Navigating the tricky waters of Japanese social protocol can be at best, challenging, and at worse a one-way ticket to a deserted island of social otracizism ruled by crazed, man-eating baboons. Ok, maybe I’m being a little extreme but there’s definitely a certain amount of pressure involved in making sure you don’t, well, screw it up.
When I received an invitation to a friend’s wedding* (a person I really admire and who chose to invite me despite being well aware of my tendency to fall down the stairs and/or break things) I frantically googled ‘Japanese weddings’ and found not one single Buzzfeed-style list telling me how to act appropriately. So, after making it through friendship still intact, here are my top 4 tips for going to a modern Japanese wedding.
*The wedding was non-religious, western-style in a hotel so these tips may not apply to Shinto weddings, underwater weddings, illegal weddings etc.
#1 Give money, not a blender
Japanese western-style weddings aren’t anything like Hollywood romantic comedies so there was no montage of me skipping around Macy’s scanning blenders. Instead I headed to Loft to confront their shelves upon shelves of envelopes, hoping to find one that said ‘Happy Wedding’ and not ‘I’m sorry for your loss, where I could put my ‘goshugi’ or gift money. Typically, guests should give a certain amount of money depending on their relationship with the bride or groom. 30,000 yen is the average for friends and colleagues.
The bills should be crisp – it’s seen as impolite to give money that has been folded or is dirty – and placed in the right envelope with your name on the small strip of white paper at the front. When you get to the wedding, there will be a small table where you hand your envelope in to be added to the enormous pile of mystery money.
#2 Dress as if you were attending your junior prom and it was 1982
Seeing Japanese girls on the train dressed in poufy frills of satin with fur boleros and elaborate up-dos, I always wondered what fancy prom night they were going to so early in the afternoon. As it turns out, they were all going to weddings. I barely know what to wear to the supermarket so choosing an outfit was difficult; in the end I went with a shift dress that was not at all poufy or frilly and therefore totally wrong.
From what I saw at the ceremony, for girls, the dress should be shiny but in a plain, neutral-ish color (like a diluted junior prom dress). For guys, a black or navy suit with a neutral colored tie; no patterns, cummerbunds or comedy bow ties please.
#3 Absolutely Do NOT even slightly get drunk
Back home, weddings are basically an excuse for your uncle to get really drunk and dance on the table with a tie around his head. But here the reception was a much more sedate affair. There was alcohol, and a lot of it, but no sign of a groom side vs. bride side boat-race drinking contest. Actually, the wedding reception was over by 5pm so I have my suspicions that some of the guests may have gone back to work after.
Maybe for this reason, the wedding was less overtly emotional (though I cried like a baby) as none of the guests had had any gin. Some couples do have a second party for intimate family and friends which is probably where the ties, and tears, come off.
#4 Be prepared to make a speech when you least expect it
I’d been caught off guard at various work and birthday parties before, ending up stood on a chair panicked with no idea of what to say until I blurt out some deeply personal secret just to fill the silence. So, this time I had prepared a detailed presentation on the virtues of marriage (including statistics) just in case I was asked to make a speech since it was my first Japanese wedding.
Luckily for the guests, I wasn’t picked but I have heard stories of friends being asked to say something mid-canapé and it not going too well so it’s best to come equipped.
Have you been to a wedding in Japan? Share your advice with our readers by commenting below!