Traditional Japanese Shinto-Style Weddings

Bride and groom holding hands at wedding ceremony, mid section
••• Seiya Kawamoto/Photodisc/Getty Images

Many destination (and local) weddings take place in spring and fall in Japan, and while most of them are held at hotels or ceremony halls where chapels and shrines are conveniently located within the facilities, these weddings can stem from a variety of religious traditions.

A wedding may be Shinto, Christian, Buddhist, or non-religious styles, where couples choose the style of their ceremonies, which might not necessarily match with their religion. In fact, non-Christian couples often have their weddings at chapels in Japan.

Traditional wedding ceremonies are Shinto-style and are held at shrines where brides wear traditional white kimono called shiromuku and grooms wear montsuki (black formal kimono), haori (kimono jacket), and hakama (kimono pants).

The Shinto-Style Japanese Wedding Tradition

Shinto-style weddings became popular in Japan during the 20th century after the marriage of the Crown Prince Yoshihito to Princess Kujo Sadako, however, these weddings have seen a decline in popularity in favor of westernized ceremonies in recent times.

Still, if you're planning a traditional Shinto-style wedding, the main tenement of the ceremony hinges upon purification, which is done through the process of drinking three cups of sake three times in a ceremonial ritual called nan-nan-san-ku-do

It's common that only family members and close relatives of couples attend Shinto-style ceremonies, and there are neither bridesmaids nor a best man present for most of these affairs. Traditionally, an older married couple called nakoudo (matchmaker) attends a Shinto-style wedding ceremony, but this tradition hasn't been observed as regularly in recent years.

The Typical Japanese Wedding Reception

After wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom invite relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to reception parties called "kekkon hiroen," which vary in size and scaled depending on where in Japan the wedding ceremony takes place. People usually dress formally to attend these receptions, with female guests wearing dresses, suits, or kimonos and male guests commonly wearing black formal suits.

When you receive an invitation card to a wedding reception, you need to return the enclosed response card and let them know if you can attend or not. If you are attending a Japanese wedding reception, you are expected to bring cash for a gift. The amount depends on your relationship with the couple and the region unless a fixed amount is indicated on the invitation card. It's said that the average is 30,000 yen for a friend's wedding, but it's important that the cash is enclosed in a special envelope called " shugi-bukuro" with your name is written on the front.

During a wedding reception, the married couple sits on a stage, enjoying the guests' speeches and performances. Many people sing congratulating songs for the couple, and it's typical for the couple to cut a wedding cake and walk around the reception room, lighting the candles and greeting guests. A full course meal is often served, and it's also common for the bride and groom to change costumes a couple of times.

Unlike in traditional American weddings, most guests receive wedding souvenirs from the newlyweds called hikidemono, which are often tablewares, sweets, interiors, or other small trinkets selected by the bride and groom. In recent years, gift catalogs from which guests can choose gifts are popular for hikidemono.