How Japanese people get married?

April 18, 2015 Juju Kurihara Culture, Custom, Entertainment, Vocabulary Tags: , , , 2 Comments

In my life, I´ve been to the weddings only three times in my life. One was my eldest cousin´s where my mum got drunk and I couldn´t even taste my entrée but looking after her instead. No count. The second one was my university friend who got married as soon as we graduated. The third one, I was invited to the wedding of an English man and a Japanese woman whose parents didn´t speak a common language. I was there as an interpreter. No count. So I have officially been to only one wedding in my life.  

Are you wondering how Japanese people get married? Officially, there are four styles of weddings in Japan. The most popular one is Christian style. Then Shinzen style (神前式/ Shintoism style) comes the second and follows, Butsuzen style (仏前式/ Buddhism style). The last one is Jinzen style (人前/ nonreligious wedding ceremony).


wedding dress

1. Christian style: Many of my friends did in this way although most of them are not actually Christians. Many places such as hotels have a chapel in Japan and any one can get married there. Usually a foreign priest is there and does the ceremony in English. Don´t worry, they don´t need to understand English. The priest will give them a sign when they have to say, "Yes, I do".  

Many Japanese girls want to have a wedding like a European films, in a beautiful chapel, walk through the aisle in the white dress with her father. This is a dream for many girls.  

Before, the chapels only allowed the couples who were Christian, at least one of them but recently, many are open to non-Christian couples. How the ceremony goes? I think most of you know better than me.





shinzen 1
2. Shinzen shiki (神前式/ style) :  This is the traditional wedding for most of Japanese people and is original style from Japan. You get married at a shrine but recently hotels and wedding halls have a shrine so that more people can get married without waiting so long.

Waiting? Yes, a few friends of mine needed to wait nearly a year to have a ceremony because the places were fully booked.

Shinzen style wedding is an intimate wedding and only the family can attend the ceremony. Both the bride and the groom wear Kimono in principle.  




The process of the Shinzen shiki is,

  • Sanshin (参進): The couple walks to the shrined led by the Shinto priest and Miko (巫女/ schrine maiden). The musicians follow them playing the ancient court music, gagaku (雅楽). 
  • Toyosaka no mai (豊栄舞): Otome no mai (乙女舞) is another name. The dancer dances with a seasonal flower or a sakaki plant (榊) in her hand. This dance is to show the appreciation to every spirits that protect us.
  • Sankon no gi (三献の儀): Commonly called sansankudo (三三九度). This ceremony came from the etiquette among samurai families and later started to introduce for the wedding ceremony to build a strong bond between the new husband and wife to be. The reason for this ceremony is called sansankudo is, the couple has to drink three sakazuki (杯/ cup). Each cup has to be share three times. The first cup, the groom takes first, then the bride and comes back to the groom. The second cup starts with the bride then comes back to the bride. The third one starts with the groom again. At the end the couple had sake nine times between two. 
  • Seishisojo (誓詞奏上): The couple reads the oath in front of the shrine priest.
  • Tamagushi hairei (玉串拝礼): Offering the sacred plant (tamagushi) to the god.
  • Ring exchange
  • Shinzoku-hai (親族杯): The two families exchange the sake cup between them to celebrate the new family bond.
  • Taige (退下): The wedding ceremony is done. Every one leaves the shrine.  





The kimono the bride wears is called shiromuku (白無垢). Shiro means white and muku means purity. This is exactly the same the bride wear pure white dress that is the symbol of virginity.

The big white hat is wataboshi (綿帽子). This hat is designed to cover Bunkin-takashimada (文金高島田), the special hairstyle for the wedding, which becomes very high. Also it comes from the old tradtion that the bride shouldn´t show her face to other people than her husband to be. 





3. Butsuzen shiki (仏前式/ Buddhism style): The couple exchanges wedding vows in front of the Buddhist priest. This is exactly the same as Christian way but in the Buddhist temple. Traditionally only Buddhist couples were allowed to do this.

Nowadays not many young couples choose Butsuzen shiki as not many people follow Buddhism as before. 

The style is very similar to Shinzen style but it´s held in the Buddhist temple or the house. The couple wears kimono but recently some people wear wedding dress instead. 



butsuzen 2
The difference between Butsuzen and Shinzen is, the couple is given by the priest nenju (念珠/ Buddhist rosary), with the white tassel is to the broom and with the red is to the bride. 

You can only put your left hand in the nenju and put the right hand together with the left hand. If you have a chance to see the ceremony, check it.

After that, the priest purifies both the groom and the bride with the incense. 

Then the couple exchange the sake cup as well as the Shinzen style wedding. At the end, the priest makes a wedding speech to conglatulate the new husband and the wife.






4. Jinzen shiki (人前式): This is a non-religious style of wedding. All the guests who come to the ceremony is the witness. There are no rules and the whole ceremony is arranged by the couple´s choice. At the moment this is less common in Japan but the couples who have chosen this style seem all to be happy about it.





Another wedding kimono, which is also common for the bride is Hiki Furisode (引き振り袖). Traditionally it´s black and has gorgeous patterns on it. Hiki Furisode is the longest sleeved kimono that the women can wear and the word hiki comes from to drag. The sleeve is so long that the women nearly drag them. 

I wore it for my seijin-shiki, the coming of age day. All day I had to walk lifting the sleeves and even that I was told by people passed by that I was dragging the sleeves. Or sometimes an elder women came running to save my kimono sleeves. 

The hat she is wearing is Tsunokakushi (角隠し). Unlike wataboushi, it´s put on the Japanese style hair instead of covering it.  

This Hiki Furisode was used to be a samurai family´s wedding dress. Actually this kimono has an older history than Shiromuku. I personally like this style. What´s your choice?




Copyright: Nao Aoki


Some couples choose to have two kinds of wedding style. Like this couple. They had both Christian style and Butsuzen shiki because of the family´s preference.


Any style of wedding you choose, the most important thing is you are happy to have the wedding with your loved one. 







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  1. Mauro 8 years Reply

    Hi i read your post and it’s reall interesting and well done, compliment 🙂

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