Home > Kyoto This Month > The Japanese Style Wedding

The Japanese Style Wedding
Celebrate the Most Wonderful Day of Your Life
at a Japanese Shrine

A wedding is one of the most memorable and precious days of someone's life. At the same time, a wedding is an event which strongly reflects tradition or culture. In Japan, the typical style of wedding is called Shin-zen Kekkon (wedding in front of the Deity). Japanese weddings are unique and can be very elaborate. Learn about the Japanese wedding through the eyes of a foreign bride and groom.

A Couple who Had a Japanese Style Wedding in Kyoto
A truly wonderful and perfect Shinto shrine wedding in Kibune

Kara Rasmanis and Shane Furgason, both from Australia, were fascinated with the beauty of Japanese culture and felt they wanted to have their special day in Kyoto. They had their wedding ceremony at Kibune Shrine on the May 16th.

Almost 12 months ago we thought 'Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a wedding in a beautiful shrine in Japan' little did we know that it would take a lot of help from some very special people to make it actually happen.

We are an Australian couple. Myself (Kara) and Shane on the 16th of May 2008 had the most magical and perfect day of our lives at our wedding in Kibune Shrine and this is the story of our journey...

I had been to Japan before and loved the culture and people so much that we were planning a holiday to Japan some time and thought we would look into the possibility of getting married there as well. We started by searching for information on the internet and found that there where two parts, a ceremony and the legal paperwork.

The ceremony, although not legally recognized, was the most important part of the marriage for us. We had read a lot about Shintoism and Shinto wedding ceremonies and really felt a strong connection with the beliefs and the elements that make up a Shinto wedding ceremony. Our ideal ceremony was to be in a small shrine in the mountains because both of our backgrounds had been growing up around the mountains in Australia. We searched the web in great detail for any information about foreigners getting married in Japan and found bits and pieces about couples having ceremonies in big hotels but very little about any in shrines. We posted questions on a few forums and got replies of it being too hard for two foreigners to get married in Japan both legally and ceremonially. At this point we knew we needed somebody's help in Japan.

By chance at this time I met a new work colleague who had been living in Japan for 8 years and I happened to make a comment to her about how we wanted to get married in Japan and asked if she knew anyone who could help. She did, and that is how we were introduced to Aya. From this point everything seemed to just fall into place and it was as if it all was meant to be.

We arrived in Kyoto a week before the wedding confident that Aya had everything planned and had many appointments to meet various parties. On the first day we finally got to see our beautiful shrine. Though the shrine priest spoke little English, we managed to communicate how important we were taking the ceremony and how honored we were that he would allow us to be married at the Kibune Shrine. It wasn't until we went to Kibune that we saw how truly wonderful and perfect it was. It really is serene and picturesque and exceeded all of our expectations and we felt it was the perfect place for our wedding.

Finally on the May 16th, on a beautiful day, we had our wedding. The ceremony was truly beautiful and as we sat hearing the words to the god and being surrounded by our loved ones it sent shivers down our spines. As the ceremony progressed we were given offerings to drink sake in the traditional ceremonial way and our parents were also invited to drink sake. We had included the exchanging of our rings in the ceremony and then for a final blessing, the head priest spoke the most beautiful words about our union and how happy they were we chose their shrine. He gave us his blessing for our marriage and said how the perfect weather was truly a blessing from the god.

After the ceremony, we made our way to one of the traditional Japanese restaurants near the shrine for our wedding dinner which was a riverbed meal, a specialty for that area. We had a stunning meal of locally caught fish and it was a feast to be remembered by everyone. Then we were lucky enough to stay the night at a beautiful ryokan next to the restaurant. The room was wonderful with stunning views of the river and the surrounding mountains.

For all of our planning, emails and internet photos the whole experience surpassed all of our expectations and really made for the most wonderful day of our lives. Without the help from our friend Aya none of this would have been possible. She showed us how wonderful and kind Japanese people are and how unique the Japanese culture is.

Words really cannot express our feelings enough about the whole experience. And Japan, especially Kibune will hold a special place in our hearts forever.

Kara Rasmanis and Shane Ferguson.

Japanese Wedding History
The origin of the Japanese wedding dates back to ancient times. Both the Kojiki, Japan's oldest historical record (written in 712), and the Nihon Shoki (written in 720) include references to Japanese weddings.

The Japanese wedding process we know today developed in stages. In the Heian period (794-1185), the husband would visit his future wife's house for three nights in a row and on the third night a big party was held which functioned as the wedding. In those days, the general public wore simple white or black kimono. Only the imperial family wore gorgeous and colorful kimono for the wedding ceremony.

In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), people started to wear white kimono as the most sacred piece of clothing in the wedding. This is the origin of beautiful, pure white wedding kimono called shiro muku (pure white) that people wear today. In the Edo period (1600-1868), the wedding for the common people involved inviting family members and close relatives to the groom's house for a party. Around this time, in addition to the white kimono for the ceremony, the bride started to wear gorgeous lavishly embroidered kimono which indicated the power and social rank of the bride's family.

What is known as the 'typical' Shinto style wedding developed in the Meiji period (1868-1912). The son of Emperor Meiji (later Emperor Taisho) had this style of wedding and it quickly became popular all over Japan.

The Process of a Typical Shinto Wedding Ceremony
1) Enter the shrine hall
The couple, baishakunin attendance, parents and family, relatives and friends enter the hall in order. The bride and her people sit on the right side and the groom and his people sit on the left side.

2) Shubatsu
Everyone stands up and makes a sacred vow to the shrine deity. Then, a shrine priest purifies everyone.

3) Norito
A shrine priest reads a sacred prayer to inform the shrine deity that the couple has just been married.

4) San San Ku Do
San San Ku Do involves sipping sake from a sake cup. Shrine maiden first serve sake to the bride and groom and they sip the sake three times. The size of cup is different each time. For the first cup, the groom sips first and then the bride and the groom again. For the second cup, the bride sips first, the groom second, and the bride third. For the third cup, the order is the same as the first cup. Altogether, they sip sake nine times. This process is believed to strengthen the relationship between the bride and groom.

5) Seishi
The bride and groom stand in front of the shrine deity and read a prayer together.

6) Exchange of rings
The groom gives a ring to the bride and then, the bride gives a ring to the groom.

7) Tamagushi Hoten
Tamagushi is a branch of sakaki tree which is symbolic of sacred offerings to the Gods. First the couple vow to the deity twice, then clap with two hands, and vow again. The first two vows are to show respect to the deity. The meeting of the two hands when clapping symbolize their connection with the deity. The last vow shows gratefulness to the deity. After this, the bride and groom offer the Tamagushi to the deity.

8) Shinzoku Hai no Gi
After Tamagushi Hoten, shrine maiden serve sacred sake to the family members of the bride and groom. To drink sake together, and wish the couple a good long relationship.

9) Words from the shrine priest and exiting from the hall
At the end, the shrine priest says a short speech for the bride and groom to celebrate their happy and fortunate future. Then, everyone exits from the hall.

Japan's Gorgeous Wedding Kimono
The traditional white Japanese wedding kimono is called shiro-muku in Japanese: Shiro meaning white and muku meaning pure. It is only one of several different kimono used during the wedding and reception. The white wedding kimono is worn for the wedding ceremony. During the reception, an elaborate richly patterned silk brocade kimono called an uchikake is worn over the white kimono.

The uchikake kimono originated in the Edo period (1600-1868) and was primarily reserved for court nobles, as an indication of rank. As their color and style indicated social rank, uchikake came to be seen as a status symbol. Over time, ordinary people adopted uchikake as a wedding costume as a way for her family to show off its wealth and taste.

Uchikake kimono are made of silk over which is woven an elaborate silk brocade of rich embroidered patterns and scenes of flowers, cranes, pines, flower carts and other auspicious nature motifs. The wedding day will be the last time the bride will wear such a rich highly patterned kimono, since they can only be worn by unmarried women. Red is the most popular uchikake kimono color, but they are available in many other colors ranging from imperial purple to sea green.

The uchikake material is made with a special weaving technique known as kara ori or nishiki ori. This unique weaving tradition creates a three-dimensional richness that is considered one of the most amazing textile art forms in the world. Kyoto's Nishijin textile area is the Japanese center for kara ori weaving which developed in the 16th century. These types of kimono are very expensive and today are often rented. A kimono-weaving document from the 17th century stated that it took 70 days to finish the kara ori weaving for a section that is 1m 20 cm long, and 30cm wide.

Photos courtesy of Kara Burns: www.karaburns.com