If you're planning a wedding or you're going to be a guest at a Japanese wedding, I hope this basic rundown will help!
Within the basic structure, of course, you can add options to your heart’s content. There are certain events that might seem unnecessary, but be warned, your Japanese guests and family might be disappointed if you leave them out, so it’s important to discuss the schedule with your Japanese spouse, with an open mind.
|Getting ready for the big moment|
First you have the “kekkon shiki”, the wedding ceremony, which can be Shinto or Christian or “Civil” style. About 20 minutes before the actual ceremony, you’ll do a quick walk-through / rehearsal. Don’t worry if you don’t remember what to do – you’ll have wedding staff to guide you through the actual event. We had a “Christian” service, which is probably the most common, though Civil services are gaining in popularity. The Christian service has a ‘priest’ – often a male English teacher doing it for extra cash on the weekends. I don’t know why, but I found the idea of a dodgy priest mixing English and mangled Japanese, unappealing. I’m sure they’re nice guys, but I wanted my ‘fake’ priest to seem slightly believable, so I requested “an older, dignified-looking Japanese man.” I’m sure my wedding planner thought I was mad, but if I was going to pay for an actor, I wanted a hand in the casting.
|Choose your "priest" wisely.|
If you want a real Christian service, there are some beautiful real churches around Tokyo, and they tend to be quite easy going – ie, you don’t need to be a member of the congregation. I saw a beautiful service in St Mary’s Cathedral (Catholic), which was designed by Kenzo Tange. In Harajuku, there’s “Harajuku Church” which looks cool and futuristic. Tokyo Union Church is also conveniently located on Omotesando Dori. Karuizawa and Yokohama also have a lot of beautiful churches, from the quaint wooden charms of St Paul’s Karuizawa to the spectacular natural stone of Kendrick Kellog’s Stone Church, also in Karuizawa.
|St Mary's Cathedral in Mejiro|
|The Stone Church in Karuizawa|
If you’re in a hotel or wedding centre, just before the service, the couple and their families head to the photo studio for some group shots, while the guests take their seats.
The pretend Christian service follows the basic formula of a real service. The cost of the chapel includes ‘priest’ and a small chorus who doubled as chapel assistants / sacristans in surplice style robes and strange hats. They sang beautifully, though! The chapel typically costs around $1,500 to $3,000 which will be in your ‘package’.
There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen. The groom usually walks down the aisle alone and stands at the front. I’ve seen some weddings here where the groom walks with his mother or another relative, or the bride & groom walk down together – since it’s not a ‘real’ ceremony, you can be flexible. It’s become a recent trend for the bride’s mother to put her veil down as a last gesture before her little girl (sob) moves on to her new life. They call it “veil down” and then “veil up”. Very practical katakana English. Usually, the bride and her father walk down the “Virgin Road”. I don’t know why they call it that, especially given the high number of “double happiness” weddings there are here.
|I haven't seen "Killer Virgin Road", but now I'm curious!|
There is usually a reading from Corinthians and a hymn – either The Lord’s My Shepherd or What a Friend we have in Jesus, in Japanese. Rings are exchanged, the couples say their vows – which is basically just “I do” – you don’t need to memorise any “I xxx take thee, xxx in sickness and in health” type things. A prayer is said and a certificate is signed, which has no legal meaning, the veil lifted, the bride is kissed and you’re done!
Optional extras (which will cost you) include musicians – trumpets, violins etc or gospel singers. If you want to toss the bouquet, you don’t actually toss the bride’s bouquet (which costs around $150 - $300); you toss a ‘stunt’ bouquet – a smaller one in the same colours called a “toss bouquet”, which costs around $50. The “Flower Shower” of rose petals – usually paper, rather than real petals – about $5 per guest – is very popular, or you can have bubbles or release balloons.
A Shinto service is usually restricted to family and select friends, plus the official go-betweens, “nakoudo” – traditionally a couple who introduced the bride and groom, but more recently a senior or respected person – eg the boss and his wife. There are offerings made and sake shared. Again, you will be guided through the whole process.
|Getting ready for a Shinto ceremony at Hachimangu in Kamakura. You can see big bottles of sake.|
The third ceremony type, increasingly popular among young couples, is the “civil” style, which is held in a chapel or a room arranged in a similar style to a chapel. There’s usually a kind of MC to lead the service (which can be a friend), and the couple write and say their own vows. There aren’t any prayers, but one of the couple’s friends might read a poem or play music.
After, the couple is whisked off to get make-up touch ups / have a drink / go to the loo etc while the guests mill around in the lobby of the function room, having their “welcome drinks” and signing in. At this stage, guests give their gift money “goshugi” in a special envelope called a shugi bukuro, sign the guest book and get their seating plan. A lot of people don’t know each other, so it’s common to decorate the reception area with pictures of the couple and / or their friends and have something to sign. Some people have “Message Bears” – white fabric bears in bride and groom costumes, which guests can sign (which cost stupid amounts of money), or sakura shaped cards which can make a tree of messages, or a bottle of champagne that can be signed and then opened by the couple on their anniversary, etc. It’s also common to include a profile of the couple with the seating chart – education, hobbies, nickname and blood type are all included. Having been to a few weddings where I didn’t know anyone apart from the bride, it was good to have something to read / do and it made making small talk much easier.
|"Message bears" which can cost around $80 to $120 for the pair|
|How about Miffy's Shinto wedding?|
The families of the bride and groom usually have a separate family room each, which they can use before and after the service and party. It’s a good place to whisk crying babies or for uncle to have a quick nap. It’s also where the families will possibly meet for the first time, unless they’ve had a traditional engagement meeting. Since my folks flew in from Australia just before the wedding, we had a semi-awkward introduction session with a friend translating. The two families just don’t hang out together so much in Japan, and they don’t do a rehearsal dinner the night before, or bridal shower or any of those get-togethers before the wedding.
Coming up… The Party!