Live

4 Tips For Going To A Modern Japanese Wedding

What to expect at a modern Japanese wedding.

By 5 min read

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

The shugi-bukuro should contain clean crisp bills.

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.

envelope

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

As long as these guys are better dressed, you should be good.

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

Most Japanese weddings will have an MC leading the event.

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

There will be plenty of chances to drink 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!

  • maulinator says:

    The nijikai or secondary party after the formal weding reception is usually for friends of the groom and bride only. This is where the newlyweds can finally party with their friends. I would not call teh nijikai more intimate. It is usually more lively and more friends attend that than the reception. The reception itself is more for the sake of parents, bosses and relatives.

  • Electra CV says:

    Also, there’s no dancing or having any kind of fun (from what I have seen). The whole affair resembles a fancy dinner with a bunch of strangers only you get to walk away with a gift bag (also very weird if you weren’t part of the wedding).
    Still, my favourite part is #1
    “Here’s $300”
    “You brought OLD banknotes? They look like they’ve been folded at least 3 times”

  • Alina Rădulescu says:

    Also, even if it`s a “black tie” event, no black tie! That should be reserved for funerals. There are also some taboo words, not to be used and if you do offer something (some people do!), you should not choose things in multiples of two (because it can be divided, hence you are wishing them divorce!)

    • maulinator says:

      The even nu,ber thing applies to many things. such as th cash gift. It should not contain an even number of notes. 20,000, 40,000, 60,000 are all even so would not be appropriate for giving. I think there was a rule about necklaces as well. No looping of necklaces twice, or something along those lines.

    • maulinator says:

      Black bow ties are permitted at weddings, but not the regular ties. A lot of Japanese will wear white ties. However black bow tie with a tuxedo, if it is required or reqeusted is totally fine

  • Great tips 🙂
    I was completely caught off guard the first time I went to a modern wedding in Japan. I ended up also doing a long post on what to wear (dresses, suits, ties, etc) to a wedding in Japan, if you’re a guest:

    http://howibecametexan.com/2014/05/21/what-to-wear-to-a-japanese-wedding/

    • Brian says:

      When I was invited to a Japanese wedding in Kobe I contacted the Japanese embassy here in London, they were so helpful and sent me all the protocol for dress and everything they were marvellous,

Related

Learn

Swearing in Japanese: Why Formal and Informal Speech Is Important

It’s not a word, but the delivery of the language that makes for insulting and derogatory speech.

By 4 min read

Live

How to Use A Japanese Air Conditioner

Mastering the functions of your a/c remote is key to surviving summer in Japan.

By 3 min read

Work

Cool Part-Time Jobs in Japan for The Month of June

Whether you're looking for a side-gig or a boost to your resume, check out these six part-time jobs for the month of June.

By 5 min read