Things Japanese

Japanese Wedding

Spring and fall are wedding seasons in Japan as much as they are favored by tourists. In some places where wedding ceremonies and receptions are held as many as forty couples are united and congratulated on a day of fortune under the almanac.

Putting aside the Christian wedding or Buddhist matrimonial service for the time being, let us introduce to you how more often marriages are arranged and wedding ceremonies are performed under the Shinto system in Japan.

While it is true that more and more young men and women are united in marriage on their own will through love, the practice of "Mi-Ai" is still widely observed to end in a happy married life for many. "Mi-Ai" is an interview for a man and woman with a view to marriage, as arranged by their parents or a third party acting as a gobetween. It is proposed with due consideration to social backgrounds and other factors of the prospective bride and bridegroom and their families. It is not compulsory on either of the parties concerned to accept such "Mi-Ai" as a promise for marriage. Usually, however, preliminary studies are made to assure a success in "Mi-Ai" where the prospective bride and bridegroom are more or less to make a final decision through personal impressions of each other.

Before we go further into "Mi-Ai" interviews which may be observed in hotels, theaters and such public planes, it may be of interest to review some history of marriage practices in Japan.

A History of Japanese Marriage

In the long history of Japan the marriage system must have gone through various changes in the social system and conditions. Such changes are now difficult to trace in detail but the most important and historical change in the Japanese marriage system is said to have been made from the "Muko-iri" practice for a bridegroom to enter the family of his aimed-at bride to the "Yome-iri" system for a bride to be accepted into her bridegroom's home. The change seems to have taken place in the 13th and 14th centuries by the rise of "Bushi" warriors in power.

During the age of aristocracy a bridegroom would nightly visit his bride at her home and only after the birth of a child or the loss of parents to the bridegroom or husband, the bride would be accepted as the wife in the man's home. Among common people labor power was and essential factor to maintain a family. It was an accepted practice in the Tohoku area in north for a bridegroom to live with his bride's family to offer his labor for a certain length of time. More widely spread was the system for a bridegroom and bride to offer their time and labor to their own families. In such cases the husband would visit his wife nightly to maintain the married life. Again in Izu Islands it was for a wife to work for the family of her husband who would, however, stay at her home. The practice remains today in the system of adoption by which a man becomes a member of another family by marriage. Under either of such system it was necessary for families concerned to reside in neighborhood.

In the old days of aristocracy men seem to have been freer and more insistent than those to follow in later ages in proposing marriage to women. Court Lord Fukakusa is said to have called on Ono-no-Komachi, "Miss Kyoto" of the 9th century day and night for one hundred consecutive days and broken down from exhaustion without her word of "yes".

After nightly visits of a man at the home of his aimed-at bride, he might be invited by her parents to a bedside and offered "Mochi" rice cakes. "Tokoro-Arawashi", as the ceremony was called was the most important function in the ancient wedding among aristocrats. A similar practice was seen among common people for a man to visit on the parents of a bride-to-be for approval of his marriage to their daughter.

With the rise of "Bushi" warriors whose spheres of activities were no longer limited within Kyoto or close neighborhood, the system of women marrying into men's families was gradually adopted and widely accepted in the 14th century and on. Under the feudal system marriages were often used as plitical and diplomatic approaches to maintaining peace and unity among feudal lords. Thus the personal will of men and women for marriage was ignored in the face of family interests and the social intercourse of unmarried persons was denied. Marriages came to be arranged by and for families and the role of "Nakodo" gobetween became very important in Japan.

Another result of the "Yome-iri" wedding and family marriage was the increased importance of engagement. The "Yui-no" betrothal thus became a serious step in the Japanese marriage. A "Nakodo" gobetween would make further certain of a proposed marriage by the ceremonial exchange of drinks with the bride side immediately upon acceptance of the proposal. "Yui-no", as still observed and later described more in detail, is the exchange of various items between two families concerned assuring the engagement to be followed through.

The wedding ceremony became also more elaborate. A messanger would be sent to the bride's home where family members hold a farewell party before hanging her over to the bridegroom side. At the wedding ceremony proper in addition to the "San-San-Kudo" exchange of drinks between the bridegroom and bride, drinks were now exchanged between members of the families for unification on the family basis.

Having briefly reviewed the history, we are now ready to go back to marriage and wedding, as more widely practiced in Japan today.


Until the turn of the century, the "Mi-Ai" interview of a man and woman was more of formality than an opportunity to know each other with a view to marriage. When practiced, it is arranged by a gobetween today to provide the prospective bridegroom and bride with an initial opportunity for knowing each other personally.

A theather, hotel or restaurant may well be used for "Mi-Ai" where the proposed couple and their families make their acquaintance. The "Mi-Ai" interview is no longer considered to force any compulsory consequence upon either of the parties concerned. It is a proctice for parents, gobetweens and friends with a particular view to unite, if desired, a young man and woman, thought out to be ideal partners in marriage. Even when successfully conducted, the man and woman concerned are usually given months to get to know each other and possibly to learn to love each otehr.

When "Mi-Ai" was a mere formality, a bridegroom-to-be might be invited to the home of a bride-to-be and if he was favorably impressed, he would leave behind a fan to indicate his acceptance. The bride-to-be had little chance of expressing her views on the subject.


"Yui-no" is a derived form of "Ii-ire" meaning "to apply". It is said also to mean for families to be united in marriage to dine and drink together. In any case it is an important function in betrothal in Japan.

At "Yui-no" gifts are exchanged between the bridegroom-to-be and bride-to-be. The main item to be presented to the bride-to-be is an "Obi", representing female virtue. A "Hakama" skirt is returned to the bridegroom-to-be, expressing fidelity.

The "Yui-no" gifts include as many as nine items of happiness and fortune, if formally prepared, in addition to the "Obi" and "Hakama".

Prepared from abalones, it used to be an important and costly item in the old barter trade. It is to express the sincere wishes of a sender, as widely used in making gifts in Japan.

It is the list of gift delivered.

Money is exchanged as a ceremonial gift.

It is dried bonito, used in making soup stock and vaiued high as preserved food.

Dried cuttlefish. Both "Surume" and "Katsuo-bushi" are presented to indicate "quality" to last.

"Konbu" tangles are included for their strong power of breeding, wishing for happy and healthy generations to follow in the family.

Another name for "Asa" or hemp. Strong fibres are exchanged to signify ties and cooperation in the married life. "Shiraga" phonetically means also white hair, expressing wishes for long life together to the newly married.

A fan is always a symbol of happiness, as it expands to the end, suggesting a better and bigger future.

It is a wine cask. It may be replaced by cash, as designated for the purpose of purchasing "Sake" wine.

"Sake" casks are usually made of "Sugi" cryptomeria but such as used in "Yui-no" are of willow trees with tender leaves. It is meant to pledge obedience and gentleness in the married life.

All these "Yui-no" gifts are accompanied by a list of family members, as they are exchanged between the two families through the gobetween on a "lucky" day of the almanac.

Wedding Ceremony

The Shinto wedding is performed before a Shinto sanctuary, set up for the occation unless the wedding takes place in a Shinto shrine. It is presided by a Shinto priest who first holds the purification service of all present. Such a wedding is usually attended by memberrs of both families and close relatives in addition, of cource, to the couple to be united and gobetweens. Gobetweens are often selected more for ceremonial purposes from among elderly couples known and close to either or both of the families to be united in marriage.

After a ritual by the priest, reporting to olds on the marriage and requesting their lasting favors on the newly-weds it is now customary for the bridegroom to read an oath to keep faithful and obedient to each other in the married life. The oath may be given by the gobetween in behalf of the new couple.

The "San-San-Kudo" or ceremony of the Three-Times-Three Exchange of nuptial cups is then performed by the bridegroom and bride. The exchange of wedding rings is also a popular practice today.

The bridegroom and bride proceed to the sanctuary to offer twigs of "Sakaki" sacred tree in worship to gods to end the main part of the wedding ceremony.

Drinks of "Sake" are then exchanged between members and close relatives of the both families to signify their union through the wedding.

The Shinto wedding is accompanied by the traditional music and attended by "Miko" maidens who serves "Sake" in red and white dresses.

It is a short service, simple in procedure but full of solemn atomospheres.
Many hotels and restaurants are equipped with a special room for wedding ceremonies. In fact weddings are a good source of business for them, including receptions to follow sometimes in elaborate scale.

Many a wedding in Japan is performed in other styles. Christian weddings in the church, Buddhist nuptials in the temple and civil weddings in public offices are preferred for religious or other reasons. A wedding ceremony may also be performed at home in the Shinto style, in which case a temporary sanctuary is set up on the "Tokonoma" alcove. Except for local differences the bride is seated first in such a family wedding and the ceremony to give her away to the bridegroom is included.

A Buddhist wedding as performed at the Honganji Temple includes a prayer, the presentation of Buddhist rosaries, address by the priest, incense burning, drinks of oath and a Buddhist worship by clasping hands. A Buddhist temple used to be a place for funerals, as far as such events in life as birth, marriage and death were concerned. It is still to be seen how far the buddhist wedding may go with millions of otherwise Buddhist followers found in the country.

Wedding Receptions

The scale and style of wedding receptions in Japan vary from one end to another, depending on budgets and other factors involved.

The usual procedures in wedding receptions have the gobetween introduce the bridegroom, bride and their family backgrounds. Sometimes such introductions are made to cover parents of the newly-weds more in length than the principal figures of the occation.

The traditional costume as worn by the bride is perhaps the most colorful element in the reception. Big "Kanzashi" ornaments as worn by the bride in the hair, done in the old fashion, are hidden under the "Tsuno Kakushi" hood. It is meant to hide "Tsuno" or horns to show obedience. The "Uchikake" gown worn over the colorful wedding "Kimono" may be most gorgeous. During the course of the reception the bride is led out to change her dress. The second wedding dress is different in design and color but is just as beautiful and elaborate as the first one. The "Tsuno Kakushi" and "Uchikake" are no longer worn to exhibit the bride in all she is. The bridal dresses are sometimes handed down in the family or made into "Futon" beddings or matresses later in life.

Red and white are a happy color combination in Japan, as abundantly used in a wedding. The soup may have ingredients in such color scheme and ice cream may be served in the same color combination.

A Japanese wedding reception is a colorful affair, particularly with yound friends of the bride attending in beautiful "Kimono". Married ladies in black formal dresses have multi-color designes on the "Kimono" skirts to be no less attractive than young maidens. It is really a show for the newly-weds to remember for many years.

The honeymoon is also an accepted custom, which may start immediately after the wedding reception. On "lucky" days the Tokyo Station may be full of new couples boarding trains for Atami, Hakone and other favorite places on the honeymoon.