Over the course of Japanese history, Japanese wedding traditions have evolved to combine a mixture of ancient Japanese culture and Western cultural influences. This is to say that modern-day Japanese weddings are now very westernized and similar to the style of wedding celebration in the United States.
Despite the fact that Japanese culture, traditions, and rituals are still present in Japan, they are not strongly focused on Japanese weddings. Rather, Japanese wedding traditions now tend to blend contemporary style with traditional elements for a more modern, westernized event.
Not only has the wedding ceremonies changed, but the reception has also changed as well. Japanese weddings used to be focused on the bride and groom, but nowadays, enjoying the food, conversing with guests, and taking pictures together is more important to the couple. This makes the ceremony a true reflection of the Japanese spirit of hospitality, known as omotenashi.
In this post, you will get to know the historic customs to modern practices of Japanese weddings, the most popular times to get married in Japan and various Japanese wedding traditions that exist today.
Japanese wedding traditions
Below are the 12 Japanese wedding traditions to be emphasized in this post:
- Yuino or Yui-no
- Shinto style Weddings
- Favourable Wedding Dates
- Daytime Weddings
- Gifts for Guests
- Nuptial cups – San san ku do
- Reception dinner
- Bouquet Presentation and Bride’s Letter to Parents
1. Yuino or Yui-no
First on our list of Japanese wedding traditions is the engagement/betrothal ceremony or Yuino. This involves the meeting of the two to-be-wed’s families and the exchange of betrothal money and symbolic gifts. “Yuinou is also explained as the traditional ritual between the families of the bride and groom.
The Yuino typically takes place at the bride’s family house, but sometimes in a private room of a traditional Japanese restaurant. The to-be bride may wear the furisode, a kimono for unmarried women.”
When arranged marriages were still prevalent in Japan, this was a very common practice in Japan. However, it is less common today but still does occur after a proposal sometimes. The gifts are usually a range of different items that represents a positive hope for the marriage. The popular items include the Shiraga (thread of hemp), which represents a wish that the couple will grow old and gray together, a fan, which represents wealth and growth, and konbu, a seaweed whose name can be written to mean “child-bearing woman”.
However, the main gift is usually money (about $5,000), tucked in a special envelope called a shugi-bukuro, which has silver and gold strings that are impossible to unknot. Other gifts are given in ornate rice-paper envelopes after which it turns casual with family lunch or dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant.”
2. Shinto style Weddings
Second, on our list of Japanese wedding traditions is the Shinto-style weddings. This traditionally involves a Japanese couple holding their wedding in Shinto style in a shrine. The ceremony is officiated by a Shinto priest and Shinto-style weddings are still very common in Japan at this time.
Shinto is the major religion along with Buddhism and an indigenous faith of Japan. A Shinto wedding ceremony typically starts with the priest offering prayers to the gods. The couple is then purified, and the groom gives his oath to the bride. The couple partakes of “san-san-kudo” and shares three nuptial cups of sake.
After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom will change their clothes and meet their matchmakers and families for a celebratory meal. The groom wears a suit and tie, and the bride changes her make-up and hair. She also changes her kimono to a brightly colored one. The venue for the celebratory meal is usually traditional Japanese. In a tatami room for the meal, tables are arranged with the head table seating only the bride and groom looking over the party.
If the couple chooses a Shinto style for their wedding, the bride will wear a traditional white kimono called “shiro-muku”. This symbolizes purity and means that the bride will become the colour of her new husband’s family. The bride also wears a colorful wedding kimono called iro-uchikake. She carries a small purse called a hakoseko and wears her hair in a bun. She also carries a small sword called a kaiken and a fan in her obi belt. The fan is said to represent her happy future.
This is one of the Japanese wedding traditions that is in the form of a ritual. After wearing a shiromuku at the wedding ceremony, the bride changes into a colored kimono called an irouchikake for the reception. This outfit change is called oironaoshi, and it symbolizes that the bride can learn and follow the styles and customs of the groom’s family. The most popular colored gowns are dusty blue, dusty purple, and gold.
5. Favourable Wedding Dates
Looking for favorable wedding dates is another one of Japanese wedding traditions. In Japan, there is a calendar term of fortune-telling used by Japanese couples in an effort to select a favorable wedding date to marry. In fact, some Japanese couples consult the calendar as part of the wedding process when planning their wedding.
The practice actually originated in China. However, the most favorable day is “Taian. It is also the most popular date. On the other hand, Butsumets is the least favorable day though some wedding venues or places offer discounts on those days. Nowadays, Japanese parents still consider the wedding date favorable, but young couples don’t care about it so much.”
6. Daytime Weddings
In America, Saturday evenings are the most popular time to tie the knot. However, most Japanese weddings take place in the afternoon, around lunchtime as opposed to dinner time. Another popular date and time is Sunday late-morning ceremony. This is followed by a formal afternoon lunch reception.
People who attend a Japanese wedding reception are expected to bring a cash gift put in an envelope or special cloth wrapping, as wedding presents for the to-be-weds. The cash gift is called shugi-bukuro. Shugi-bukuro or Goshugi-bukuro is a special envelope for Goshugi while Goshugi is a gift of money for weddings in Japan.
Prior to signing the guestbook, the name of the person is to be written on the front of the envelope and handed to the person at the reception. Typically, friends of the couple give an average of 30,000 yen(about $350). A boss or a teacher to the couple gifts ¥50,000 (about $500) while relative gifts between ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 (about $1,000)
A Goshugi-bukuro can be found at any stationery store, supermarket, and convenience store in Japan. It should be brought in a special cloth called “fukusa” and the money being offered as a gift should be crisp, new $100bills in a shugi-bukuro (proper wedding envelope). Furthermore, it is advised not to give an amount that is divisible by two as it can be easily split by the couple.“
8. Gifts for Guests
Japanese wedding traditions on our list will be incomplete without mentioning the couple’s gifts to guests. It is common for a couple to give gifts, known as hikidemono, to their wedding guests. “Hikidemono is a gift from the bride and groom to the guests as an expression of their gratitude and hospitality”. “Presently, hikidemono are popular and guests can choose the items from a catalog. It includes experience-based gifts, such as afternoon tea options or spa. The price of the hikidemono is about 10% of goshugi and when guests leave the venue, the couples give them a very small gift such as bath salt, candles, sweets, etc. around ¥200-500 ($2-5)
9. Nuptial cups – San san ku do
Instead of vows, the bride and groom drink sake, taking three sips from the small, medium, and large cups called sakazuki. Next, the parents of the bride and groom take sips, which represents sealing the bond between the two families. All the sips have a unique meaning and each person takes three sips of each of the cups.
This is one of the major Japanese wedding traditions. The first three sips represent the three couples, the second three sips represent hatred, passion, and ignorance and the last three sips represent freedom from those three flaws ( hatred, passion, and ignorance). The term san san ku do means three, three and nine. The “do” is the part that means deliverance from the flaws. In Japanese culture, Nine is a lucky number.
The san san ku do ceremony ends with symbolic offerings to the gods. However, this japanese wedding tradition has modernized to involve couples exchanging wedding rings, a tradition borrowed from the West.
The wedding reception is another one of the Japanese wedding traditions that has modernized in recent times. Parents of the couple go around to all tables with a beer bottle in hand to kanpai, which means “cheers,”. They do not dance so this is a way to celebrate their children’s new endeavor.
The wedding reception can be quite large as it includes family and friends. There is usually a set entrance fee for the party which can range anywhere from $50 to over $100. This is not fixed and depends on where the reception is being held, the number of people attending, what is being served, and lots more.
Receptions are held in wedding halls or hotel convention rooms that are decorated with draping fabrics with mood lighting and white pillars. It is organized in the same way as the family party and background music is introduced to enhance mood.
The center of attention is the head table which seats only the bride and groom. A microphone will be placed 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 take the microphone to make speeches about the bride and/or groom. Guests sit at assigned tables and listen as they eat and drink to their hearts’ content.
The reception begins with the entrance of the bride and groom. They will be dressed in traditional western-style wedding clothes; the groom wearing a tuxedo, and the bride wearing a white wedding gown. The bride’s hair and make-up will be changed to go with the new dress. For many Japanese women, a wedding day is an all-day beauty make-over.
Being an organized event with a speaker schedule, selected family members and friends will approach the microphone to talk about the bride and groom. Weddings can include comedians, martial artists, singers, and magicians.
The bride and groom may choose to have and cut a wedding cake in western fashion. These wedding cakes are not like the western ones as the top layers of the cake are fake. In Japan, the quality of the edible cake is not up to western standards. Many times, a few layer cakes can be served to the guests.
In Japan, dancing is not a huge part of the wedding day so there’s no first dance or father-daughter dance at the reception. DJs and live bands are reserved for the after-party. It is much quieter and more relaxed than weddings in other countries like the United States.
A Japanese wedding reception is very formal, scheduled, and punctual. It is often attended by families only. After the reception, friends and guests who want to drink will go out to drink and dance at the after-party.” Also, the VIPs are the couple’s bosses and coworkers and they sit at the head table with the couple while their family and friends will sit further away.
11. Reception dinner
Japanese weddings generally consist of a colorful sushi display, as well as sea bream, red rice, and prawns. During the reception, there is also a ceremonial sake opening that involves breaking open the lid of a sake barrel and then serving the sake to all of the guests. This is called kagami-biraki.
12. Bouquet Presentation and Bride’s Letter to Parents
At the end of the reception, the bride and groom present a bouquet to their parents.
The bride presents a letter to her parents. This is last on our list of Japanese wedding traditions as it is a uniquely Japanese event that is very emotional and makes the guest cry. It ends with a final thank you address by the father of the groom and the groom.