Giving gifts and honoring parents aren’t just Korean wedding traditions – they’re also important components of Japanese weddings. In this article, you’ll learn about the unique traditions and rituals associated with Japanese weddings…
Shintô is an ancient Japanese religion that continues to dominate the country’s culture, especially its ceremonial traditions. Up to 79 percent of Japanese people still belong to Shintô temples, but the vast majority don’t identify with its actual beliefs. Instead, they observe ancient rituals as a celebration of their country’s sacred history, and wedding ceremonies are one of the best examples of this.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), Shintô is an ancient belief system that originated with the worship of demons and evolved into a long cultural tradition of superstitious rituals and icons. Unlike the demonic creatures associated with Western religions, Shintô demons are supernatural human-animal hybrids who bring both good and bad fortune. Most modern-day Shintô traditions are still associated with the pursuit of good fortune, which is the overarching theme of Shintô weddings.
Japanese weddings often take place in Shintô temples, which feature religious iconography that have become distinguishing features of Japanese architecture. These include stone dogs, water pavilions, and tall red gates that mark the division between the spiritual and corporeal worlds.
When Japanese couples opt to hold their main wedding ceremonies in these sacred shrines, they usually limit the attendance to family members and very close friends, who participate in a variety of superstitious rituals.
San san kudo is a sake sharing ceremony and is common in both Shinto and Buddhist Japanese weddings. During this wedding ritual, the bride and groom take three sips of sake from three stacked cups. After the bride and groom sip their sake, both sets of parents also sip the sake. The ritual is complete after a total of nine sips.
The first three (san) represents the three couples: the bride and groom, the bride’s parents, and the groom’s parents. The second three is said to represent the three human flaws: hatred, passion, and ignorance. Some people, however, believe the second three represent heaven, earth, and mankind, or love, wisdom, and happiness.
Nine (do) is a lucky number in Japanese; the phrase san-san-kudo translates literally to “three, three, nine times.”
Shintô and western weddings have one obvious staple in common: the white wedding dress. White and red, the country’s national colors, are associated with good fortune. Japanese brides almost always wear white and incorporate red into their culinary and decorative choices. While their ensembles vary from delicate silk costumes to sleek evening gowns, their white clothes are consistent symbols of virtue and patience. Grooms often wear black kimonos or suits in Japanese weddings.
Brides who want to honor the Shintô tradition will wear a wataboshi, a white silk hood or headdress, over the bukin takashimada (bun) in their hair. This represents modesty and humility.
Others incorporate simple floral kimonos into their wedding day apparel, but fashion-savvy brides are happy to choose haute couture dresses for their special day.
The bride and groom take time during their special day to honor their parents. Gifts include flower bouquets, cards, and letters.
All of these traditions make you wonder – what other wedding traditions exist around the world? One of the best ways to learn about a new culture is to learn its language. You can put on a Japanese movie with English subtitles, read Japanese literature with a translation, and anything else fun to help you learn the language (while learning about the culture along the way). Just remember, practicing consistently is the key to learning any skill, especially when learning a new language.
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