I have often been asked about Japanese weddings and how they work and
since I just recently attended the wedding of my brother-in-law ( aka
Uncle T ), it was about time to explain how this works.
Exactly like the western counterpart, this is the most fearful part of
the whole process. It usually involves sitting in seiza (
traditional Japanese kneeling style ) until you are numb up to your
neck. There is generally a lot of discussion about the job held
by the young man, his education and the jobs and education of his
parents. More traditional families may also hire a detective to
check out the family of the bride/groom to make sure there are no
burakumin ( untouchable caste ) connections or other unsavory
Once the date is set and a general place for the ceremony are decided
the official yuino ceremony takes place.
This generally takes place in a nice hotel or a restaurant.
Both sets of parents will meet ( generally for the first time ) and be
introduced by the nakodo ( matchmaker ). Since there are fewer
actual matched marriages, the matchmaker is generally an older person
such as the boss if it is a marriage of people from the same
company. Many younger couples now tend to skip having someone act
The parents of the groom will present the brides family with sake (
rice wine ) and an envelope filled with cash in a non-trivial
amount. These gifts are called the yuino.
The parents of the bride will present gifts in return, called the
yuinogaeshi ( in return for yuino ).
Lots of bowing and formal talk is involved.
This whole step is sometimes skipped by less well-to-do families.
Nyuseki is the civil portion of marriage. All Japanese families
have a family register. When a young lady gets married her name
is crossed off her family's register with a note of whom she married
and entered into her husband's family register. The reverse,
while less common, is when the groom gives up his family name and
enters into the bride's family's register. This happens in the
cases where the brides is an only child or has all female siblings, so
that the family name can remain in tact. However, the muko ( name
changing groom ) is generally in an extremely weak position within the
new household, so many young men are reluctant to become a muko-san.
Again this part differs dramatically, depending on how the families (
not couple ) wish to proceed.
relative of the bride and groom ( most of a sibling ) will
receive the guests and have them sign
the ledger. The guests will
hand over elaborate
envelopes filled with cash. The amount
contained varies by the relationship to the bride/groom. A friend
will generally give 20,000 yen ( US $175 ), a close relative somewhere
between 30,000 - 60,000 yen. Too many weddings in a month can
drive you into the poorhouse pretty quickly.
In a more traditional wedding there is a Shinto ceremony where the
groom wears a hakama and the bride a traditional wedding outfit.
There is lots of chanting and waving by the Shinto priest and even
native Japanese seldom have any idea what is being said ( the
equivalent of mass in Latin ). The couple then drink some sake
from a small dish one after another. Next the father of the groom
stands and introduces each member present by giving their name and
relationship to the groom and then the bride's father does the
same. After wards a group photo is taken.
In a more modern wedding the family
introductions are done and
taken. Everyone then proceeds to the banquet hall and is
seated. The couple enters last, bows
to greet their guests and sit up front on a
pedestal. The groom reads
the vows, rings are exchanged(1,2)
certificate is signed.
In the traditional wedding, the bride and groom change from the
traditional garments to a wedding dress(front,back)
and tuxedo while everyone
filters in to the banquet hall.
to the bride and groom is given and during the meal various
relatives are tapped for embarrassing
speeches. It is generally
good form to tell some sort of embarrassing childhood story and follow
up with something like "despite all of that he/she turned out
OK". If you are a gaijin, you almost always end up giving a
speech, so it is best to think of something clever to say
beforehand. Since no one pours their own drinks in Japan, it is
often a good idea to grab a bottle of beer and one of sake and
your way around the relatives on both sides introducing yourself to
those whom you don't know by explaining your relationship to the
bride/groom and commenting on what a good catch the groom/bride is.
At the end of the reception, the bride and/or groom generally
gives a speech thanking
the parents for everything and presents them with a flower
bouqet before she leaves their household to become part of her
All guests receive the hikidemono ( parting gifts ) that can very from
a set of wine glasses to a commemorative plate with the faces of the
happy couple ( ugh! ).
second party )
In the case where a small wedding is in order, often friends and casual
acquaintences will be invited to the second party held after the
reception. This is generally viewed as a good deal all around as
the amount of money paid for the party by the bride/groom and the
amount of money given by the guests is less. These tend to be
attended only by young people and turn boozy and sentimental pretty
Depending upon the size of the ceremony the guest list may vary from
close relatives to co-workers to the local tea ceremony teacher.
Probably the most important of all is that the number of guest have to
match exactly on both sides. Often people will be hired to act as
friends or co-workers to fill out a guest list. The family of the
bride/groom covers all travel and hotel expenses for all of their
guests. Close male relatives will wear
a white tie with their suit. Close female realtives
will generally wear a kimono,
but not always. For kimonos, the older relatives will
generally wear a black
kimono, younger ladies will wear something more colorful (front,back).
The length of the sleeves is an indicator of marriage status. Long
sleeves (furisode) indicate a single woman. Since a kimono is
apparently difficult to get on, often as part of the wedding party two
humorless ladies run around the morning of the wedding to each room and
help each lady get into her kimono for the wedding.
Wedding styles vary with the region of Japan as well. Nagoya is
famous for really lavish weddings where gifts are thrown into a crowd
of neighbors. Tokyo tends to be more a more stripped down and
modern. In Northern Japan, weddings tend to be more traditional
with lots of heavy drinking and large guest lists.