The tail-end of spring has some of the best weather you can hope for in Japan, making it one of the most popular seasons for weddings. Hence, don’t be surprised if you find a beautiful custom shoutaijou (invitation) to your friend’s wedding in your mailbox around May.
Many Japanese couples will have a traditional Shinto-style wedding ceremony followed by a western-style reception. Only immediate family members will be invited to a Shinto-style wedding ceremony. While a modern Japanese wedding has a lot in common with its western counterpart, there are a few key differences.
So that you don’t completely embarrass yourself or make it awkward for the poor groom or bride that invited you to their special day, here are four simple tips to remember at a modern western-style Japanese wedding.
1. Give money, not a blender
You might be expected to gift the bride and groom with a blender or a toaster in the West. In Japan, you should always gift money. However, even the act of giving cash has certain taboos you’ll want to avoid.
Specifically, do not give an even amount (e.g., ¥20,000). This comes from the idea that eve numbers are easily splittable, and no one wants to talk about splitting up anything at a wedding. Instead, give odd numbers (e.g., 30,000).
Typically, guests will give an amount of money depending on their relationship with the bride or groom. ¥30,000 is the average for single friends and colleagues, while bosses might gift ¥50,000 or ¥70,000. Married couples will typically give ¥50,000. Relatives will give much more.
The exception sometimes is ¥80,000 because eight is considered a lucky number in Japan and 100,000 since, well, who will turn down ¥100,000? Even then, you’ll want to give the total amount in an odd number of bills and avoid multiples of four because four in Japanese (shi) is the same pronunciation as death, as well as nine, which has the same pronunciation (ku) as suffering.
Do not just hand over the money like you’re paying your electric bill at the konbini (convenience store). You’ll need to buy a proper envelope called a shugi-bukuro (祝儀袋) from somewhere such as Tokyu Hands or Loft for your goshugi (ご祝儀) or gift money.
The bills should be crisp or brand new. It’s seen as impolite to give money that has been folded or is dirty. Place the money in the envelope with your name on the small strip of white paper at the front. When you get to the wedding, there will usually be a table where you place your it.
2. How to dress
Things are not too different in Japan. As long as you aren’t out-dressing the bride, you should be fine.
For women, a simple cocktail dress will suffice. Nothing too revealing or short or excessively flashy. It’s also not recommended that you show your shoulders. If your dress does reveal your shoulders, you’ll want to wear something such as a shawl. Other than white, which is also a no-no in Japan, any color is fine unless you’re specifically told otherwise.
Men can go with the standard dark suit and tie, but do not wear a black tie as that is reserved for funerals.
3. Treat it like a fancy dinner
A wedding is typically an all-day event with two parts: the kekkonshiki (wedding ceremony) and the hiroen (wedding party).
The wedding ceremony could have a mix of traditional Shinto-style and western-style influences. You might change locations such as from a commercial wedding hall to a fancy hotel. There will also be intermissions while the bride changes out of their dress two or three times from their white gown to another dress, and the groom might change from his tuxedo. This signifies the flow of atmosphere to the guests.
There is the western-style walk down the aisle to the march Mendelssohn’s Wedding March with the bride’s father, and a (probably fake) priest will lead the couple in their vows.
Unless you’re a really good friend, you probably shouldn’t expect to have to make a speech.
The hiroen is a lot like a fancy lunch or dinner—an expensive course menu that your goshugi helped pay for. There will probably be a lot of food and alcohol, so try not to “pregame” before the wedding. Also, do not get drunk. You may be used to seeing your Japanese friends let loose, but this is absolutely not a nomikai (drinking party).
Friends are seated at the front and family at the back. At your assigned seat, you’ll probably find a note from the bride and a glass of champagne. Try not to drink the champagne until a toast is made.
Guests will start to make speeches. Unless you’re a really good friend, you probably shouldn’t expect to have to make a speech. A host or MC will introduce people, and friends of the bride and groom might even prepare a video or performance. And, of course, there will be cake.
In the end, the bride and groom’s parents will be brought up so that the newlyweds can read a touching letter addressed to them.
4. After the wedding
Once the wedding is over, guests will receive a gift bag from the bride and groom called a hikidemono containing sweets or other small items. It might even be under your chair. The newlyweds and their parents will be waiting for you at the exit to thank you for coming. This is a good time to know how to bow properly.
Then comes the real party. The bride and groom and their closest friends will usually have a nijikai (after party) and get rowdy. If you’re invited, be prepared to spend more money as you’ll probably be heading to an expensive izakaya or karaoke joint.
Finally, at some point in the days after the wedding, remember to send a thank you card for the wedding. While it isn’t traditional, it is polite.
Have you been to a modern Japanese wedding? What was it like? Let us know in the comments!