Japanese weddings are a curious mix of old and new in many different ways. From the meeting to the ceremony to the reception, little twists give an unexpected lift.
Japanese wedding ceremonies can be either Buddhist or Shinto and are today usually followed by a western style reception. Modern weddings are absurdly expensive and can run to $100,000 without too much effort. The most popular season for weddings is spring, particularly June and you often need to book places over a year in advance, especially if you are trying to book a 'tomobiki' day which is considered the most portentous day for a wedding. This day is calculated according to the ancient Japanese calendar and means 'drawing friends'.
Even up until quite recently, marriages arranged by the parents of the child were not uncommon. A mutual friend often served as a go-between or matchmaker and the two young people met at specially arranged meetings to discuss their potential future and to meet each other. For many businessmen in particular, work, and getting to and from work, occupied so much of their time that they did not have the opportunity to meet partners.
Traditional kimonos are worn for the marriage and swapped for a wedding dress and suit at the reception. Sometimes the bride and groom change three times altogether and the dress can be white or another colour depending on the choice of the bride.
Japanese wedding kimonos are as beautiful as they are expensive. For the bride, a white silk under-kimono called 'shiromuku' which means 'pure white', is covered by a heavily embroidered over-kimono in red, white and gold. Usually cranes and other symbols of luck, health and long life are stitched onto the fabric with gold thread. On her head she wears a wig with a white veil-like cloth draped over to 'hide her demon horns' as tradition states! These horns are apparently of jealousy and, by covering them, she acknowledges her submission to her mother-in-law. In Japan, this is not just a meeting of two people, but rather of two families. On her feet are tabi, short, white toe socks, and zori, thong-like clogs. Her face is powdered white, eyes dark and lips red.
For the groom, hakama or pleated skit-pants are traditional with a short kimono shirt and a short over-jacket although some men wear suits for both the ceremony and the reception.
At the service, guests of each party face each other while the bride and groom stand between them, facing forwards. Priests perform the ceremony in 'old' Japanese and, once the wedding contract has been read, sake is poured into three special cups of different sizes and drunk to seal the marriage vows.
Once the service is over, the bride and groom go to get changed and the guests move on to the reception. The welcome party gathers gifts from the guests, not actual presents but real money in special envelopes called 'shigibukuro'. Depending on your relationship with the wedding couple, you may be expected to put in $150-or more (in yen though!). The guest's name is written on the envelope.
At the reception, speeches and toasts are made and the cake is cut although the cake is an artificial one and the bride and groom adjourn for another clothing change.
When they return, candles are lit on the tables and the guests take it in turns to sing, do a skit or perform in some way for the happy couple and, at the end of the evening, each guest is presented with a bag of gifts which can be cake, wine, money, ornaments and so on.
Modern Japanese are coming to have their weddings overseas. Not only is this a much more affordable alternative, it also allows additional time for the honeymoon. Hawaii and Australia are two popular destinations.