Shinto: Traditional Japanese Wedding Ceremony
An ancient Japanese saying is that “if you cannot sleep in the night, it means you are awake in someone else’s dream”. Fascinating, isn’t it? A wedding is the culmination of love in Japanese culture, and their traditional Shinto wedding ceremony is beautiful in its solemnity and rituals.
Attending a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremony is a beautiful and memorable experience. Shinto traditions believe there is divinity in nature, and all aspects of nature are dwellings of the divine. Hence their marriage ceremony too; reflects practices connected to their nature-worship traditions. The wedding ceremony is performed by a Shinto priest, and two maidens from the shrine. The ceremony usually involves the couple, their families, and selected number of guests.
The bride wears a white ‘shiromuku‘, delicate; embroidered silk kimono with long sleeves. The white hue of her dress dates back to the samurai period, where the bride expresses her consent to go with the groom’s family and social standing (just as a white fabric can be dyed with any colour). On their ‘D day’ brides wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue for luck. Groom wears a hakama, a pant-like costume with a black kimono jacket.
Japanese believe crane as an icon of prosperity and longevity, so 1,001 gold origami cranes are folded to bring luck to the couple. The bride and groom perform a ritual honouring their parents with flowers and a toast as an expression of their gratitude. A beautiful gesture to honour parents!
Shinto Ceremony Begins
The wedding begins with a traditional ceremony at the shrine, where the pair is purified by the priest. The priest then reads the marriage announcement to Hachiman Okami, their God. A Shinto maiden performs the sacred dance. The couple then performs the ‘San San Kudo’, one of the oldest traditions. Meaning ‘three-three nine times’, this is a ritualized drinking of sake from the three ‘sakazuiki’ ceremonial cups. The couple sips three times from each cup. There cannot be divided into two, hence it is believed to be a lucky number. The guests also drink a bit of the rice wine, solidifying the new union. The bride and groom read out the marriage vows, make an offering to Kami; divine beings of nature and exchange rings.
Wedding banquet is preparing with a cultural touch and has symbolic meanings. Clams symbolizing togetherness, and Konbu; dried kelp representing joy, Datemaki a sweet rolled omelette, Kazunoko; salted herring roe, and Sushi cakes will serve. Adzuki Beans cooking in sugar and it will serve at the end of the meal, the red colour will believe to bring good luck.
A reception follows the wedding, which usually takes place in wedding halls or hotel convention rooms. Here the groom wears a tuxedo, and the bride, a white wedding gown. The bride and groom may change their costumes, and hairstyle multiple times during the reception. An all-day beauty makeover!
Frills, laces, and fancy up-do’s, women are dress to the nines. Men wear dark suits, preferably black with a white tie. Rather than physical gifts, cash will consider more appropriate. Remember this, if you get an invitation to attend a wedding in Japan, and never use a plain envelope. Cash is gifting in a special envelope called ‘shugi-bukuro’ in bright hues of red, blue, gold and silver. The guests are gifting with wedding souvenirs called ‘hikidemono’ which are often tablewares, sweets etc.
Japanese wedding traditions give a deeper understanding of their culture and their aspiration for harmony with nature.
Kitsune no Yomeiri
One of the fascinating folklores of Japan is ‘Kitsune no Yomeiri’, meaning ‘Fox’s Wedding’ (Kitsune meaning fox in Japanese) which is enacting some actual weddings and shrine festivals even today.
As the legend says, there was a white fox by name Fukuyémon, who wished to take himself; a beautiful bride. (yes, you read right!) It will decide that he tie the knot with a beautiful lady fox with jewels like charms and lovely fur. The wedding took place on an auspicious day, and the bride left for her husband’s house in a shower of rain and the sun shining all the while. So, if there are showers during bright sunlight, the Japanese call it as, “Fox’s bride going to her husband’s house”.