credit: Nicholas Wang via Flickr

In fact, a number of the conventions that we would take as a given at most weddings in the US or UK are completely disregarded in Japan, in favour of a completely different and sometimes complex set of rules and traditions that must be adhered to. So today we shall look at these differences and hopefully if you do someday decide to tie the knot with the Japanese man or woman of your dreams you’ll have a bit of a head start on the planning.

Modern Day Wedding, Japan
Photo: Carolien Coenen on Flickr

First is the all-important issue: financing the big day. You’ve made your proposal your beloved accepted it, so who is going to pay for the big day. Whilst in the UK it was traditionally expected that the bride and her family should foot the bill for the wedding, modern economics, a more liberated mindset among women and simple financial realities mean that in most cases the bill is split between the two families.

However in Japan, as it is also in China, the burden of paying for the wedding traditionally rests with the groom and his family. Thankfully there is another Japanese social convention that takes care of this troublesome issue.

In Japan, you may want to think twice before you attend a wedding as doing so will not be cheap. It is expected that each and every attendee of the wedding bring an envelope containing “gift money” for the lucky couple. At 30,000 yen a time, these are certainly not cheap for the guests. However, it does mean that with a bit of financial prudence and good planning, a Japanese wedding can pretty much pay for itself. In fact last year a friend of mine even confided that he and his wife turned a profit on the wedding day, enough to pay for their honeymoon!

Photo: EO Kenny on Flickr

In all seriousness though, especially in today’s times of austerity such a generous gift from friends and family can really help young couples get the marriage off to a stable start.

For indecisive shoppers like me, it also saves us the hassle of spending ages hunting for an appropriate wedding present, or desperately scouring the wedding list for an item we can actually afford. Yep, that’s Japanese practicality for you. Forget loads of gifts that the couple will probably just shove in cupboard somewhere, give them cold, hard cash instead!

READ MORE: Japanese Weddings: Past and Present

Of course, it’s not only in the concept of gift giving that Japanese and European weddings diverge considerably.

The ceremony and reception are also quite different from what I was used to back in Scotland. When I attended my brother’s wedding back in Scotland 4 years ago it was a very simplistic affair.

A short, non-religious ceremony was held in the registry office, before and banquet and dance party was held afterwards in the reception hall downstairs. The whole thing was done under one roof. However, as is always the case at Scottish weddings, the party ran until about 2 am the next morning, with plenty of drinks consumed and much merriment had by all.

Photo: hiroaki maeda on Flickr

Much to my surprise, when I attended a Japanese wedding for the first time in Okayama several years ago, I found it to be a much shorter affair. The church ceremony lasted about an hour, followed by a nice lunch at a local restaurant, with the usual speeches, toasts, etc. All in, the whole thing was done and dusted in about 3 or 4 hours.

Photo: hiroaki maeda on Flickr

In Scotland, couples typically choose between either a church based religious ceremony or, like my brother, the non-religious registry office affair. In Japan, couples also have a choice to make. Is it a traditional Japanese wedding, or a European style “white wedding” you would like?

Whilst the traditional Japanese wedding, with its extravagant his and hers kimonos, multiple elaborate outfits for the bride and the exchanging of sake instead of rings, is not without its charms, most couples in Japan these days seem to opt for the white wedding. For an ever-increasing number of women in Japan their dream wedding involves not a lavish kimono, but a long white dress.

Bride and Groom in traditional Kimonos
Photo: Christian Kaden on Flickr

This has created a booming industry in foreign, licensed “wedding ministers” in Japan. For an increasing number of English teachers in Japan, doing a couple of church weddings on a weekend is a great way to top up your salary. Of course, many of the people who do this don’t fit the western ideas of a Presbyterian Church minister. In fact one of my friends who does this job recently told me he is actually Jewish!

But for the couples in question, religion isn’t really the issue. It’s all about the show. A Japanese friend of mine once summed up the Japanese mindset when it comes to religion.

“Most Japanese people are very flexible about religion,” he began, “most of us will switch out, depending on the occasion.”

“These days, most typical Japanese will have a Shinto birth (referring to the Shinto ceremony for newborns), a Christian wedding, and when the time comes, a Buddhist funeral!”

I must admit, having experienced weddings both in Europe and Japan, I think I prefer Japanese weddings. Having the whole event compressed into a few hours, I think makes it all the more special, it also lessens the chance of the almost inevitable fight that breaks out amongst new in-laws at Scottish weddings once several hours of drinking takes its toll. The way in which the couple in Japan can also craft their entire day from beginning to end is undeniably romantic too. From the décor, to the outfits, to the wedding vows themselves, everything is tailored to the couple’s whim.

Photo: Kumon on Flickr

Yes, I am looking forward to the day when, hopefully, I will get married in Japan.

Now, if I can only find my bride…..

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