Shinto Wedding (Shinzen Shiki Wedding)
If you’ve ever wondered about what weddings in Japan are like, you might have discovered that many Japanese weddings nowadays resemble modern Christian weddings. However, the traditional Japanese wedding still remains popular to this day.
The traditional Japanese wedding (Shinto wedding, also referred to as the shinzen shiki wedding) actually originated from the wedding ceremony of the Taisho Emperor more than a century ago. Ever since, the style of wedding has been adopted even by commoners, and became the “traditional Japanese wedding” that we know of today.
While these weddings are really supposed to be held in Shinto shrines, nowadays there are also hotels and banquet halls that cater to those who wish for a Shinto wedding, but don’t really want to travel all the way to a shrine. One of the best parts about Shinto weddings is that they are significantly cheaper than a western style wedding. With a budget between 30,000 to 100,000 yen (~$250 to ~$850), you can hold a reasonably extravagant traditional Japanese style wedding. Of course, everything comes with a catch: if you wish for professional gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) performers to play at your wedding, you’d have to cash out another 30,000 to 50,000 yen (~$250 to ~$400). But for many it is worthwhile to have your own background music for your sacred procession.
Besides the costs, young couples also look forward to a Shinto style wedding for the sacred atmosphere and mood of the shrine (where the wedding should take place unless you opt for the hotel) and the beautiful kimonos that Japanese youth rarely have a chance to wear nowadays. While this might come as a surprise, there are no rules that force attendees or even the brides and grooms to wear kimono for the ceremony. Nevertheless, most do show up in traditional Japanese garments.
A few kimono options for the bride include the shiromuku (white kimono), kurofurisode (black kimono), and iro-uchikake (colorful kimono). The last is popular for the reason that the bright colors of the kimono show up vibrantly in photos. The shiromuku is the most expensive option out of the three, and probably the most popular. The groom is expected to wear a haori hakama with 5 family crests imprinted on the kimono.
Lastly, while the ceremony traditionally only includes family members due to space restrictions, in recent years larger locations have even been able to accommodate friends for the wedding ceremony. Over time, couples have become increasingly inclined to invite friends to the ceremony as well.
The stages of a Shinto wedding ceremony
Here we introduce the various stages of the traditional Shinto ceremony, just in case you were curious, or for some reason were invited and need to know what to do.
1. Sanshin-no-Gi (Procession Ceremony) 参進の儀
The bride and groom, along with the wedding guests, are led toward the shrine by the shrine maiden. During this time, gagaku (if performers were hired) composed of 3 types of traditional Japanese flutes, is performed.
2. NyUjyO (Entrance) 入場
The wedding participants enter in the order of proximity of familial ties to the bride and groom.The seats to the right of the altar are for the families of the groom, and those to the left belong to the bride. Soon after, the bride and groom are led in by the shinto maiden.
3. ShUbatsu-no-Gi (Purification Ceremony) 修祓の儀
Before the ceremony actually begins, a Shinto priest purifies the bride, the groom and the assembled congregation.
4. Norito-sOjO (Shinto ritual prayer reading) 祝詞奏上
The Shinto priest reads a ritual prayer to announce the marriage to the deities. He seeks blessing and protection for the couple. All attendees now stand and bow.
5. Sankon-no-Gi（Exchange of cups）三献の儀
The bride and groom exchange cups (in the order of increasing cup sizes) containing sacred wine. The cups are exchanged three times and the couple takes three sips each time. This procedure is called the “san-san-kudo 三々九度” (literally, three three nine, referring to the three sips from three cups, for a total of nine sips).
6. Kagura Hōnō (Dedication of the Sacred Dance) 神楽奉納
Shinto maidens perform ancient shinto dancing and music as an offering to the god.
7. Seishi SOjO (Reading of Vows) 誓詞奏上
The bride and groom approach the altar and the groom reads the marriage vow. Not to be left out, the bride also adds her own name to the vow.
8. Tamagushi HOten (Tamagushi Offerings) 玉串奉奠
The bride and groom offer tamagushi (a sasaki branch with tied cotton strips) to the gods. This step usually ends in 2 bows and 2 claps but could vary depending on the shrine.
9. Yubiwa-no-gi (Exchange of Rings) 指輪の交換
Quite literally, the bride and groom now exchange rings.
10. Shinzokusakazuki-no-Gi (Drinking of sacred wine with the wedding participants) 親族杯の儀
As a celebration for the newly formed bond between the 2 families, all participants from both the bride and grooms’ families take 3 sips of the sacred wine.
11. Saishu Aisatsu (Greetings by the Shinto priest) 斎主挨拶
Along with the shinto priest, everyone bows in front of the altar and exchanges celebratory words.
12. TaijyO (Exit) 退場
All attendees perform bows to the altar and are allowed to leave. Following this, the married couple usually will usher guests to a more casual wedding party.
Tips for attending a Western style wedding ceremony
While it would be nice to be invited to a traditional Japanese wedding, more likely you’ll be invited to a western style wedding ceremony. While its name may be deceivingly familiar, the western style ceremony in Japan is nonetheless a Japanese adaptation and contains many rules which should be noted.
For those who just received an invitation to a wedding, fear not. Here’s a guide to how you should prepare for and handle yourself at the event.
1. What to wear
While they say that you can wear whatever you want, we all know that is a lie. Women should always wear knee length, fancy, neutral color, shiny prom dresses (unless you want to receive strange stares and stand out unnecessarily). Men should show up in a black suit and white tie (though the rules have relaxed a bit and you can now wear colored ties). Reflecting Japanese modesty, female guests should not wear anything that shows too much skin (ie: the shoulders). If you don’t own anything that covers your shoulders and don’t have money to invest in a new dress, you should at least prepare a shawl to cover up excess skin.
2. What to bring
Money. No one wants fancy Italian kitchen ware, and you shouldn’t be banging your head on the wall trying to figure out what your Japanese coworker or friend really wants. Bring money. And you can’t just bring the money naked, or in any envelope you so desire. The gift money (or goshugi) that you bring to a wedding ceremony should be placed inside specific envelopes that you can easily find at a stationary store (i.e. Loft). Ask the store clerk if you are unsure which to purchase. The money you place inside should also be relatively new, as in, not folded or crumpled. Expect to spend 30000 yen (~$250) on a friend/coworker and 50000 yen (~$400) and above for your boss. Also, you will not be handing the envelope directly to your friend. Instead, the receptionist for the wedding will handle that for you.
3. Expect the unexpected
If you're a foreigner, you'll probably be asked to give a speech, just because you're considered a special guest. The speech doesn’t have to be long, but you shouldn't head to the wedding completely unprepared.
4. After the ceremony
If the wedding was a traditional one, you will probably only be invited to the reception party. The reception party is usually held after the wedding. Party guests can range in number from 20 to 200 people, including relatives, friends, and co-workers of the bride and groom. The party usually begins with formal introduction speeches from the bride and groom. After the banquet, guests can make speeches as well. The bride and groom may change clothes several times during the reception party. At the end of the party, speeches of thanks are given by the bride and groom to the guests.
While opportunities to view or participate in traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies may be rare, we hope that this post has given you an introduction to the nuance of this Japanese tradition. Whether it's a Western ceremony at a modern hotel, or a traditional style ceremony at a Japanese temple, we hope that this post has helped to give you the confidence to accept an invitation!
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