Traditional Japanese Shinto-Style Weddings

Bride and groom holding hands at wedding ceremony, mid section
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If you are headed to Japan for a destination wedding or are invited to a traditional wedding, there are some important things to be aware of so that you are prepared for both the ceremony and the receptions.

Many destination (and local) weddings take place in spring and fall in Japan, Most are held at hotels or ceremony halls where chapels and shrines are conveniently located within the facilities and can be appropriate for a variety of religious traditions.

A wedding may be Shinto, Christian, Buddhist, or secular, where couples choose the style of their ceremonies, not necessarily matching with their religion. In fact, couples not practicing a faith tradition often have their weddings at chapels in Japan.

Traditional wedding ceremonies are Shinto-style and are held at shrines where brides wear traditional the white kimono called shiromuku and grooms wear montsuki (a 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 the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom invite relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to reception parties called "kekkon hiroen," which vary in size and scale 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 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 as a gift. The amount depends on your relationship with the couple, and regional customs 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 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 candles, and greeting guests. A multi-course course meal is often served, and it's also common for the bride and groom to change costumes several times during the event.

In Japan, most guests receive wedding souvenirs from the newlyweds called hikidemono, which are often something for the table, sweets, and small trinkets selected by the bride and groom. In recent years, gift catalogs have become popular for hikidemono.

The After Party

Receptions commonly last about two and a half hours. Once the reception is over, guests leave the venue and some move on to another place like a restaurant. After parties are no-host and additional people may join in, coming only for that part of the festivities.