According to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, 607,000 couples got married in Japan in 2017. Adding to this, 4,453 of those weddings were international/foreign couples. This number will continue to rise as long as the numbers of foreigners living in the country goes up. So to those arriving in Japan and wondering how weddings here are done, it can be pretty frightening. Where? How? Wedding planners??
Having a Wedding in Japan as a Foreigner?
First of all, It is really important to say that contrary to other countries (such as European and North Americans for example) in Japan, you do not get officially married on your wedding day. Japanese people often do the ceremony before or after officially getting married at their local government office. Here, you sign a form called “kekkontodoke,” which makes them legally married, and the couples often do this alone without any observers such as friends or family. It is a legal and straightforward act, so we will not talk about how to get married in Japan in this article.
So, what is a Japanese wedding? The first thing we imagine is a traditional wedding: the bride and groom wearing kimono and walking or standing near a shrine. But in reality there are 2 main ways to celebrate a wedding (ceremony & reception or wedding in a country outside of Japan), and at least 4 types of ceremonies:
⦁ 神社挙式・神前式 (jinja kyoushiki/shinzenshiki): The traditional ceremony; the ceremony is performed by a monk in a shrine (or a building connected to the shrine)
⦁ キリスト教式 (kurisuto kyoushiki): The “Christian-style wedding,” which tends to be a “copy” of ceremonies in western countries (a.k.a Christian wedding with a white dress)
⦁ 人前式 (ninzenshiki): The “free-style wedding” is a type of wedding where the bride and the groom create the style of ceremony they prefer with no religious context in it
⦁ 披露宴 (hirouen): The reception wedding; the most recent ceremony style which consists of a ceremony during the reception in front of the guests
Here we will focus more on the main wedding events: the ceremony and reception (although it is important to note that having weddings outside of Japan are becoming more and more popular amongst the younger generations).
The main way to celebrate a wedding is, as mentioned before, a ceremony of your choice with a reception that includes food and entertainment. Weddings in Japan tend to be seen as “extremely short” in comparison to weddings in the west, at an average of 4 hours. This is excluding the after-reception party known as nijikai in Japanese. We will talk more about that later.
Here is an example of what is a typical schedule for planning a wedding is like in Japan ( you can find the original one in Japanese with more detailed information about each step on the official Zexy website).
At least 7 months before:
– Buying an engagement ring
– Have an official meeting with the parents
– Decide which day you will sign the kekkontodoke (the official paper)
– Decide formalities about the 結納 yuinou (which will happen 3-8 months before the wedding.)
– Choose the style of wedding you want / the place where you want to have a ceremony
6-8 months before the wedding :
– Sign the contract with the wedding venue
5-6 months before the wedding :
– Make an official announcement to friends/ coworkers
– Reserve beauty treatments
– Make a guest list
– Take a pre-wedding photoshoot (pictures that will often be used as items for the wedding day)
4 months before the wedding :
– Dress fitting session & deciding wedding dress/kimono ( depending on your type of wedding)
– Do some research about where to hold the nijikai
– Deciding the present you will give your guests (i.e. hikidemono, puchigifuto)
– Choose invitations
– Meet with hairstylist /makeup artist and deciding what you want for your big day
3 months before the wedding :
– Send invitations
– Choose paper items for the wedding such as name tag, table tag…
– Choose entertainment during the wedding
– Reserve the wedding photographer
2 months before the wedding :
– Buy wedding rings
– Reserve location for nijikai/entertainment during the event.
– Reserve hikidemono /puchigifuto…
– Reserve honeymoon
1 month before the wedding :
– Have hair/ make up rehearsal
– Ask friends to make speeches / kanpai during the reception
1-2 weeks before the wedding :
– Write the groom’s speech
– Write the bride’s speech
– Final appointment with the wedding planner.
The Wedding Day
Less than 1 month after the wedding day :
– Write and send thank-you cards to guests
– Send presents to people who could not attend the wedding but send some presents/money
Of course, this is just an example of how things are done here, it does not mean that you will have to follow every step/custom written above. We will talk more about specific Japanese customs later.
The average cost of a ceremony (excluding the honeymoon) is 3,246,000 yen, or about 30,000 US dollars. However, it is important to note that the estimated cost announced during the first meeting can change depending on the options you choose; keeping an eye on what is offered in your estimated cost plan is a must. Moreover, choosing the venue is a huge factor. The same study observed that on average, the final cost goes higher, adding between 500,000 yen to 1,000,000 yen on the first estimated cost they got. (Hanayume research )
Where? How? Wedding Planner?
Have you ever seen an ad for weddings on a train? They are everywhere! Train ads, television commercials, magazines in libraries that are updated monthly, and many other places as well. Information on how to plan a wedding is incredibly accessible in Japan. Although a lot of this information tends to be all in Japanese, some shrines/hotels are developing special wedding services for foreign couples who want to elope here. But those who have a Japanese partner do not have to worry as much, as they will help you understand what is going on.
At first, planning a wedding in Japan seems as hard as learning Japanese, but in reality it is not nearly as difficult. Considering how much help and support the soon-to-be-married couple will get, the first step is to choose where and how you want to elope. You can gather information from websites such as zexy, go to a bridal fair, or simply go to bridal counseling (generally free). Bridal counselors will help you target a type of venue depending on your criteria such as expenses and style, and help make an appointment at a bridal fair at the location of your choice. Those events are for sure the fun part for couples – you can participate as much as you want, it is free, and you can often get to try some food that they would prepare for the reception (note: oftentimes there is no food testing while planning the wedding, but it depends on the place). At the end of the bridal fair, the person who offered you the tour of the venue (the wedding planner) will propose a “wedding package” with a special reduction only available if you sign for them on the day you visited (they will ask you to make the first payment on the same day). It is up to you whether or not you decide to finalize your venue there.
Step two: Planning the wedding itself. It usually takes a minimum of seven months to plan, and it is recommended reserving your wedding venue a maximum of 6 months before your wedding day (but it is possible to plan it in less than 3 months if you are ready to make some concessions, or make plenty of time to attend appointments with your wedding planner). The wedding planner (often the one which gave you the tour) will become your ally until your big day. They will help you plan it, take you to several appointments such as dress fittings, hair appointments, check flowers, etc., as well as respond to your needs and try to assure that the wedding fits in your budget by following the wedding package you chose. The only point you will need to think on your own is about translation of speeches and the like if you so please and have non-Japanese speaking guests.
For the first meeting, your wedding planner will give you a detailed how-to guidebook and a schedule that will include lots of information and questions you will need to respond to in order to help you to make your wedding dream a reality. Although be prepared: in many cases your wedding planner will not be able to speak your language, so you and your loved one must be together during those meetings. Here you can have an example of a detailed schedule of how long and what exactly will happen during each meeting.
Here you can see an example of a typical wedding planning schedule:
NOTE: As for the non-Japanese partner, there are some side jobs that they will have to do in order to ensure that their family/friends can enjoy the wedding like everybody else. They will have to translate menus, invitations, and all the paper items to make it easier to understand for their guests. It is rare that the wedding planner can offer such services, so it is the non-Japanese partner’s responsibility to make sure that everything is easy to understand. Also, he/she will have to think about where their families can stay.
Step 3: Wedding day.
After the ceremony and the main reception, you will have to pay for your wedding. Often Japanese couples use the goshugi they got during the reception. We will talk about this system a little later in the article. Following this is an example of a wedding day schedule:
You will need to keep Japanese customs in mind during a wedding
The importance of following the Rokuyo calendar
You cannot send your invitation or choose your wedding date without wisely deciding the day. The Japanese follow a special calendar called 六曜 (rokuyo). It is a traditional Japanese calendar that lists which days will bring you fortune and conversely, misfortune.
There are 6 types of days, the highest recommended one being the 大安 (taian) day, bringing you luck from the morning until the night. Your wedding planner will generally talk about it during one of your appointments. It is up to you to decide whether or not to follow this rule (but for sure your soon-to-be family-in-law might be really pushy about it), but it is strongly recommended especially for sending invitations.
司会者 Shikaisha: The Master of Ceremonies.
It is common that a side person will act as a “master of ceremonies” in order to make the transitions during the wedding, such as introducing the couple, and others activities that will happen during the reception.
Table Plan: Boss in front of me; Mom in the back?
Another point which can be a little complicated to understand through a foreigner’s point of view is the seating chart during the reception. It is fairly simple and straightforward during the ceremony: family is in the front, ready to take (or not) pictures and enjoy every second of your big moment.
However, this is not the case for the reception. The Japanese custom is that since you are inviting people, you are supposed to put the most honorable guest in front of you. To explain it in a few words: Your boss/school teachers will be in front of you, followed by your coworkers/old classmates/friends/extended family in the middle, and yours and your partner’s families will sit in the back. Since they are your family members, they are not seen as guests but as hosts. It is possible, however, to change the seating chart in the way you prefer after discussions with your loved ones (in that case, you probably shouldn’t invite your boss).
ご祝儀 Goshugi: The Gift Money
Those who have already had the chance to be invited to a Japanese wedding probably already know what goshugi is, but it is an important point to remember for those who also haven’t, because it will surely be useful if you get invited to a wedding. When invited to a wedding, you do not give gifts but instead, you give a certain sum of money. This money should be given in a special envelope called a shugi-bukuro. You can easily get it in Japan (in libraries, stationary stores, or even in 100 yen shops). The amount you are supposed to give depends on your relationship with the bride and groom as well as your status: 10,000 yen if you got invited but could not be there; 30,000 yen if you are a friend and single; 50,000 yen if you come as a couple or are the bride/groom’s boss; and even more if you are a family member (there is no limit)
This gift money is often used to cover the expenses of the wedding or help with the honeymoon.
- Gift system: 引出物 (Hikidemono) (& others)
- Instead of getting presents you are supposed to give some to your guests in order to thank them for their goshugi and their attendance. There are 3 types of presents: 引出物 (Hikidemono, the main present), お菓子(okashi, a sweet), and 縁起物 (engimono, which is supposed to give happiness/luck to the guest). Hikidemono can be anything you want to give as a present to your guest, but often tableware or a selection of magazines gifts (you choose what you want in it and order it by yourself) are common gifts.
- For example, a single man invited to a wedding could get a nice quality beer glass as a hikidemono, a set of mini waffles for the okashi, and a ochazuke set; the sister’s bride and her husband might receive a European brand of tableware, a set of japanese sweets, and some coffee and tea set.
- The couple generally set an amount depending on their relationship with the guest: 5,000 yen for bosses, 7,000 yen for uncles and their wives, 10,000 yen for sisters. When the number of guests is high, the couple may tend to divide the guests into groups and give the same set of presents to each group to help during ordering presents. The wedding planner often takes care of this by introducing some of their gift catalogues, but you can order presents on your own if there is a special item you want to give to your guests. Group A (family members) will all get a set of champagne glasses, a cake, and a set of salts. Group B (coworkers) will get a mini set of towels, with a set of japanese sweets, and a coffee and tea set.
- 二次会 Nijikai, the after-party.
- Since the reception tends to be short, if couples want to keep the fun going they organize a nijikai, a party/reception they will have later in the day, or right after their first reception. Family often doesn’t attend, and in general the couple invites more people, even those who were not invited to the main reception. As it is still a formal reception, the newlyweds usually wear formal clothes: a tuxedo for the husband, and a colorful wedding dress for the wife. Some activities are organized, and little gifts are given to the guests.
Entertainment During the Reception
Contrary to western weddings, everyone tends to sit during the entire reception, and there is rarely space for dancing. However, there is plenty of entertainment during the reception in order to ensure the guests are having an enjoyable time. Some of the guests make speeches, there is the cutting of the wedding cake, perhaps bingo, having an artist sing/play a song…. so many choices depending on how much you are ready to spend or not. Here we will talk about the common activities that happen during a reception and what is particular to Japanese weddings.
- Bride’s letter: One of the most popular entertainment pieces is the what the Japanese bride does during the reception. This letter is often written in order to thank her parents for all the love she received and how she is grateful to them. Also, she thanks her husband/husband’s family for accepting her.
- Groom’s speech: The groom often does a formal speech at the beginning of the party and another one at the end of the reception to thank everyone who came to the wedding again.
- Bride & Groom video/Ending video: Another piece of entertainment that Japanese couples often have during weddings. There are two types of videos: one for introducing the bride and the groom, telling the story of how they grew up, how they met, and their journey until this moment. The second one is an ending roll, with pictures of them with their guests to thank them for coming to their wedding. They may ask a professional or a close friend to make their video, or just do it by themselves.
At the end of the reception, and to once again thank their guests for their attendance, guests often receive something called puchigifuto, a little present such as candy with the names of the newlyweds and the date of the wedding.
What does an international wedding look like? Here are a few examples, including my own wedding:
If I had to talk about my own experience, I would say having a ceremony in Japan was an incredible positive experience. Even though my Japanese knowledge was not on point yet, my wedding planner made it easy and was always there to listen to my worries and questions.
Even though Japanese are strict about schedules, they gave us an extra 30 minutes during our reception (which they did not make us pay for). My husband and I tried our best to not make it too “Japanese,” but instead more international by having some of our family’s friends make their speeches in English. Our shikaisha, who was able to speak my mother tongue (French), helped my parents understand what was going on.
For the goshugi system, we did not ask any of our overseas friends/family to pay, but I did explain the system in advance so that they did not feel panicked if they saw every other guest giving those envelopes. I also told them that they did not need to follow the tradition, or they could participate if they felt like doing so. We did follow the rule of hikidemono strictly because it was important for us to thank everyone who came to spend this precious day with us. For entertainment, we added some of our personal touch: all of our guests had to take pictures with a polaroid and write something on it.
If I have to talk about a negative aspect, I would say that the hardest thing was more about the fact that not all of my family/friends could come to the wedding due to timing and distance, and also explaining to my parents that I was not punishing them by making them sit at the opposite end of the room as me. It is was one of the main reasons most international couples I asked about their weddings decided to do it in their home countries; the second reason would be the price of weddings here (costs much less in their home countries).
Furthermore, I did hear that some other international couples struggled a lot with the strict rules they have at some establishments. One of my acquaintances had a big battle with her wedding venue because she wanted to have a traditional wedding cake, but they would only offer her a “tower of cakes” saying that they did not know how to make a layered wedding cake. Another one had a similar experience when she asked for a round layered cake instead of a square one. Be ready that not all the expectations you have for your wedding may not all be fulfilled as you wished.
For a more detailed experience, I would invite you to check this blog where the author shared her wedding experience: http://myjapanslice.com/2017/01/23/chronicles-from-our-japanese-italian-double-wedding-ceremony-the-beginning/?fbclid=IwAR3xEUTTXlgp-St6Blt-Z73cOIRsGuLfP3w6_q0izI7njPTkuSs22k8-pio
Here you can find some tips to help you to be able to make the budget or the journey easier for you.
- DIY: Do it yourself! Paper items for the wedding can make the budget much higher than you expect. Print your invitation via other systems; it can be a hassle, but if you have time to do it you should. It’s the same for the decorations: a lot of Japanese couples often do everything by themselves to keep their heads over water.
- Translation: Ask a friend who can speak your mother tongue (and/or English) and Japanese to help your family navigate the wedding and not make any mistakes and just enjoy the journey as much as you.
- Choose an easily accessible place, especially for the nijikai, for it can help your overseas friends not get lost after the wedding.
- Check if the place you choose is offering some reduction in price if a lot of your family members/friends stays at their establishment.
- Check if your guests have any food allergies, especially guests from overseas. Japanese guests will write them on their RSVPs.
In conclusion, the wedding industry is huge in Japan and can be seen as impossible to navigate when it is not your native language, but in reality thanks to the wedding planners and the well-structured wedding system, it can be a little easier than having the ceremony back in your home country.
However, it is still not as receptive to foreigners as other services may be. We hope that this article was helpful and you are now more knowledgeable about planning a wedding in Japan if you ever need to!
平成 29 年(2017)人口動態統計の年間推計