Home > Culture, History, Lifestyle > What Are Weddings Like In Japan?

What Are Weddings Like In Japan?

Wedding gifts for couples consist almost exclusively of only large amounts of cash!

Japanese Weddings While weddings are a big deal in most parts of the world, countries that have extraordinarily rich historical cultures emphasize the importance of the marriage ceremony by weaving together their traditional rituals with modern trends.  Such is the case with the majority of Japanese weddings, which can either reflect historic Shinto tradition or combine it with Western-style wedding customs.

Japan fosters many, many formalities in traditions and customs that extend from history.  This is no different for how weddings and marriages first began.  During the aristocratic era of Japan, new marriages were so formal that the bride and groom did not even share the same home until the bride bore a child – or the groom’s parents died.  Distance was kept by a single visit to the bride in the evening.

Even well into the 1980s, arranged marriages were not at all uncommon in Japan.  This was especially true for very wealthy and influential families, whose purpose was often to join with another family of equal or slightly greater stature and further opportunities for both sides.  Today, however, less than 10% of marriages are arranged, and other options for women are increasingly accepted.  It is even becoming more and more commonplace for women to marry later in life, remain single and career-focused or to keep their surnames when they do marry.


Some Major Differences Between Japanese and Westernized Weddings

There are many differences between a traditional Shinto wedding and your average Westernized wedding. In fact, there are not a whole lot of similarities between a true Shinto wedding and one from the Western world.

Nearly everything  about a traditional Japanese marriage ceremony is unique, from the Shiromuku worn by the bride, which is a pure white silk kimono and hood, to the san-san-kudo, ( three-times-three), which is the highlight of a Shinto wedding ceremony.  San-san-kudo is the ritual wherein the bride and groom exchange three nuptial cups of sake and then usually serve some to their parents.

One of the most significant differences between Westernized and Japanese weddings is the continued hairstyle and dress changes a Japanese bride undergoes throughout the wedding day. Even in a Westernized wedding in Japan, the bride may appear in a white wedding gown for the ceremony, followed by a traditional, elaborate kimono at the start of the reception and then a formal evening gown later in the evening. The order may be switched up according to the bride’s wish.

Though receptions in both Shinto and Westernized Japanese weddings are elaborate, expensive and joyous, they don’t include dancing like most Western wedding receptions.  They may include musical performances, speeches and similarities like cake-cutting and bouquet-throwing, but you won’t see anyone doing the Electric Slide or dancing to the latest pop song on the radio.

Even though chapel buildings and chapel rooms inside hotels and other places are used for Western-style Japanese weddings, less than 1% of wedding couples are Christian. The use of such religious spaces, instead, seem to be the result of partially following Western traditions.

Wedding gifts for couples consist almost exclusively of only large amounts of cash.  Usually, the closer the relationship is between the guest and the couple, the larger the cash gift.

Western-Style Wedding Dress - Japanese wedding

Combining Cultures

Most Japanese couples tend to combine aspects of both traditional Shinto and Western customs on their wedding day.  For example, the bride may wear a white wedding gown with a veil, but even the most Westernized Japanese weddings do not include an array of bridesmaid dresses, a chosen maid of honor, a best man or a bunch of ushers.  Occasionally, though, the marrying couple will include a child who spreads flowers or holds the veil of the bride.

For the most part, Japanese weddings emphasize the bride. This isn’t much different than Western tendencies, but grooms are much more involved in the various marriage customs than is typical of Western wedding ceremonies and receptions. Despite the fact that many couples incorporate aspect of Japanese and Western traditions into their marriage ceremony, not everyone feels that Westernized traditions have a place in a Japanese marriage.

Common Criticisms of Westernized Japanese Weddings:

  • They feel phony, since they often hire fake priests and rent chapels that look like churches while religion is not at all a part of the ceremony or their convictions.
  • The amount required in cash gifting puts an unnecessary burden on guests. Furthermore, the ceremonies themselves are very, very expensive.
  • The rituals and customs are too rigid – i.e. the way to hand gifts out, a certain way to greet the bride and groom, specific amounts that are acceptable for cash gifts (you are supposed to neither give single nor even numbered notes, and they should be non-creased, new bank notes), etc.

Reasons Behind Ceremonial Details

There are, however, reasons for such rituals and customs in Japanese weddings, just like we turn around to throw the bouquet so as not to favor any one bachelorette.

Weddings are extremely expensive, and because there are many benefits of attending a wedding (food, drink, fun, etc.), the cash gifts help to offset the burden of cost to a newlywed couple. The required amount/condition of the bank notes in a cash gift comes from an old superstition that a single bank note signifies loneliness, and an even number is easily divided.

There are various kinds of ceremonies all over the world. Every individual in each culture has the right to decide to what extent the ceremony should be a part of any particular celebration, including weddings.

There are plenty more differences between and interesting customs of both Shinto and Westernized Japanese weddings – flower or bubble showers instead of rice throwing (though this still goes on), how the guests receive the bride and groom (at a shrine for Shinto weddings), and the many, many variations that can occur by combining aspects of Shinto and Western style weddings.

However, if you ever attend a Japanese wedding, it’s a wise idea to get a very clear perspective of how to follow certain customs and what will be expected of you as a guest.

Shinto Priestess

Image by unframedworld.com, onsbarnards.wordpress.com, mappingwords.com and junebugweddings.com

Author Profile:

Kayla Matthews is a Diverse Japan blogger, anime nerd and Japanese cultural enthusiast. You can check out her productivity blog at ProductivityTheory.com and follow her on Google+ and Twitter @KaylaEMatthews to get updates on her latest posts!

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