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To Love And To Hold....


There's a long tradition of Wedding ceremonies in Japan, but Japanese Weddings are very different from what you're probably used to.  In the past there were two types of weddings: 

  • Miai お見合い結婚, or arranged Weddings (for various political or economic reasons.  Sometimes the partners are also selected by their parents)
  • Renai 恋愛, or regular wedding where both partners found each other through chance and married for love.

Although arranged marriages are still performed sporadically in Japan, most couples nowadays get together because of love. They usually meet either in school, at work, or in special interest clubs or events, as was the case with Katz and his wife.

April 21st marked a very special day for these two lovebirds.


--a day that only comes once in a lifetime. A day that will be remembered for a long time to come - It was Katz and Saori's Wedding day. The weather was perfect, the guests were dressed in their best formal attire, and the ceremony was very traditionally Japanese. It was a perfect combination of traditional Japanese Shinto ceremony and western style reception - Traditional charm infused with modern pompousness.  This style wedding has become very popular in Japan recently, combining old-world charm with modern traditions and style.

In the past, most weddings followed the Shinto or Buddhist Style wedding traditions.

A traditional Shinto-style wedding (such as this one) has many interesting customs, such as the traditional clothes the bride-to-be wears.  In very traditional weddings, brides usually wear a Shiromuku (White Kimono and "hat"). Nowadays some brides swap it for a more colorful kimono instead.


Another very traditional Shinto practice is the "San-San Kudo", which dates back to the 8th century and is performed instead of saying the wedding vows.  Sake is brought to the couple kneeling on the floor in front of the shrine, and both take three sips of Sake from three different cups, then offer Sake to their families, which symbolizes a new family bond, and respect for their parents.


These days however, only about 1/3 of couples practice traditional style weddings, and even then some of the more traditional aspects like the Shiromuku are left out or substituted for more modern versions.  Especially younger couples have embraced the non-traditional style with its emphasis on class, elegance and western style opulence. These days there are many western style "Churches" in Japanese cities for the sole purpose of having a wedding ceremony.  Katz and his wife decided to forgo the trappings of modern style for traditional charm, and thus had their ceremony in a traditional Japanese Shinto Style instead. 

This is very different from Western Style since the guests will line up outside the gates of the shrine, awaiting the arrival of the bride.


Then the priest speaks a few words, and the couple to be married are marched through the gates together towards the shrine.  The wedding entourage then follow the couple along the path into the shrine. 


There's an elaborate ceremony inside the shrine with one or two priests, many rituals, a lot of bowing, and of course some sake to commemorate the newly formed family bond.  It's all very deep in meaning and I couldn't help but be completely absorbed in the moment.  I've been in Japan for a long time, but this was one of the most profoundly "Japanese" events for me as well. 


After the ceremony, the guests are then brought to the Wedding Hall by bus (if it's not in the same place as the ceremony).

Upon arrival in the wedding hall, one should present their Shugi Bukuro 祝儀袋, or Cash Gift Envelope, to some selected friends who volunteer to receive the envelopes, and sign in for the wedding reception.  The Shugi Bukuro is unique to Japanese weddings and is an elaborately decorated envelope into which a cash gift consisting of around 30,000 yen (about 229 Euro, or 294 US$) is to be placed, along with a short message to the couple.

Traditionally, in Japan there are no gifts given to the couple, as not to cause disharmony with the wrong gift.  However, as everyone knows, Katz loves curry, so many people sent him and his wife some curry as a wedding present, which I hear they greatly appreciated.

The Wedding guests all receive a bag full of little presents and trinkets from the couple, usually consisting of sweets, cups, glasses, and some Tea or Soup...

One of the highlights of Katz's wedding was the release of white doves on the roof of the reception place.  It was a very nice gesture of peace and tranquility, and a great start to their new life together. 


After the short event on the roof of the building, and some photos, the guests were then ushered into the main dinner hall where the actual reception took place.  It was an elaborately decorated venue with a fantastic view of the city and would rival any 5 star restaurant in terms of elegance, ambiance, and presentation of food.

The big difference between a Japanese Wedding and a Western Wedding is that there is usually no dancing by the guests at the reception, and J-weddings feature a lot of speeches from the Newlywed's Boss, close Co-workers, and Family.  It's a rather formal affair compared to many western style weddings, which reflects the Japanese reverence for formal traditions.

There is, however, some sort of quiz about the couple in which the tables are made into groups and have to work together to correctly answer questions about the couple. 


As far as food is concerned, during the reception there is usually a course meal consisting of entrees, main dishes, and desserts, which in this case was elegantly prepared by the restaurants' capable chefs. 


Of course the alcohol flows freely and some of the couple's family members even come around to all the tables to pour some wine, champagne, or beer and socialize for a bit.

The couple is very busy during this time, making their rounds from table to table to say a few kind words to the guests, take pictures with them, and thanking everyone in person for coming to their momentous event.

Of course, typical western style customs such as a wedding slide show and cutting the cake together have also been happily adapted in Japan, and are a main part of the reception. 


Katz went out of his way to track down his wife's former exchange family in the US and had them record a short video message for his wife, which brought admiration and tears of joy to her eyes.  It was a very sweet moment, and one could almost feel the gratitude permeating through the air.

During the reception there is usually a performance, or showcase event.  In this case, it was a perfectly timed release of some kind of roman candles on each table, as the lights were dimmed, and the music cued the arrival of the couple again, after a quick costume change.


Towards the end of the reception, the couple then give a speech for their parents to say thank you for being great parents, and how much they appreciate all the chances their parents have provided for them. This is of course reciprocated by their parents also congratulating the couple and wishing them all the best for their new life together. 


Shortly after that, the couple leaves together while the guests socialize a little more and prepare for slowly exiting the venue as well. 


So there you have it, now you're prepared to attend a wedding in Japan.  On that note, let's wish Katz and his wife all the best for their future together and thank them for letting us all be a part of this momentous event. 



Achim Runnebaum
Freelance Photographer, Writer, and Journalist. Achim was born in Germany, raised in the States, and is currently living in Japan. Read more »