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Japanese Wedding Traditions; Ancient and Modern Styles

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Do you know that Japanese wedding traditions vary from family to family? Everybody does not conduct the same ceremonies?

Today, there are still many people who hold a traditional Shinto wedding but contemporary and modern Western-style ceremonies are becoming more popular.

Japanese weddings in the Shinto style are extravagant and long. Japanese wedding traditions or shinzen-shiki as it is known are held at Shinto shrines. The first part of the Shinto wedding is the engagement or the Yunio. Gifts covered with rice paper are exchanged. Some of the gifts that are usually exchanged are dried cuttlefish, for its shape like a phallus, kelp or ‘konbu’ which when written can mean child-bearing woman, a folded fan which symbolizes wealth and prosperity for the couple, as well as a long linen thread which is supposed to be the grey hair of old age.

The wedding dress, as you may know, is one of the most important parts of the Japanese wedding traditions. According to Japanese wedding traditions, the bride has to be dressed in white, which symbolizes the new life the bride is beginning. The hair is worn high, held up with tortoise shells, her hair is painted white and she wears a veil. The bride changes clothes several times, wearing an ornate silver, red and gold embroidered kimono and then a deep colored highly decorated kimono that are worn by only young-unmarried girls. The groom wears a black silk kimono. He also wears a pleated skirt under this. He carries a white fan in hand and wears white shoes. Japanese’ families treasure the kimono and pass it on from generation to generation.

Shinto Wedding Traditions

Did you know that during a traditional Shinto ceremony, the kami or the spirits that are around us in the world are honored? A branch called the harai-gushi is used in a purification ceremony by the priests, who call upon the gods for blessings. Then a ritual called san-san-kudo is performed, where sake is shared from three flat cups stacked on top of the other. This ritual varies from family to family. The groom generally takes three sips from every cup one by one and the bride follows him. Then the sake is offered to the family members of the bride and the groom. There is a Buddhist tradition that is also followed, often. A rosary with 21 beads (which is called juju) is picked. 18 beads represent the couple, two represent the joining of their families and one is for Buddha.

Like all weddings all over the world, the Japanese marriage is also followed by a wedding feast. According to Japanese traditions, every dish served is symbolic of happiness and prosperity for the new couple. Konbu which sounds like the word for joy in Japanese is one such dish. They also serve clams with both shells together to symbolize unity of the couple; clams are served for their bright red color, which is symbol for luck. Traditionally the number of courses is never a multiple of four.

Western style wedding

However, over the years a western-style wedding has become very popular. It is done by the large Christian population and is very similar to the wedding traditions of the west. It is conducted in a church or in a wedding chapel in a hotel. One interesting custom is that of the mother placing the veil on the daughter’s head and lowering it, symbolizing the last act before the daughter gets married. The father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle.. The celebrant often wears a wedding cross or cana that will have the two wedding rings attached. There is also the interesting custom of the groom bowing to the gather of the bride and in turn, being bowed to. The ceremony is often done in English, Japanese, or more popularly in a mix of both

Contemporary style

Another type of Japanese wedding traditions that has slowly evolved over the years is the contemporary style which is a mixture of Shinto and the western style wedding. The bride and the groom dress traditionally. The formal ceremony is a mixture of the western wedding and the Shinto wedding. The wedding takes place in a Shinto shrine and the Shinto priest conducts all the ceremonies. At the end, the bride and the groom exchange rings and wedding vows. Also, there will be a post-wedding reception. The reception is similar to a western style one with friends and relatives making speeches and raising toasts.

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