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An Expat's Guide to a Japanese Wedding

As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And if you are an expatriate working in Japan, whether you like it or not, you have to immerse yourself in their customs and traditions as well, if you want to get along with your peers and especially your superiors.

Chances are, you will get invited to an authentic Japanese wedding. The June bride is also applicable in this country as many Japanese weddings also happen in the month of June, despite the rainy season. In fact this season is so busy that venues, like chapels and restaurants, get filled up quickly so reservations are needed months and months before. In terms of Japanese style weddings, there is the traditional Shinzenshiki Shinto event, and there are more modern options like house weddings and restaurant held events. But we’ll be telling you about the most popular one and what to expect so that you’ll know should you get invited to one someday.

Japanese wedding styles

The most common type of Japanese weddings are the Western and Shinto wedding, and just recently, the rise of the civil wedding rites.

Shinzenshiki wedding

This wedding style is usually conducted on shrines. A Shinto priest presides the ceremony and offers prayers. Highlight of the ceremony is the Sansankudo, where the couple both drink from nuptial cups of sake. To conclude the ceremony, they offer Tamagushi, a Sakaki branch to the gods. The couple are in traditional Japanese dresses – the bride in a Shiromuku, an illuminating white kimono, while the groom dons a Hakama with the rest of his family.

Jinsenshiki wedding

This is the civil service type of Japanese wedding, sometimes also referred to as Hitomaeshiki. As it is not a religious ceremony, it is not officiated by a priest or a pastor, and not conducted on a temple or church. Rather, an emcee is usually hired to keep the ceremony more engaging. There is no official or formal setup and it totally depends on the bride and groom how they want the ceremony to unfold. If they want, a pastor or a choir can be present, with the performance of the Sansankudo. Usually the couple ask the guests to sign their marriage certificate as further proof of the wedding.

Other Japanese wedding aspects

Usually, Japanese weddings are held at shrines and churches, but special locations such as restaurants and hotels are also becoming more common. Japanese weddings can also be private and exclusive to just close family and friends, while big weddings are those that exceed a hundred people for guests. The average number though is around 60 to 80 guests.

The ceremony starts with the couple exchanging vows, whether it is a Shinto service or just a civil wedding. This is followed by the Hiroen wedding reception. This is usually conducted in a hall, where stories of the couple are told to the guests. Light entertainment is usually provided as guests and the couple mingle. Depending on the bride and groom, there can be an Oironaoshi or a change of costume in the middle of the ceremony. As times have changed, usually a little bit of Western culture is already interjected to a traditional Japanese wedding.

The reception usually takes two and a half hour, and then the guests move on to the after party to another venue. There can even be an after party to the after party. These after parties usually are informal, have no proper agenda, and require no host. Some guests only attend the after party. But if you have attended the main ceremony, you are not required to attend the after party. It is your own prerogative, unless perhaps it is your boss holding the party.