One of the most awe-inspiring sights in Japan is a traditional Japanese wedding procession. When you visit Japan, you may be lucky enough to encounter one at a shrine or under the cherry blossoms in the spring. Understanding a Japanese traditional wedding involves knowing a little about the way couples meet, what the ceremony is like and how the Shinto religion and rituals figure in.
You may remember hearing about arranged marriages in Japan, which was the traditional way couples used to meet and marry, especially farmers. Today, only about 10% of marriages are arranged. It's rumored that sometimes arrangements are made because the mothers of unmarried sons and daughters who are approaching 30 years old are eager to "launch" their offspring. Perhaps they're thinking that if the kids haven't found a suitable mate by that time, maybe they need help. However, the overwhelming majority of modern couples find their own potential mates and marry by choice.
Whether the couple has an arranged or a love match, and whether or not they are religious, most marriages take place in a Shinto shrine following the rituals of Japan's ancient, indigenous religion. In modern times, the hotel where the reception is held may also be the location of the wedding ceremony. Whether it's held at a shrine or a hotel, the wedding commonly is performed by a Shinto priest and includes specific ceremonies. Only close relatives and friends of the couple attend the wedding and all are dressed in formal kimono.
During the party that follows the ceremony, the newlyweds have opportunities to greet their guests and eat a meal as a group, while attending to speakers and performers. The bride and groom may change clothes several times during the party. At the end, they thank the guests for coming.
The newlyweds present gifts to those who attend the reception after the ceremony to thank them for coming. Some hosts provide silverware or pricey desserts. Lately, couples have offered a catalog of gifts to choose from, such as meat, fish, personal accessories, and even common household supplies such as plastic wrap.
Wedding guests give money in special fancy envelopes rather than wrapped presents. The equivalent of $300 in Japanese yen is an average gift. The couple's employers generally give larger gifts, though. The total amount of money of the gift should not be evenly divisible by two, so 20,000 yen would not be an appropriate gift, because that could suggest that if the money can be divided in two easily, then the unified couple may also be divided into two. As a side note, Nagoya, Japan is reputed to have the most grandiose and costly weddings. Most likely, gifts would be expected to be proportionately larger in Nagoya.
Understanding a little about Shintoism will fill in some of the gaps in understanding traditional Japanese weddings. Shinto is the Japanese traditional religion that is native to Japan. Shinto rituals, which have been around for a very long time, were first documented in the 8th Century. At that time it was recognized as a set of beliefs rather than a religion.
My favorite festivals are the spring cherry blossom festivals. While cherry blossom festivals are held in Washington, DC and San Francisco and other U.S. cities, the festivals are different in Japan. They occur in multiple cities all over the country, so no matter where you are in Japan during April, you'll likely encounter one.
Cherry festivals in Kyoto are later than in other cities, and arguably among the most beautiful. Platoons of gorgeous, fragrant trees stand watch along canals, temples and gardens. There are several well-known Kyoto cherry blossom festivals at parks, canals and gardens.
Entrance to most sites, such as the popular one at Maruyama Park near Yasaka Shrine that takes place in early April, are free. Families have picnics on cloths under the blooming cherry trees amid food stands. After dark the trees are lit.
Another festival that has free admission on the Okazaki Canal during the same time period, also offers popular boat rides down the canal. That site is outside the Heian Shrine.
A ride on the Karsuma subway with a stop at Kitayama station and a modest entry fee will get you into the beautiful Kyoto Botanical Garden. There are flowering bushes, flowers and a small group of Yoshino cherry trees with late-blooming five-petal blossoms. Trees are lit up every evening during the height of the season.
Since many cherry blossom forests are located near shrines, it's helpful to know the proper way to visit a Shinto shrine with a Torii gate serving as the grand entryway. One example is the famous Fushimi Inari shrine at Kyoto honoring rice and foxes, which has many Torii gates leading to walking paths.
You can walk around and enjoy the serene gardens. You may feel as I have, that you are experiencing a beautiful part of Japan's living history.Previous: Rabbit Island