Japanese Wedding Traditions — Where Every Detail Has a Meaning
Traditional Japanese weddings have always been full of beautiful rituals whose purpose was to nurture a happy, harmonious, and loving life for the two people about to join their lives. Over time, wedding traditions from western religion and cultures have found a place in a Japanese wedding. What was once considered a typical gathering with the closest and dearest is now a grand ceremony held in luxurious venues of all kinds. Nevertheless, the wedding traditions of Japan have never lost any of their glory, deep symbolizations, and magnificence!
Japanese Wedding Traditions — Pre-Wedding Rituals
The Yui-no or Yuino is the engagement ceremony and, although it is no longer as popular as it used to be, it can still take place after a proposal. In fact, it is an engagement dinner where the two families meet to celebrate the new couple and exchange gifts/lucky objects. All gifts have one thing in common – they represent the hope for a positive outcome for the upcoming marriage. Take Shiraga, for instance, which is a thread of hemp that reflects the wish the bridegroom grows old together.
Other popular wedding gifts also include tomoshiraga, a thread of linen that depicts strong ties between the couple throughout their marriage, traditional Japanese clothes that are worn either for martial arts or at formal occasions. Finally, all guests related may also exchange dried bonito or preserved foods (Katsuobushi) — both symbols of long-lasting quality of life.
Wedding Traditions in Japan — Popular Styles
If a couple wants to follow ancient traditions they organize a Shinto style-wedding at a shrine. However, western influences have caused other types of ceremonies, like Christian and Buddhist, as well as non-religious to become equally famous among the young Japanese. If a bridegroom chooses to have a Shinto wedding ceremony, a Shinto priest will perform it at a Shinto shrine, and it will be a ceremony for only a select few.
One may also notice multiple elements of Christian weddings incorporated in Japanese weddings, even by couples that are not Christians. Such could include a walk down the aisle many girls dream about, honeymoons in gorgeous locations, and the tossing of the bridal bouquet.
Then, there is the particularly favored “white wedding”. A Shinto-style wedding is held in a Shinto shrine while white weddings take place in more modern venues decorated under the Western influence. Another and perhaps the most fundamental difference is the attire and styling. In the Shinto style, the bride’s makeup and wedding dress are quite intricate. You will see the couple in chic traditional styles, with the groom wearing either a suit or a black kimono with a matching jacket and kimono pants (montsuki). As for the bride, she will most likely sport a white kimono (shiromuku).
Wedding Traditions of Japan — Wedding Attire
As previously mentioned, the attire depends on the type of wedding the couple has chosen to have. In a Shinto-style wedding, we see brides in a shiromuku, which is a symbol of purity. It also represents the bride’s intention to take the color of her husband’s family. In a traditional wedding, it is customary to wear traditional kimono.
Frequent changes of bridal dresses are expected from the bride, who usually slips into a colorful bridal kimono (usually worn over the white kimono) for the wedding reception. This garment is called uchikake, and it is a gown made of silk with an intricate floral pattern and embroidered cranes. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if you see a bride in an haute-couture dress. Many fashion-conscious brides choose such fancy, western-style dresses for their special day.
Now, when it comes to the hairdo and makeup, the bun (bukin takashimada) seems to be a wedding staple. Very often, the hairstyle is matched with a beautiful headdress - usually, a wataboshi, which is a white silk hood that symbolizes humility and modesty. Some brides also wear white makeup to show purity. More than often, the bride also keeps a small purse with her (hakoseko) and makes sure her obi belt carries a kaiken (small sword) and a fan (a representation of a happy future, remember?).
Red is considered to be another color associated with luck. This is why Japanese brides try to use it while decorating their houses or cooking meals.
Wedding Traditions in Japan – The Rituals
The Japanese wedding traditions follow a specific order during the big day:
- The bridegroom enters the shrine — sometimes under an oil-paper-made umbrella (bangasa).
- Purification — The couple is protected from all the evil spirits. During this ceremony, the couple’s union is offered to the gods of the temple.
- Food offerings — The couple leaves food and drink to appease the God.
- Shinto praying — People sing chants to thank the God for this union of two people in love.
- San San KuDo — The couple performs their nuptial vows in a room with a small-scale Shinto shrine, where they exchange sake in nuptial cups.
- Tamagishi-houten — The newlyweds offer a Sakari-tree branch to the God.
San San Ku Do (Nuptial Cups)
This is a rather popular wedding tradition in Japan. It involves drinking sake from different cups: 3 sips from each. Every cup the couple drinks from has its own meaning:
- Three families — the new couple and both their parents),
- Three sins: indifference, loathe, and passions. Some people, though, believe that it represents positive things like cheerfulness, joy, and wisdom.
- Freeing from each of three of this flaws/sins.
Then, the parents do the same to signify that the two families are now bonded. The circle closes once each person has sipped a total of nine times — this number brings luck to the Japanese.
Other Japanese Wedding Ceremony Traditions
The following may also be seen in a wedding in Japan.
- Bamboo is regarded as a symbol of virtue and wealth, due to its strength and grace.
- A crane-shaped mizuhiki knot (symbolizes a long life together).
Considering that cranes are birds that mate for a lifetime, folding a thousand of origami cranes is viewed as an act that will draw peace, longevity, and a long and happy life in the marriage.
Traditions for Japanese Weddings — Gifts & Souvenirs
Giving money is more convenient for the Japanese. The newlyweds are the only ones that give small (yet, quite expensive), elegant gifts (hikidemono), like chopsticks, tableware, folding fans, sake cups, or sweets to guests.
So, guests put cash (usually around $270) in a nice envelope (shugi-bukuro) with their name on it, and give it at the reception before they write down their wishes for the couple at the guestbook.
Wedding Traditions in Japan — The Reception
Before the lovely husband and wife cut the cake and get a chance to dance and have fun, they come up to a stage and listen to the guests’ songs, toasts, and speeches (all that to honor the couple).
Another wedding tradition of Japan takes place during the reception called kagami-biraki. A person appointed by the families uses a wooden mallet to open the lid of a round-shaped barrel of sake. Then, everybody drinks that sake wishing the couple a peaceful and cordial life together.
- Wedding Menu
The bridal menu often includes an eclectic mix of flavors with sushi in various colors. You may also try various seafood meals (for good luck).
- Parents’ Acknowledgement
The couple gives thank you speeches and offers small gifts (or even personal letters) to their parents as a token of appreciation.
Oironaoshi involves the bride changing dresses quite a few times during the celebration. She may change from a wedding dress or kimono to party dresses or evening gowns. This custom shows that the bride is ready to go back to daily life again as a couple. This was not one of the usual wedding traditions in Japan. However, it has become quite the norm in today’s Japanese weddings.
Shinto weddings usually don’t include dancing. However, the younger Japanese guests may head to a karaoke bar or a club after the reception and celebrate the wedding their own way!
The Japanese people show a great enthusiasm for other cultures’ bridal traditions and have made many foreign bridal rituals part of their own wedding traditions. Regardless of the style of marriage, a couple chooses to hold in Japan, though, the significance of the institution of marriage has remained unchanged throughout the centuries for this proud Pacific Ocean culture!