Japanese Wedding

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.

Meet the parents

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 connections.


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 as matchmaker.
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.

Wedding Ceremony

Again this part differs dramatically, depending on how the families ( not couple ) wish to proceed.

A close 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 photos 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) and a wedding 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.
A toast 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 work 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 husband's household.
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! ).

Nijikai ( 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 quickly.


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.