Like so many cultures in the twenty-first century, Japanese weddings are a combination of traditions from the east and the west.
In the old days, the Japanese woman would remain at home and the husband would work. Today, Japanese women work and have rebelled against traditional women’s roles. They have careers, discretionary income, and lifestyles that center around their friends. This change in roles has also influenced how marriages are celebrated in Japan.
Marriages fall into two categories: miai, which is an arranged marriage, or ren’ai, which is a joint decision to marry by the principals involved. Most weddings today are a combination of traditional Shinto and modern Western style ceremonies. A couple may chose to have either a Shinto or Western ceremony, a combination of the two, or one of each. The ceremony is followed by a reception where a meal is served.
A Shinto ceremony is a religious affair facilitated by a Shinto priest and is only attended by close family members. In the most traditional of ceremonies, the bride is painted white to symbolize purity and virginity. The bride may wear one of two types of head gear: a white and silk headdress symbolizing purity called a watabōshi or a rectangular piece of cloth that covers the top of the brides head called a tsunokakushi. Traditionally the tsunokakushi is worn to cover the bride’s horns of jealousy and to demonstrate her willingness to be an obedient wife. Needless to say, the modern Japanese woman does not necessarily agree with this symbolism today.
The western style wedding has become the norm in Japan and is often held in Christian chapels. This choice of a Christian styled wedding has no religious connotations whatsoever, but is simply a fashion choice. Patterned after the west, there is a wedding rehearsal, the wedding processional, the father symbolically giving away the bride, the bride’s father and groom bow to each other, and then the wedding ceremony starts. It is typically a relaxed protestant ceremony, frequently utilizing the “love” chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians 13. This is followed by the exchanging of vows and rings, the wedding kiss, the announcement of the couple, a closing hymn, and the recessional.
Like western traditions, a reception is held immediately following the wedding ceremony. There is the traditional tiered wedding cake, a lengthy photo session, speeches, dancing, and champagne. Friends, family and work associates are invited to the reception and it usually lasts exactly two hours. One favored ritual is for a cloud of smoke to appear at the beginning of the reception, and from this cloud the bridal couple makes their entrance to the reception. One of the differences from traditional western receptions, is that the bride will change her outfit several times and make dramatic entrances to the reception after each change of attire. After the last outfit change, the couple will light a candle from their parents table and then go to each guests’ tables and light their candles. After all of the candles are lit at the guests’ tables, the couple will return and light their Memorial Candle. A few toasts are made, the couple presents flowers to their parents, brief farewells, and the reception is over at the exact two hour mark.