When it comes to wedding traditions, the
Japanese is one of the most colorful cultures. For the bride
wishing to adhere strictly to her background, the numbers of
details in a traditional Japanese wedding may be somewhat
staggering, as can be the cost, but anyone who has been a
guest at a Japanese wedding will tell you that the results
are more than worth both the effort and the expense.
Tradition Japanese wedding are simply magnificent. Whether
today's bride wishes to follow all the traditions, or
incorporate just some, she has a smorgasbord of rituals from
which to pick. This article focuses on such traditional
Japanese customs, albeit, for the most part today, the
tradition of prearranged marriages has become a thing of the
Until not long ago, marriages in Japan were arranged by the
parents of the man and woman. A mutual friend would be the
matchmaker. Once both families agreed upon the match, they
would meet at a formal dinner on a day that the Japanese
almanac deemed auspicious." After the dinner,"Yui-no"
(engagement) gifts, meant to symbolize happiness and
fortune, were exchanged. The "Mokuroku" was the list of
gifts which would be exchanged:
A "hakama" is a skirt that was given to the groom-to-be.
It represented fidelity.
"Naga-Noshi" is abalone shell which is frequently used
in Japan for crafts and gifts. It was meant to express the
sincere wishes of the gift giver.
"Katsuo-bushi" is dried bonito, a very valuable
preserved food ingredient that was used to make soup stock.
It expressed the wish that the couple would have a lasting
"Surume" is dried cuttlefish, symbolic of good wish to
the couple for a lasting marriage.
"Konbu," is known for its ability to breed. It expresses
the wish that the couple have happy and healthy children.
"Shiraga" is hemp. It is an exceedingly strong fiber and
is used to symbolize wishes for strong family ties.
"Shiraga" is literally translates as "white hair." It is an
appropriate gift to wish the couple a long and happy married
"Suehiro" is a fan that opens end to end and, therefore
symbolizes wishes for happiness and a bright and happy
future for the couple.
"Yanagi-daru," a wine cask. Instead of this
gift the couple may be given a cash gift which would be used
to purchase traditional "sake" (rice wine).
"Sake" casks are exchanged at the engagement dinner.
They are made from "yui-no," a willow trees with tender
leaves. "Yui-no" sake casks were meant to
symbolize a pledge
for obedience and gentleness in marriage.
Most important amongst the gifts for a bride-to-be was an
"obi," a traditional kimono sash. It represented female
The most popular time of year for Japanese weddings is
spring, with June being the first choice. Couples will try
to select a tomobiki day on which to schedule their
nuptials. Tomobiki, which means drawing friends, is
considered the most auspicious day for a wedding. These days
are calculated according to the ancient Japanese calendar
and, because they are select dates, must be booked well in
Traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies are either Buddhist
or Shinto, with the Shinto (meaning the way of the Kami/gods)
religion dominant. The religious Shinto ceremony is held at
a shrine. Shinto, literally translated as" the way of the
gods" is the indigenous religion of, and is as old as, Japan
herself. It is Japan's major religion besides Buddhism.
Shinto shrines are places of worship and considered to be
the dwellings of the kami, or Shinto gods. Sacred objects of
worship that represent the kami are stored out of sight in
the innermost chamber. The shrine is where people visit to
pay their respects to the gods and pray the gift of good
fortune. They are, therefore " Logical " places to hold a
wedding ceremony. In Japan today, the shine may be moved
into the venue at which the reception will take place.
Both the bride and the groom wear the traditional kimono for
the ceremony. Couples today may change into Western wear at
the reception. The bride and groom completely change their
outfits three or more times. The custom dates from the 14th
century and is called "oironaoshi." It signifies the bride's
preparedness to resume everyday life. The bride's
traditional wedding costume is called a shiro-muku, a white
silk "undergarment" that meaning literally "white pure," a
kimono she will usually wear at the beginning of the
ceremony. During the ceremony, she will put on other, more
elaborate kimonos, over the white one.
If the bride gets married in a traditional white wedding
kimono, she may choose to come to the reception in a
colorful embroidered kimono and then, if she so chooses, to
change again, this time into typical western-wear. If she
attends her ceremony in western garb, she may conversely
come to the reception in a wedding dress, from which she
changes into a wedding kimono and then into a party dress.
Donning a kimono is no easy task, so both he bride and groom
will have an attendant assisting them. Tying the obi, or
belt, is particularly difficult. Accessories are an
important component in the traditional attire. They include
the proper hair style, traditional socks and shoes (a tabi,
short, white toe socks and zori, thonglike clogs), "
underwear " and the bride carries a small purse-style sack
called hakoseko and a small encased sword called kaiken. She
wears a fan in her obi belt because tradition compares the
widening of the open fan to happiness and so it portends a
The undergarment is covered by a heavily embroidered,
elaborate, richly patterned, silk brocade uchikake, or
over kimono in red, white and gold. Cranes, scenes of
flowers, flower carts, nature motifs and other traditional
symbols of luck, health and long life are embroidered onto
the fabric with gold thread. The uchikake kimono originated
in the Edo era and was mainly worn only by court nobles. The
bride will wear this kimono only once, because, in Japan,
they reserved to be worn only by young, unmarried women. Red
is the most popular uchikake kimono color, but they are also
available in other colors.
The bride's hair is coifed in traditional Japanese style
called bunkintakashimada and is adorned with beautiful
kanzashi ornaments, combs and accessories. Her wig is
covered with a white hood-like veil of cloth called a
tsunokakushi, meaning demon horns. It is draped over her
face. According to Japanese tradition, the veil is there to
hide her demon horns. The horns are a sign of jealousy and,
tradition states, that by covering them, she acknowledges
her submission to her mother-in-law.
A white wedding hood called a literally meaning "to hide
horns" is worn during the ceremony indicating that she will
carry out her role as a wife with patience and serenity.
The bride's face is covered with white powder (declaring her
maiden status to the gods), her eyes are outlined in a dark
color and her lips are painted bright red.
The traditional Japanese wedding wear for the groom consists
of an outer garment (Hakama) worn over a full-length kimono,
split between the legs like pants. Hakama pants originally
were an outer garment designed to protect the legs of
samurai warriors from brush when they were riding a horse.
The hakama today is worn as formal attire for wedding
ceremonies, for dances, martial arts and by artists. The
pants are made of cotton, rayon, or polyester-blend. The
traditional color of the hakama is black, gray or brown with
a white pinstripe. Today pants are available in many colors
to suit the bride and groom ' s taste.
In a traditional wedding, a Shinto priest conducts the
ceremony which is attended only by immediate family. The
traditional Japanese musical accompaniment consists of
flutes and is performed by artists called "ga ga ku". The
marriage of two people in traditional Japanese culture is
not the union between a man and a woman, but the blending of
two families. This is particularly evident when the bride
and groom exchange vows. The two families face each other,
while the bride and groom do not. Instead, the bride and
groom stand between the families and face forward, while
they make an oath to keep faithful and obedient to one
another. A Shinto Japanese wedding may also take place at
home in a temporary sanctuary on the "Tokonoma" (alcove) of
the home. In addition to regional differences, in a home
ceremony, the bride is seated first and a ceremony to " give
her away " to the bridegroom is included. Some contemporary
couples set up a shrine inside the hotel where the reception
will be held.
The bride and groom are attended to by Miko maidens, serving
sake in red and white dresses. An older couple, called
Nakoudo, is responsible for managing the wedding. They are
seated by the couple. The bridal couple, dressed in
traditional kimonos, is purified, drinks sake, and the groom
reads the words of commitment. The priest reads the wedding
contract. Rice wine, called nihonshu or sake is the general
Japanese terms for alcohol, which is made of rice and water
and is about 20 percent alcohol. The sake, which is also
served to the guests, is poured into three special cups of
different sizes. The ceremony is called "SanSanKudo," which
means three sets of three sips equals nine. It dates back to
the 8th century and is one of Japan ' s oldest traditions.
Using the smallest of the cups, the groom takes three sips.
Then the bride does likewise. They do the same with the
medium and large cups. At the end of the sake ceremony, both
families drink a cup of sake, which represents the union of
the bride and groom and unification of the two families.
Drinking the wine is a sign that the marriage vows are
sealed. An exchange of wedding rings is a modern practice
that is popular today. At the close of the ceremony,
symbolic offerings are given to the kami, this offering
consists of three small twigs of Sakaki, a sacred tree. This
ritual ends the ceremony. Today, many traditional Japanese
ceremonies are followed by a western-style reception, but
many still include tradition Japanese customs.
Women who attend a traditional Japanese wedding wear
kimonos. Young women may wear colorful kimonos with long
flowing furisode, or butterfly sleeves. Married women, to
distinguish their marital status, will wear a more subdued
homongi kimono. Men traditionally wear western-style suits.
After the ceremony, the couple welcomes the guests at a
reception, called a "Kekkon Hiroen." As few as 20 and as
many as 200 or more guests may attend, which will include
family, friends and business associates. The party begins
with the go-betweens with an introduction of the bridegroom,
bride and their families' backgrounds. In keeping with the
concept that a marriage is about the joining of families,
there is more emphasis in the introduction placed on the
family than on the couple.
The attire worn by the bride at the reception is the most
colorful aspect of the party. She wears Kanzashi, colorful
ornaments, in her hair. The Uchikike gown is worn over the
kimono is resplendent with ornamentation and embroidery.
When she changes yet again, the bride will don another
kimono, different in style from the first. Kimonos because
of their intrinsic value and sentimental value are often
handed down from generation to generation. When they are no
longer wearable, they may be used as futon (bedding)
material to keep them in the family.
Guests are seated according to their relationship with the
couple. The names of guests and their table assignments are
on a reception table at which guests are asked to sign the
guest book. Here too, the welcome party collects the
The full-course meal is served table-side. The festivities
during the reception include participation by guests who
contribute speeches and songs. Guests are invited to
participate in games, skits and karaoke. As for the decor,
red and white are considered to be an auspicious combination
and so are abundantly used in a Japanese wedding. The colors
will be reflected in the bride ' s kimono and even the soup
and ice cream may have ingredients in those colors.
It is traditional to distribute wedding mementoes called
Hikidemono, which traditionally include dried bonito or
sugar, that signifies happiness in Japan. Other gifts may
include beautifully wrapped traditional Japanese candies, to
more " valuable " gifts like silverware, a clock, or sake to
modern novelty items. Recently, the western rituals of
cutting the cake, lighting candles, tossing the bouquet and
honeymoons have also been incorporated. At the very end of
the party, the couple will speech to all the guests and
Traditionally the bridal couple receives two gifts from each
guest. Friends and relatives will send a wedding gift to the
couple before or after, but never on, the wedding day. It is
considered their personal gift to the new couple. Guests
attending a traditional wedding reception in Japan are also
expected to bring cash for a gift. The amount depends on
their degree of closeness to the couple and the family. In
traditional Japanese invitations, that relationship will be
indicated on the invitation card. The average cash gift is
30,000 yen ($250) for a close friend's wedding, but gifts
can run from $30 to $200. The money is placed into a special
envelope, or Shugibukuro, and the guest ' s name is written
on the front of the envelope. Envelopes, called iwaibukuro,
can be purchased at Japanese supermarkets or grocery shops.
The envelope is given to the greeter at the reception desk
and is earmarked to help the new couple pay for wedding and
reception costs. In recent years, bridal registries have
become more commonplace in Japan, so guests may purchase
merchandise from the bride and groom ' s registry list.
At the end of the evening, the couple thanks all the guest