Seven things you didn’t know about Japanese weddings

‘Tis the season to get hitched, but they do things a little differently in Japan. Here are seven things I bet you didn’t know about Japanese weddings.


You don’t have to be there to get married

Japanese name seal hanko inkan with vermilion ink

The only way to get legally married in Japan is to fill out and stamp the bride and groom’s name seals on the paperwork at the local ward office, so it’s not even necessary for both members of the happy couple to be present, as long as their officially registered inkan are used to sign on the dotted line.


The cake is fake…

Bride "cutting" a fake cake at a Japanese wedding

Everybody wants that cutting-the-cake photo, but when it comes right down to it, Japanese people don’t really like cake. So, in order to have their cake and eat it too, prospective brides and grooms page through a binder of gorgeous multi-tiered wedding cakes and pick the one they most want to be remembered “cutting” for posterity. It’s wheeled out at the reception in all its white plaster glory, but the section they “cut” for the photos is a little piece of real cake tucked into a niche in the back, then they serve their preferred dessert to all the guests.

Waiters serving flaming Baked Alaska at a Japanese wedding
Why have boring old wedding cake when you can have flaming Baked Alaska?


and so is the priest

Foreign actor hired to portray minister performing a Japanese wedding ceremony

The legal bits may be as unromantic as a trip to the DMV, but Japanese wedding venues know what it takes to make everyone’s wedding dreams come true, and that includes a stained glass equipped chapel and a foreign “priest” in a clerical-looking robe, who guides the couple through their vows with appropriately sonorous gravitas. The fact that he’s an actor makes zero difference.

Ad for Japanese wedding hall
This is an ad for a new Japanese “wedding hall.” It’s not a church—it’s actually more like a stage set, kitted out with theatrical lighting and a killer sound system—but it looks like the ideal place to get married, doesn’t it?


Here’s comes the…Barbie?

Brides and grooms need to hire a dresser and hairstylist for their big day, because they change clothes up to three times during the festivities. They get married in either traditional white dress/tuxedo or formal Japanese kimono/hakama, change into the other outfit for the first part of the reception, then after dinner they disappear and make a grand re-entrance clothed in Cinderella-esque evening wear. Rental of these outfits is part of the wedding package, and tends to run about the same as what Western brides and grooms spend buying their wedding clothes.

Fashion spread of Barbie-themed dress for bride to wear at Japanese wedding
Dress #3 is a chance for the bride to wear anything her princess heart desires, including this Barbie-themed outfit
Traditional Japanese wedding clothing
Here’s the kind of traditional Japanese clothing they might wear for the ceremony or the first half of the reception. The bride’s outfit may also include a traditionally-styled nihon-gami wig


Going to a wedding costs $300

Fancy envelopes for giving money at a Japanese wedding

Shopping for a wedding gift is easy, because one size fits all. Friends of the bride and groom are expected dress up three crisp ¥10,000 yen notes (about $300 USD) in a fancy envelope, while relatives are duty bound to pony up ¥50,000 ($500 USD) per couple. There is a table at the entrance where these envelopes are received before entering the event.

And yeah, that gets expensive, especially if you’re a young single person in the Wedding Zone with friends getting hitched right and left. That’s why the nijikai (afterparty) is becoming increasingly popular. Many couples invite only family and business associates to the ceremony and official reception, then decamp to a nearby restaurant for an appetizers and all-you-can-drink party with friends afterwards. You still have to pay your own way, but it’s more like ¥5,000 than ¥30,000.


Be prepared for unexpected talents to surface…

Wedding guests in judo gi

One of the oddest traditions of Japanese wedding receptions is that friends, relatives, and/or the wedding couple themselves often volunteer to perform skits or other entertainments for the assembled worthies. The absolute best surprise of this kind that I ever saw at a wedding, though, was when the college judo teammates of the groom sneaked out of the reception and marched back in wearing their gi. They proceeded to “kidnap” the bride until the groom (in his tuxedo) threw each and every one of them to the ground in true black belt style.


The bad luck discount

According to Japanese astrology, the most auspicious days to get married are taian (good luck all day) or tomobiki (good luck all day, except at noon, but with extra wedding bonus points for the name, which means “friend-attracting”). Not surprisingly, taian and tomobiki days that also fall on a weekend are prime wedding snags, so it’ll cost ya. But the opposite is also true! I have good friends who care not a bit for astrology, who got a whopping discount at the Imperial Palace Hotel for their splashy Saturday wedding because the day fell on butsumetsu (bad luck all day). Despite this flouting of the stars, I can happily report that they continue to be one of the happiest (and luckiest) couples I know.

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

2 thoughts on “Seven things you didn’t know about Japanese weddings

  1. The comments about butsumetsu made me smile. The Alpha Japanese Female and I track the good luck/bad luck days and over many, many years have found out that bad stuff really does happen more often on butsumetsu. So we’ve taken to never scheduling doctor visits, car repairs, or anything dicey on those days. I know, I know…superstition…but…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahahahaha, my brother! I check too, when scheduling something important, like sending my next manuscript to my agent. It can’t hurt, right? Although I do sometimes wonder if it’s the belief in things that gives them power—which can cut both ways when it comes to taian and butsumetsu! Hmmm…


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