So you’ve come to Japan, got settled in, made some friends, and suddenly, you’re invited to a wedding. Well, don’t panic! This article will be your need-to-know guide on how to attend a Japanese wedding, how to avoid the amateur (often embarrassing) mistakes others have made in the past, and how to ensure everything goes smoothly from start to finish. Where better to start than the basics?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are manners in which to RSVP. Whether or not you are attending, you are expected to reply to the RSVP. Most wedding invitations should include a piece of paper to reply with. BE SURE to avoid taboo words when you reply, which will be discussed further below. If you are replying to let them know you won’t attend the wedding, you will be expected to give a gift, which in Japan is traditionally gift money.
Gift money or “goshugi (ご祝儀)” is the traditional gift at Japanese weddings. This is seen as your contribution towards the wedding itself and is expected to pay for the event, so make sure you don’t attend a wedding without one or it could make for an awkward situation.
So how much is this gift? A whopping 30,000 yen is the average. It can differ depending on your relation to the couple e.g. bosses can sometimes be expected to pay even more and women may have to give less as they are expected to have paid for makeup, dress, hair and such. Although this may be a daunting amount, it is quite common for couples to accept less depending on the person’s situation. So if you’re a poor student, don’t fret too much. Just ask the bride and groom if a smaller amount is okay with them.
After you know how much you are giving, it is now time to prepare it. You will need to buy a wedding card to put the money in such as the one above. It is important that the money itself should be new, and not dirty or folded. This can usually be gotten at a bank fairly easily. Now you are good to go with your gift.
This is pretty obvious and similar to Western tradition, but there are some extra rules that must be followed.
As a woman, you are expected to dress in something that is not too revealing (nothing strapless and it should be below the knee, but you don’t want it too low or risk it looking like a bridal dress). No excessive jewelry, but small and dainty ones are okay. You MUST wear a shawl which can be see-through or opaque. You also must not wear white as this is the color the bride will wear.
For men, it’s pretty simple. Wear a good suit in simple colors such as black, and a tie is a must, of course. Other colors are okay within reason. Also, don’t wear a white suit for obvious reasons.
It may seem like a lot of rules, but once you have them down, you can have fun with it. Follow these rules, avoid taboo colors, and you should be good to go!
Unfortunately, you may be asked to give a speech at the wedding without any hint or warning whatsoever. This is especially true if you happen to be the only foreigner at the wedding as you would stand out quite a bit and they may wish to know what a speech from you would be like, especially after one or six drinks. In order to avoid stage fright and non-alcohol-induced face redness, you should have a basic idea of what you might say and what you should not say. Luckily, the Japanese tend to be polite and will most likely applaud you for whatever you say. Don’t be afraid to use English, you are a foreigner and they probably expect it anyway! Just make sure you don’t use…
Yes, there are a lot of taboo words at a Japanese wedding, but they all relate to a similar subject. Let’s see if you can guess the theme. Some of these words are “leave,” “cut,” “close,” “part,” “break,” “split,” and “divide.” Most likely you get the idea. Words relating to the marriage ending in any way are considered taboo due to an old superstition that dates back to the 15th century and is still alive today. Even words like “repeat” and “once more” are taboo as they hint remarriage and therefore, divorce. So if you are requested to make a speech (as a foreigner, it is possible), be very sure to avoid these words or risk being the cause of the couple’s divorce!
Although not the most important information in this article, it is a good idea to get to know what kind of wedding you are attending as there are actually two types of weddings that you could be invited to.
The first, and the one that may come to mind when you think of a Japanese wedding, is the traditional Shinto (神道) style one. These take place in temples, often during cherry blossom season. The bride and groom will wear beautiful kimonos, and the bride will often wear a wig. This type of wedding is often confined to family, followed by a reception for larger groups of friends. It screams everything Japanese and is what many foreigners believe to be the most popular type of wedding in Japan.
However, that no longer holds true as the Shinto wedding has somewhat fallen out of fashion in recent years. Nowadays, most couples prefer to take part in a more Western style of wedding.
This second type of wedding may be more familiar to you. It is similar in many aspects to a Western wedding. The attire is that of a Western bride and groom with the bride in a large, white dress, and the groom in a dark suit. The wedding is often held in a church-like room with pews between which the bride can walk to meet her husband-to-be and even includes a fake priest! After the ceremony, the wedding party will go to the reception which will often be held in a hotel’s convention room or wedding hall. They have even been known to be held at a nearby bar.
If you follow the guidelines in this article, I’m sure you will be prepared for anything that they could throw at you and you’ll attend Japanese weddings like a pro! Just remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you have fun and celebrate the beautiful coming together of man and wife for a (hopefully) long and lasting marriage. Lastly, remember to congratulate the happy couple with “Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu (ご結婚おめでとうございます)!”