Attending a traditional wedding in Japan: the ceremony

This post is the second part of the story about my experience attending a Japanese traditional wedding, if you missed the first part you can read it here Attending a traditional wedding in Japan: the preparations. 

Arriving at the shrine

The official starting time of the ceremony was 12 o’clock but we had been advised to be at the shrine at 11 o’clock. The shrine has two rooms dedicated to weddings, one is for the bride and her family and friends and the other one for the groom and his family and friends. At the entrance of each room there are the names so guests know where to go. The couple waits separated for the beginning of the ceremony greeting the guests that arrive.


During the waiting time the shrine staff brings a kind of tea called kobucha (昆布茶)  the name of this tea remembers the word yorokobu that means to be happy. To me it looked just like hot water and tasted like hot water but nevertheless I liked the meaning of it.


A few minutes before the starting time a miko, a shrine maiden, came into the room and started explaining the rules of the ceremony. She told us not to live anything in the room after leaving because there  were other couples getting married and needing the room (during spring and autumn on particularly lucky days there is a wedding every hour). The miko also explained that is was not possible to take pictures during the first part of the ceremony. We were allowed to take pictures only after the first chant to bless the couple and announce the wedding to the gods.

The bride and groom wardrobe

The traditional Japanese bride wears a white silk damask kimono, kakeshita, beneath an elaborate richly patterned silk kimono that it is left open on the front as a sort of coat.  The white wedding kimono is called shiromuku but there are also colored wedding kimono called uchikake that became famous during the Edo Period. The sleeves of the bride’s kimono are very long, almost reaching the floor. This style, called furisode (振袖), is reserved for unmarried women so it is the last time she will wear a kimono with long sleeves. A married woman’s sleeves are short and much more practical. Often the wedding kimono is decorated with cranes know as “birds of happines”  and a symbol of married life because cranes mate for life and raise their children togetherEvery bride can choose what she prefers to wear according to her style, personality and taste.


The bride has also different choices for her hair. She can decide to wear a white hood called wataboshi or a sort of hat called tsunokakushi. The tsunokakushi is intended to hide from the groom the horns of a jealous wife, and to symbolize obedience to her husband, as a personal opinion I don’t like it at all for its meaning. The bride can also decide not wear anything and decorate her hair with combs or flowers.


Tied in her obi the bride brings also some accessories full of symbolism, one is a small purse or box called hakoseko (箱迫) containing a comb or a mirror as symbols of the bride will to keep her beauty, tucked in the front of the kimono she has also a small sword called kaiken or fukurogatana (懐刀) that means “blade hidden in clothes” and is the symbol of the bride’s will to protect her husband. Today very often it is not a blade but a wooden stick and it is remnant of Japan’s feudal past when a wife was expected to be able to protect her samurai husband if necessary. Last accessory is a fan, sensu (扇子) tacked into the obi, symbolizing the happiness of the couple gradually becoming bigger as the folds of an opening fan.


The traditional groom wears a dark silk kimono called kuro montsuki that is the highest rank formal kimono. He wears a haori, a knee lenght loosey fitting coat with his family crest on both shoulders and on the back of the neck and both sleeves. Under the haori he wears a hakama, an ankle skirt with five pleats in the front and two in the back. The haori is closed by a haorikimo, a woven string to keep the haori together. The groom’s haorikimo is white because white is the traditional ceremonies color (remember the white tie of the first part of this article?)

To the wedding hall

A few minutes before the starting of the ceremony the miko came and invited both the groom and the bride outside the waiting rooms and gave instructions to form the line for the procession, called sanshin (参進), towards the wedding hall.


Every shrine has its own rules, some, like the one we went to, require the bride and the groom to stay in the front while the groom holds an umbrella to symbolically protect the bride and behind them their families line up, in other cases the umbrella is hold by the shrine attendants, in other cases the groom’s mother walks in the front together with the couple. There are different patterns, in general right behind the couple there are the fathers, then the mothers, than close relatives, siblings, cousins and so on, and then friends of the couple.


The ceremony steps

Once arrived at the wedding hall the bride and groom sit in front of the priest while the guests sit on the sides. The first step of the ceremony is a purification and then a blessing chant performed by the priest.


Then it is time for the exchange of nuptial cups, chikai no sakazuki (誓いの盃). The priest brings three cups, one a little wider than the other, they are placed one above the other to form a small tower with the smallest one on the top. They are filled with sake and the bride and the groom take three sips from each cup. First the groom from the small cup, then the bride from the same cup and so on. They are officially married after the first sip. This part of the ceremony is called san-san-kudo (三々九度) (literally, three three nine,referring to the three sips from three cups, total of nine sips).


At this point it is time for the marriage vow that is read out loud by the groom. Here is a rough translation:

We make this marriage vow respectfully before the deity.

We (groom’s and bride’s names) are delighted to be able to make our vows on this great day, and to become husband and wife through the blessing of the deity.

We swear before the deity to love and respect each other forever, and to strive to bring our family prosperity.

Moreover, we swear never to veer from the true path of matrimony, and to work to share the divine grace of the deity by helping people and society.

After the marriage vow is pronounced the couple makes an offer to the shrine deity to express their thanks. The offer consist of a tamagushi, a branch of sasaki tree to which strings of paper are attached and the rite is called tamagushi hairei (玉串拝礼). The shrine maidens bless the couple and the guests.


At this point some couples decide to insert the exchange of the rings. This part is not originally included in the Shinto rite but more and more couples decide to add it to the ceremony.


The last part of the ceremony is the Shinzokuhai-no-gi (親族盃の儀), the shrine maidens offer ritual sake to all the guests and they all drink it together, sharing sake is a symbol of the strong bond created between the families.


After the ceremony we were allowed to keep the small cup and I will keep it as a memory of the day my friends got married.

The rite of taking pictures

Taking pictures is a rite inside the rite. There are a number of classic pictures that simply have to be taken, the bride and groom together, the bride and groom with parents, a big picture with everybody standing, another big picture with bride groom and parents sitting on the front and the guests standing behind them. The nice thing is how all this is rigorous and how the photographer and her staff were professional. Before each shoot they checked the position of everybody, adjusted the bride’s hair and every fold of the couple kimono. At a certain point, while we were taking the big picture with bride and groom sitting in the front, the groom’s kimono didn’t want to stay in place so the photographer pulled out from nowhere a cardboard to place under the groom’s skirt forcing it to stay in place. I was very impressed!

This is the end of this second part of the story, it was a bit long but I hope I gave you interesting information. If you have questions please write me in the comments or visit MyJapanSlice Facebook Page and leave me a message.

The last part of the story is about the party. You can find it here Attending a traditional wedding in Japan: the party. 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more!

Cheers from Ichigo Soda o(*>ω<*)o

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