Marriage in Japan

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A Western-style wedding in Japan.
A traditional Japanese wedding ceremony

Weddings in Japan[edit]

Japanese wedding customs fall into two categories: traditional Shinto ceremonies, and modern Western-style weddings. In either case, the couple must first be legally married by filing for marriage at their local government office, and the official documentation must be produced in order for the ceremony to be held. Traditionally, marriages were categorized into two types according to the method of finding a partner—miai, meaning arranged or resulting from an arranged introduction, and ren'ai, in which the principals met and decided to marry on their own—although the distinction has grown less meaningful over postwar decades as the proportion of miai matches has dwindled.[1]

The Japanese bride-to-be may be painted pure white from head to toe, visibly declaring her maiden status to the Gods. Two choices of headgear exist. One, the watabōshi, is a white hood; the other, called the tsunokakushi, serves to hide the bride's 'horns of jealousy.' It also symbolizes the bride's intention to become a gentle and obedient wife.

Traditional Japanese wedding customs (shinzen shiki) involve an elaborate ceremony held at a Shinto shrine. Japanese weddings are becoming increasingly extravagant. However, in some cases, younger generations choose to abandon the formal ways by having a "no host party" for a wedding.[2] In this situation, the guests primarily consist of the couple's friends who pay an attendance fee.

Couples are officially married once they have successfully submitted the required documents to the city hall registrar to change their status in their family registries. No ceremony of any kind is required under Japanese law.[3][4]

Western-style ceremonies[edit]

Western-style wedding ceremonies are currently very popular in Japan.[5] These ceremonies are modeled on a traditional or stereotypical chapel wedding.

In recent years, the Western-style wedding has become the choice of some couples in Japan.[6] An industry has sprung up, dedicated to providing couples with a ceremony modeled after western weddings. Japanese Western-style weddings are generally held in a chapel, either in a simple or elaborate ceremony, often at a dedicated wedding chapel within a hotel.

The "ministers" of these marriages are often not actual Christians. In general, even true Christians administering the marriage are discouraged from actual proselytizing.[7]

There is no perceived contradiction in participating in a Western wedding with Christian iconography. Japanese people are culturally Buddhist and Buddhism still remains the religion of the majority. Most couples choose their wedding style, not for any religious reason, but rather as a fashion statement.

Roots and popularity[edit]

Over the past few decades Christian-style wedding ceremonies have become widespread, to the point that currently they are the standard form. The adoption of Christian-style weddings dates back to two events in the 1980s. The first pivotal moment was the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles, and the second—among the Japanese—was the televised wedding of the pop star Momoe Yamaguchi.

In 2001 it was estimated that of the 800,000 weddings in Japan, 60 to 70 percent of couples opted for a Christian-style wedding. The popularity of these chapel weddings has only increased since then.[citation needed]

Flow of the ceremony[edit]

Before the ceremony, there is a rehearsal. Often during this rehearsal, the bride's mother lowers the veil for her daughter, signifying the last act that a mother can do for her daughter, before "giving her away". The father of the bride, much like in Western ceremonies, walks the bride down the aisle to her awaiting groom.

After the rehearsal comes the procession. The wedding celebrant will often wear a wedding cross, or kana, a cross with two interlocking wedding rings attached, which symbolize a couple's commitment to sharing a life together in the bonds of holy matrimony. The wedding celebrant gives a brief welcome and an introductory speech before announcing the bride's entrance. The procession ends with the groom bowing to the bride's father. The father bows in return.

The service then starts. The service is given either in Japanese, English or quite often, a mix of both. It follows Protestant ceremony, relaxed and not overtly religious. Typically part of 1 Corinthians 13 is read from the Bible. After the reading, there is a prayer and a short message, explaining the sanctity of the wedding vows (seiyaku). The bride and groom share their vows and exchange rings. The chapel register is signed and the new couple is announced. This is often followed by the traditional wedding kiss. The service can conclude with another hymn and a benediction.

Non-religious or civil ceremonies[edit]

There is a further popular wedding style called 'non-religious' or 'civil', which again is modelled on the West but has no religious connotations. The officiant is a Master of Ceremonies and the wedding often takes place in a banquet room prior to or during the reception party, with guests seated at tables.

Whether Christian-style or Shinto style, 'religious' or 'non-religious', the wedding ceremonies themselves have no legal standing. Formerly, when it was performed according to Shinto ritual, the wedding allowed the union to be blessed by a priest, which gave official and legal recognition to the marriage. Today, weddings still serve the function of having the marriage formally celebrated by loved ones, but although Christian or shinto rites are often included, many of those officiating have no ordination. Similarly, MCs at 'civil' weddings need no formal qualification.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edwards, Walter (1989). Modern Japan through its Weddings: Gender, Person, and Society in Ritual Portrayal. Stanford University Press.
  2. ^ Lebra, T, Sugiyama (1984). Japanese women: constraint and fulfillment. Honolulu University of Hawaii Press, Retrieved 10 January 2009, from NetLibrary
  3. ^ Embassy of the United States: Japan, Marriage in Japan. Accessed 29 August 2008.
  4. ^ Western Style Weddings in Japan: Are they real weddings? Accessed 29 August 2008.
  5. ^ a b Faking it as a priest in Japan, the BBC
  6. ^ Western Style Weddings in Japan,
  7. ^