Many foreigners always regard Japan as a mysterious land of the Orient as characters like ninjas and samurais which are popularly featured in Japanese movies are viewed as novel by them. You might expect Japanese weddings to be all things traditional, and indeed, some Japanese hold their wedding ceremonies at Shinto shrines, wanting to pay homage to their roots. However, most Japanese people actually organize Western-style weddings as they are fascinated by Western culture. Here are some ten interesting characteristics that would surprise you about a Japanese Western-style wedding.
Christians may only make up 1% of Japan’s population, but many Japanese people who hanker after a church wedding will choose to hold their wedding at a wedding house that provides a comprehensive range of facilities, including a made-up chapel. This enables many women to achieve their lifelong dream of being walked down the aisle at a gorgeous chapel, basking in the admiration of beloved friends and family. Although Western weddings require the officiating priest to be ordained, no such requirement exists in Japan. This means that Caucasian men can earn a healthy side income playing the role of a priest, even if they are not ordained! Some other couples skip this religious aspect of Christianity; they simply get married in front of their loved ones by signing their intention to be joined in union on a certificate.
Given how passionate Japanese people are about their cuisine, it is perhaps surprising that Western-style weddings don’t serve up traditional Japanese dishes. However, when we think about how Japanese people typically pay an exorbitant ¥30,000 (USD$250) to attend a wedding, we can empathize with their desire to delight their taste buds with something more exotic. Serving delicious foreign cuisine will up the cool factor of a wedding, evoking stylish vibes that will greatly help everyone to relax and enjoy the wedding. However, even though Japanese cuisine is not served, many wedding houses demonstrate their support for local farmers by using homegrown ingredients. Thus, not only do the dishes look pleasant to the eye and taste fabulous, but they also stimulate the local economy.
The line between personal life and professional life is blurred in Japan, and indeed many Japanese people like to go out for drinks and karaoke with their colleagues – after a long day of work. It is no wonder that the workplace features prominently in a Japanese wedding. Two speakers – one each from the groom’s company and the wife’s workplace respectively – will be invited to kick-start the celebrations with rousing congratulatory speeches to the happy couple. Also, in a practice that illustrates the Japanese’s “power distance” culture, the groom and bride have to think carefully about asking two of their co-workers who have attained similar positions of status in society. Getting one speaker who obviously holds a more senior position than the other will reflect a sense of “power imbalance” between the groom’s and bride’s families. Causing one family to lose face will not bode well for the newly-wed couple.
"Kampai" (Toasting) Speech
Aside from congratulatory speeches, a “kampai” (toasting) speech will be given as a means to give thanks to the guests for gracing the occasion and announce the start of the festivities. Someone, typically the groom’s superior will be entrusted to do this ceremonial, yet important task. This designated “cheers” leader will first say a few words to convey best wishes to the couple before leading the crowd to shout out “Kampai!” (Bottoms up!). Everyone will then clink their glasses together and proceed on to have a jolly good time. Incidentally, this chorus of “Kampai!” may come as a relief to some guests who have been controlling their urge to steal a sip, for no one touches their champagne before the “Kampai!”
Champagne is also used at other times of the wedding. Japanese people are adept at “borrowing” customs from the West and infusing them with an innovative touch to make them uniquely Japanese. The long-lasting tradition of popping and pouring champagne at Western weddings is no exception; Japanese couples take this tradition to dazzling heights (literally!) by adding liquid sensors into the ice put inside the glasses. Then, as they pour the champagne, the “lit-up” glasses will electrify the room and wow their guests.
Dancing is gaining in popularity at Japanese weddings—but you won’t see a dance from the couple themselves. It is not common for the bride and groom to enjoy their first dance in front of their guests because Japanese people often want to make the reception less about themselves and more about their guests. In fact, this is a basic principle that is seen in how Japanese couples often want to organize their reception in the style of Kyoyukon or Shared Wedding. Thus, Japanese couples often get their friends to perform dance and/or song items and rally everyone else to let go of their inhibitions and just join in the dancing and singing. Think that the Japanese are very serious people? Think again, for it is not entirely uncommon to see men cross dressing as women and dancing up a storm to the tunes of Japanese famous girl bands’ songs!
Bride's Letter to Her Parents
Important events are marked with pomp and ceremony in Japan; what’s more, a life-changing event in which the bride leaves her parents and forges a new life together with her husband must be commemorated in some way. Here, Japanese couples thoughtfully include a segment in which the bride reads aloud her thank-you letter to her parents, often dabbling her tears in the process. And no wonder. It is a sentimental letter that conveys her gratitude to her parents for raising her and her desire to stay filial to them. It is most assuredly one of the most heartwarming moments at a Japanese wedding.
Gifts for Guests
Since each guest pays about ¥30,000 for the wedding, it is customary for Japanese couples to prepare gifts for their guests as a reciprocal gesture. Of course, wedding souvenirs are notorious for being impractical, so the norm is to present guests with a catalogue of gifts, in which they can leaf through the pages and indicate what they want to the gift catalogue company. This company will ensure that the chosen gifts get delivered to the guests, thus enabling them to gain satisfaction from their wedding souvenirs. What’s more, since eating is a huge deal in Japan, you can be sure that wedding guests will walk away from the wedding with a box of intricately designed and delicious snacks – so nice that they can’t bear to eat them!
Families Seated Near the Door
When you step into the wedding reception hall, you may be astonished to find that the families are seated at the back near the door rather than the prime spots near the couple’s table. Why not enjoy their time in the limelight? You may ask. After all, it is not every day that a beloved family member gets married. On the contrary, since Japan is a group-oriented society, it is very important for family members to extend their fullest hospitality and ensure that their guests enjoy themselves thoroughly. Hence, the reason why the families are seated strategically near the door is to quickly allow them to take their positions near the door once the wedding ends so that they can thank each and every guest sincerely for coming.
Wedding receptions may typically last for only two hours, but the party certainly doesn’t end there. Japanese couples like to organize a second party after the reception as a way to let loose and hang out in a relaxed manner with close friends. After all, one has to mind his Ps and Qs during the wedding because of the presence of elderly relatives. These parties are held at bars or karaoke outlets, where the newly-wed couple mingles freely and rejoices in the happiest moment of their lives with friends over a free flow of beer and finger food.
Keen to attend a Japanese wedding after reading this article? I certainly hope that this article will enable you to observe prevalent Japanese customs as well as spot the finer details Japanese couples seamlessly add into their weddings!