[From June Issue 2010]
Most weddings in Japan start with a religious ceremony which usually only family members attend. Afterwards, a banquet is customarily held to which many people, including friends and colleagues, are invited. To celebrate the happy occasion, guests give the bride and groom goshuugi, or gift money in special envelopes. Goshuugi from friends is usually 20,000 yen or 30, 000 yen.
A typical Japanese wedding party starts when the bride and groom enter the banquet hall together, and take their seats on a slightly raised platform facing their guests. Invited guests are seated closer to the bride and groom, with family and relatives seated further in back. The bride’s and groom’s bosses usually give congratulatory speeches then friends sing in celebration. Other wedding highlights include a candle ceremony where the couple holds a candle while greeting their guests at each table, and the cutting of the wedding cake. Afterwards, the bride and groom thank their parents with a speech, then leave to end the party.
In the past, dishes that supposedly brought good fortune, such as prawns and sea breams, were served in abundance. So much of it was ordered that guests ended up taking the surplus home, unlike today, where the majority of the weddings serve just enough for everyone. Additionally, before leaving, guests would traditionally receive souvenir gifts called hikidemono. They used to be expensive dishware and bulky items that looked good, but today’s popular items are more lightweight and easy to take home gift catalogues from which guests can later choose an item they prefer.
Many wedding ceremonies take place at wedding halls or hotels. Rough estimates show that it costs about 3 million yen to host a wedding party for 80 guests. During the baburu (Japan’s economic bubble), overseas weddings and flamboyant receptions with special effects such as smoke machines and having the bride and groom fly in on gondolas, were very popular. But these days, couples choose to tie the knot in a variety ways, from not having any ceremony to having a modest affair, or, still going all out.
Happo-en, located in Mintao Ward, Tokyo, performs the most weddings in Japan, offering 3 different wedding styles – a Japanese Shinto-style wedding, a Christian chapel-style wedding and a civil-style wedding. In the Shinto-style wedding, the bride and groom wear kimonos and a kannushi (Shinto priest) performs the ceremony. In the chapel-style, the bride and groom are dressed in a wedding dress and tuxedo, and a Christian clergyman performs the ceremony. Civil weddings have no particular religion so the attire is of the bride and groom’s choice and they make their vows in front of their attending guests.
“When overseas weddings were popular, many couples chose to be wed in a chapel, but recently, we see many guests choose the traditional Shinto-style ceremonies,” says KUMADE Yoko of Happo-en. “I think it is because many Japanese celebrities are getting married in this style, as well as the Japanese tradition being reevaluated and many magazines are featuring weddings in a Japanese kimono. Additionally, the number of civil weddings is gradually increasing, too. It is popular with couples who prefer not to have any religious ambiance and couples who wish to include their friends at their ceremony. We also have more enquiries from international and non-Japanese couples, too,” she says. It seems the Japanese garden and the traditional Japanese hospitality are also appealing to them.
On the other hand, there are also couples that choose inexpensive weddings. While some couples may not plan a banquet at all, others may choose to have a “photo wedding” – where the couple wears wedding attire only to take photos for the celebrated occasion. At BUA Holdings Inc., a couple can have a wedding ceremony for only 49,800 yen. “There are some couples who prefer to spend the same money on a new house or their honeymoon. And there are fewer relatives to invite because compared to the past, we have fewer siblings and when they get married later in their life, their grandparents might have already passed away. As a result, there are more couples who are looking for a more compact wedding ceremony,” says KAWABE Toru, the company’s publicist.
Kawabe continues: “We hope that family ties become stronger through wedding ceremonies. We think this will build the society which values ties that are uniquely Japanese. Recently, international couples that want to have another ceremony in Japan come to us after their ceremony in their partner’s home country. We also have older couples who want to renew their vows because they did not have a ceremony when they first got married.”
The Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ) is a group for women who have all married Japanese men. Their aim is to support each other in blending into Japanese society. One Australian member, Heather FUKASE, had an elaborate wedding since her husband was the first-born son, and traditionally, the heir of the family. “I was surprised because there were so many people we had to invite,” says Fukase, adding that even the town mayor was a guest. And the traditional Japanese order also bewildered her. “I thought that the immediate family should be seated closer to us, but it was not the case,” she recalls.
Canadian AFWJ member Suzanne MIYAKE remembers wearing a kimono at her wedding in her favorite color, pink. “My husband’s father prepared a program in English for my parents and myself,” Suzanne recalls about that day. Another Canadian member, Christelle HATANO, also wore a kimono for her traditional Japanese style wedding. But by the end of the reception, everyone was dancing and it turned out to be just like a reception party in Canada. “Our wedding was a wonderful occasion where two families, two languages and two cultures blended into one,” she fondly remembers.
Traditional Japanese Weddings
Japanese people used to consider marriage to be something that affected the whole family. Therefore, it was common for families to ask a person whom they trusted to be their nakoudo (match maker) in order to arrange a marriage between two families. Once the marriage was approved, the family of the shinrou (groom) would present the family of the shimpu (bride) gifts referred to as the yuinou. Then wedding invitations would be sent out, sometimes in the parents’ names rather than in those of the bride and groom. Today, while many Japanese people consider these beliefs and customs to be old-fashioned, they are however, still being practiced.
The custom of omiai, or matchmaking, has also become rare, but does still exist as the way a man and a woman meet through their nakoudo. Before meeting in person, they exchange photos and confirm background information including hobbies, education, and even family data, to make sure they are both trustworthy.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo