Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Japanese Wedding: The Ceremony

In October, I was invited to a traditional Japanese wedding IN TOKYO!!  It was my host mother's daughter who was getting married.  They came to my wedding about 4 years ago, but regardless, I couldn't pass up such a rare opportunity...and apparently, neither could my parents.

I've noticed that there is a significant lack of information about a traditional Japanese wedding.  It was indeed difficult to piece together the information that I'm about to provide for you, let alone obtaining some good quality pictures.  And since I am a Japanese language teacher, I kind of feel that I should be posting about such things for the internet.

I say rare because according to the bride, her friends were also impressed with the fact that she is doing a traditional style one as it has become very rare.  Most Japanese people these days tend to choose a Western Christian style wedding as opposed to a Shinto style wedding.

Japanese people tend to choose Shinto ceremonies for happy occasions because according to Buddhists, they believe that life is suffering and therefore Buddhist ceremonies are restricted to sad occasions.  Couples will usually choose an auspicious day where the almanac indicates the day is taian.


I guess the first thing people get stressed out about when they got invited to a wedding is "what to wear".  Luckily, the Japanese are notorious for rules, customs and norms which they're not shy about letting people know.  So, some of the things you should know when choosing your attire:

 Typical dress code for the guests:
  • Men:
    • dark suit
    • silver or ivory tie (black ties are for funerals!)
  • Women:
    • formal dress - can be black, but do accent it with a bit of bright colours so as to not appear you're going to a funeral.
    • kimono (but not the tomosode, those are for mothers and relatives!)
    • suits
  • Children
    • can wear anything that is appropriate for the occasion
A group photo of some of the bride and groom's guests, 
showing some typical wedding reception attire of the guests


We all got dressed and headed to the venue by taxi (paid for by the bride's mother!!).  First, we were in the lobby waiting around.  So, we did what most people would do and take photos of and with people.  I know, very lame.  Then, we were escorted to a small waiting room where we were given refreshments while we wait for the bride to appear.  The groom's guests are placed in a separate room.

This is sakura no yu, which is just preserved cherry blossom flowers in hot water.
It is meant for enjoying the aroma.  There is not much flavour in it except maybe salty.

About the mother's costume:
  • Mother's of the bride and the groom will wear a type of kimono called a kuro-tomesode.
  • A kuro-tomesode is made of very fine silk and of very fine craftsmanship.
    • It has the characteristic of a black background and embroidery or dyed patterns of only a few colours restricted to below the waistline.
    • There are also 3 to 5 kamon, family crests, printed on both the sleeves, both sides of the chest, and the back.
    • This is the utmost formal type of kimono to wear to a joyous occasion.
Relatives may wear a type of kimono called an iro-tomesode.  It is the same idea as the kuro-tomesode, except that the background is not black but can be of different colours.

 The bride comes out about 5 minutes prior to the ceremony to greet her family, relatives and friends.
Also, to take some photos.
You can see the mother of the bride wearing a kuro-tomesode.

A bit about the bride's costume:
  • She wears a pure white, silk kimono called a shiromuku.  It is unembroider, and has no embellishments.  Shiro meaning "white", and muku meaning "pure".  So the meaning behind this piece is very similar to a Western bridal gown.
  • Over top, she wears an overcoat called an uchikake.  It is a coat of heavy brocade silk.  This coat can have light embroidery and embellishments.  The uchikake is long and will drag on the floor, therefore, the bride much hold up the coat so as to not dirty it.
  • On her head, she wears a veil called tsunokakushi.  Tsuno meaning "horns", and kakushi means "to hide".  What horns is she hiding??  Well, they are figurative horns of jealousy, anger and other undesirable traits.  She hides them symbolizing that she will enter into this marriage with only positive traits for a new beginning.  To me, the veil sorta looks like a fortune cookie.
  • A set like this can often be rented.

A close up of the tsunokakushi and the bride's makeup 

The groom also wears a kimono, but the colours are more subdued.  Usually, darker colours are chosen for men's formal kimonos.  He also wears a pair of pants called hakama.  It is pleated and could be divided to have legs, or undivided.  His kimono gets folded up and held up by an obi waist sash and then everything gets tucked into the hakama.  The hakama is a symbol of faithfulness and reliability.  I am still unsure why a pair of pants can hold such meaning.

Over top, the groom wears a haori overcoat, with his family crests showing.

I also managed to get a photo of the groom before being shuffled off to the ceremonial shrine. 

There are no photos allowed in the ceremonial shrine.  Only the photographer is allowed to take photos.  These are courtesy of the bride.

We all come in and are seated, bride's side and groom's side.  With family at the very front, and of course parents at the very front (I would suppose grandparents be at the very front, but there are none present at this wedding), siblings next with their spouses and children next to them, uncles, aunts, etcetera to follow.  Only family, relatives and very very close friends will attend the ceremony.

Once the strange traditional music starts to play, the procession begins.  The music sounds so strange to a foreigner's ear that I could barely keep myself from laughing out loud.  It didn't help that the musician playing the instruments were blowing with all they've got, like someone who's playing the bagpipes, it was a hilarious look too.  Later, I found out that the mother of the bride felt the same way.

This was from a different wedding that I happened to come across at Togu Shrine in Harajuku,
but you can hear the type of music that is being played for the procession.

A glimpse into the ceremonial shrine 

Wall decor

During the ceremony, the priest will doing some chanting and wave the sakaki twigs around while the bride and groom sit in the middle.  After the chanting is done, there is a sake ceremony which they call san-san-ku-do, which means 3x3=9 ceremony.  Whoa!  There's math at a wedding??  Sorta, but it's all in the meaning.  During the sake ceremony, 3 cups, called sakazuki, are used.  Long ago, sake is used as a way to bring people and the gods together.  So, they would never drink alone but always with people.  The number 3 is an indivisible number and is considered sacred, 9 is really just triple the happiness. The bride and groom take turns taking three sips each of three different cups of sake, each one larger than the next.  They do not "shoot" the sake but rather tilting the cup up very gradually and sipping lightly.  The sake may not be all that delicious, and so this also symbolizes that they will encounter hardships together and will have to overcome it together.  By exchanging these nuptial cups, they are pronounced man and wife.

 Sakaki twigs.  
These are considered sacred trees and will be offered to the gods during the ceremony.

The sake pot 

 
The san-san-ku-do
Miko are presenting the nuptial cups of sake

During the ceremony, there is also an oath to be read for the gods.  I'm not sure about the contents of the oath as my Japanese are not at that level yet.  There is also a Western element incorporated into the Shinto ceremony and that is they have the opportunity to exchange wedding rings.

 Reading an oath to the gods

After all the necessities are done.  Those who are in attendance are served sake and we drank to symbolize that both sides of the family's friendship too are united.

Afterwards, introductions of each one in attendance are done.  Each of us had the opportunity to say a short greeting and a congratulatory word for the newly weds.

For the recessional, the bride and groom leaves first, with strange music accompanying them.

The recessional

Picture time!

The wedding took place at Chinsanzo of the Four Seasons Hotel.  It has a magnificent garden.


The bride and groom came up to the terrace to take photos with all the guests (including those who were only invited to the reception).  Noticed that the bride's veil has now been removed.

 The bride's tsunokakushi veil has been removed.
She is also holding her uchikake and kimono up so it does not drag.

The bride also has an elaborate hairdo (wig) adorned with many expensive, golden and jewelled hair combs which they call kanzashi.  I saw in Asakusa at one of the souvenir stores which also sells yukata (cotton kimono) that one of these wigs without the hair combs costs 240,000 yen!!

Bride's hair with kanzashi hair combs


Once everyone is done taking photos, we were escorted to another waiting room to be let into the reception hall.  But more on that later!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this information on Japanese wedding. Couple of weeks ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding which was arranged at one of exotic Chicago wedding venues. They made amazing decorations and lovely arrangements for this wedding and I really liked it very much.

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