Japanese culture is a unique blend of traditions and western trends, many a times tempting foreigners to call it a cocktail culture. It is amazing to see people follow traditional Japanese customs on certain occasions while daily life has a heavy influence of western trends. Weddings are no exception to this. It is common to see couples getting married in a traditional Shinto ceremony in the presence of their close family and following it up with a western style ceremony or party in the evening attended by their friends and other relatives.
The traditional Japanese wedding, known as “Tomesode” is a Shinto style ceremony held at a shrine. These days some hotels to have a shrine which serves this purpose, for couples willing to have a traditional wedding earlier in the day and a western style “White Wedding” in the evening.
The traditional Japanese wedding ceremony is usually a private affair and attended by only the close family and friends of the bridal couple.
The bride wears a traditional white wedding kimono called “Shiro-muku” ( Shiro means white and Muku means Pure).The bride’s hair is styled in traditional style and is adorned with “ Kanzashi”, beautiful accessories, combs and accessories. Sometimes the bride wears a white veil over her hair.
The groom wears a formal black kimono called “Montsuki” with a kimono jacket called “Haori” and kimono pants called “Hakama”.
Before the wedding ceremony, when the bridal couple and their families arrive at the shrine, they are taken into separate rooms and informed of their duties or roles during the ceremony.
Then the bridal couple and the families enter the shrine in a sort of procession led by a priest and shrine maidens. Traditional Japanese music consisting of flutes and drums is performed by artists.
The wedding rituals are conducted by the Shinto priest who is assisted by Shrine maidens, “miko-san” while performing the rituals.
The bridal couple sits in front of a small table near the altar. The groom and brides parents stand near them. The priest makes a small speech and the purification ritual called “Shubatsu” begins. The priest waves a “ Haraigushi” , a wand of paper or branches of trees as part of the purification rite. Then, the Shinto priest recites “Norito”, or a Shinto ritual prayer in classical language, to celebrate the new beginning of the couple's life, and to ask for the Shinto god's grace. This is followed by an ancient wedding custom called “san san kudo” is performed. This is at times referred to as the main event of the wedding ceremony. The miko san offers some sake (rice wine) in small cups to both the bride and the groom.
The groom drinks first, finishing it in three sips. The bride does the same. After this the sake is served to the parents of the groom and the bride. The sake glasses of the father’s of the bride and groom are exchanged. Everyone then greets the couple and each other with “Omedetou Gozaimasu”, which is the Japanese equivalent of “Congratulations”. The san san kudo custom symbolises the union of the couple and also their families.
This is followed by the reading of the commitment by the groom. The bride only adds her name at the end. The miko-san then reads the wedding date and the names of the groom and bride. After this the bride and groom offer “Tamagushi”, small branches of the sacred “sasaki” tree to the kami-sama of the shrine as offerings. Everyone then bows twice, claps twice and bows again. This completes the ceremony.
Everyone greets the bridal couple. The formal wedding greeting is “ O-kekkon Omedetou Gozaimasu”.
The Shinto ceremony is a small one and lasts only about 30-40 minutes. There are no bridesmaids or best man. There is no giving away of the bride. Very often there is no exchanging of rings between the couple.
During our outings to Kamakura and Kyoto, we did get to catch glimpses of the Shinto style wedding ceremony.
Western Style Wedding party:
Japanese weddings rituals are followed by a formal reception called "Kekkon Hiroen". These days however couples prefer to hold a western style partyfor their friends, colleagues and relatives. These parties are often called “White wedding” and these days it is common for young couples to opt for only a White wedding and skip the traditional ceremony.
The wedding party is usually attended to by 50-200 people. The party begins with the formal introduction of the bride and groom. The bride and groom prefer to wear western style clothes, with the bride wearing a white wedding gown while the groom wears a formal suit. Sometimes brides wear a colourful intricate kimono.
The wedding party consists of a sit down dinner and serving of drinks. The fathers of the bride and the groom make short speeches and sometimes few guests, or bosses of the couple and a few close friends give small speeches. Some friends may also choose to sing and perform for the couple.
These days, couples cut a wedding cake and this is then served to the guests. Also sometimes the couple exchange rings during the party.Sometimes the couple may choose to change over into various clothes during the party. This is however not common these days as wedding clothes are expensive and couples prefer to rent their wedding clothes.
While attending a Japanese wedding, guests are expected to carry a gift preferably money. Typical wedding gift begins from Yen 30000 and goes higher depending on the relationship with the bridal couple. A popular belief is that giving 3 currency notes of 10,000 yen makes it difficult to split between the couple as such symbolising their unison for life. The wedding gift money helps the couple bear their wedding expenses. Special paper envelopes with decorative motifs and knots are used for the wedding gift money.
These days it is popular in Japan for young couples to get married abroad, with Hawaii being the most preferred location. Some theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland are also popular among young couples to get married “Disney style” with Mickey and Minnie being the star guests !
Spring and Autumn are preferred months for weddings in Japan. Some particular days are considered especially auspicious for weddings. The 3rd Sunday of November is one such auspicious date for weddings. Some days are considered inauspicious and few wedding halls or hotels offer special discounts for weddings conducted on these days, but still finding few takers.