What to Expect at a Japanese Wedding

Japanese wedding
Eriko Sakihama/Unison.

Today, most Japanese weddings are not as deeply rooted in ritual and tradition as one may assume. While the unique Japanese culture, lore, and etiquette are still alive and well, the entire day is quite Westernized. Thus, you could say that the modern Japanese wedding boasts a new style that mixes the Japanese spirit of harmony with Western culture in the right way.

"In Japan, there are ancient rituals and traditions, but recently with Westernization, the rituals have been simplified," explains Japan-based wedding dress coordinator Yuzuki Sagi. "Most brides prefer to wear bridal gowns and choose a Christian ceremony [over] a Shinto one."

Not just the Japanese wedding ceremony has seen changes in recent times either, but the reception as well. Wedding concierge Mami Arabori notes, "Japanese weddings used to be focused on the bride and groom. But, enjoying the food and conversation with guests and taking pictures together is more important to the couple nowadays. It is a true reflection of the Japanese spirit of hospitality, omotenashi, and it can be called a Japanese modern tradition."

Meet the Expert

  • Yuzuki Sagi is a dress coordinator at The Treat Dressing, a renowned bridal boutique based in Kyoto, Japan. She is an expert in omotenashi, the Japanese term for hospitality.
  • Mami Arabori is a wedding concierge at Halekulani Okinawa and has planned over 300 weddings. She also served as a dress coordinator at The Treat Dressing in Japan.

Wondering what else you need to know before attending a Japanese wedding? Here are answers to a few common questions:

  • What should I wear? Female guests wear one-piece dresses or kimonos since two-piece sets are considered bad luck in Japanese culture. Animal leathers and fur are also not allowed at Japanese weddings because they remind people of "life and death," as well as sleeveless garments. However, today, if the couple asks guests to come dressed in white or a particular color, guests should follow the request.
  • Should I bring a gift? In Japan, it is customary to give money as a gift, called goshugi. It is common to use new bills for goshugi and odd number amounts are preferred, with the exception of lucky number eight. Typically, guests gift ¥30,000 (about $300) for friends; ¥30,000 to ¥50,000 (about $500) for bosses and teachers; and ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 (about $1,000) for relatives.
  • How should I give goshugi? Goshugi should be wrapped in a special envelope and brought in a special cloth called fukusa. If you don't have fukusa, wrap the gift in a silk scarf. Once you arrive at the wedding, give the goshugi to the receptionist, who is usually a close friend or relative of the couple, and offer congratulations. Then, write your name and address in the guest book.
  • If I prefer to give a gift, what should I avoid giving? Since goshugi is the basic etiquette in Japan, it is better to give a goshugi instead of a gift. If you would like to give a gift, you should tell the couple in advance and ask what particular items they would prefer.
  • How long is a Japanese wedding? Japanese weddings are fairly short. A 20 to 45-minute ceremony is followed by a two to two-and-a-half-hour reception.

Read on for the most common and current traditions you’ll see at a Japanese wedding.

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Yuinou

Yuinou is a traditional ritual performed by the bride and groom's families where they exchange the betrothal money and gifts. However, few people perform yuinou today, and most couples have a lunch or a dinner with both families instead. They choose a Japanese cuisine that their parents would like to eat, and many brides wear the furisode, a kimono for unmarried women.

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Rokuyo

Rokuyo

Photo by Yuki Fujii / Elle Pupa

In Japan, there is a calendar term, called rokuyo, which indicates the day's fortune. Taian is the most auspicious day, making taian weekends in the spring and fall the most popular dates to host weddings. On the other hand, many couples want to avoid planning nuptials on butsumetsu, the least auspicious day. However, some wedding venues offer discounts on butsumetsu.

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Choosing a Wedding Venue

Choosing a venue is the first task on the to-do list for Japanese brides and grooms, with some couples even starting the search about two years before their wedding. As a result, the rest of the major wedding planning decisions (like the bridal gown, décor choices, etc.) are based on the venue rather than the desires of the couple.

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Bridal Attire

bridal attire

Photo by LA-VIE PHOTOGRAPHY

Brides who host their wedding ceremony at a shrine wear a shiromuku, a white wedding kimono. The shiromuku represents "the purity and sacred of the bride," and a wataboshi, a white hat (which acts as a veil), is often worn, too. However, Western bridal gowns have become quite popular among Japanese brides over the years.

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Ceremony Styles

In Japan, there are various styles of wedding ceremonies such as Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, and civil ceremonies. A Shinto wedding is often held at a shrine, and some shrines have strict rules for the ceremony such as limiting the number of guests and prohibiting photography and conversation in the temple. Socks and stockings are required inside the temple as guests cannot enter barefoot. Recently, however, many Japanese couples are choosing to wed in Christian or civil ceremonies rather than a Shinto one. In Japan, anyone can marry with a Christian ceremony, even if they don’t practice the religion.

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Reception

The Japanese wedding reception has changed drastically in recent times. Parents of the bride and groom go around to all tables with a beer bottle in hand to kanpai, which means "cheers," as a way to celebrate their children’s new endeavor. Since the Japanese do not dance, there is no first dance or father-daughter dance at the reception. You may find it much quieter and more relaxed than weddings in the West.

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Takasago

Known as takasago, the bride and groom used to sit on a small elevated seat with a golden folding screen behind them during their wedding banquet. There are many theories about the origin of takasago, but it is said to have originated from a Noh performance, a form of classical Japanese theater, in which the couple wished to spend many years of their lives happily together. In recent years, takasago has become more casual and closer to guests. Couples arrange flowers, balloons, and other decorations behind the sofa, making a great photo booth for the wedding.

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Oironaoshi

In Japan, there is a ritual that the bride changes into a colored kimono called an irouchikake for the reception after wearing a shiromuku at the wedding ceremony. This outfit change is called oironaoshi, symbolizing the bride can learn and follow the customs and styles of the groom’s family. The most popular colored gowns are gold, dusty blue, and dusty purple.

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Bouquet Presentation and Bride’s Letter to Parents

At the end of the reception, the couple presents a bouquet to their parents. Then, the bride presents a letter to her parents. This is a uniquely Japanese event, as it is very emotional and brings many guests to tears. It concludes with a final thank you address by the father of the groom and the groom.

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Hikidemono

Like wedding favors, hikidemono is a gift the couple gives to guests as an expression of their hospitality and gratitude. The price of the hikidemono is about 10 percent of goshugi and can include experience-based gifts such as a spa certificate or afternoon tea. Couples like to keep the number of gifts to an odd number and will sometimes add specialties from their hometowns as extra items.

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Okurumadai

Called okurumada, it is customary in Japan for the couple to pay a portion of guests' transportation expenses if they came from distant places or overseas. Carriage allowance is usually equivalent to one-way or round trip transportation expenses. Some couples, however, ask guests from overseas to visit and enjoy Japan instead of gifting the goshugi. In addition to transportation, the couple may also provide accommodations for their guests coming from abroad.

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