When I recently got married my wife’s extended family came out to the UK where we had our wedding. While it was wonderful that they made it all the way to my remote hometown, I was stuck with having to explain an English 結婚式 (wedding ceremony) to my future 義親 (in-laws)… in Japanese!
Even if you’re not faced with that challenge (at least not right now), it’s worth knowing some words simply because there might be people getting married around you.
Take, for example, the words for “wife.” The appropriate word follows the “my family/your family” idea, common in a lot of Japanese thinking.
Depending on the context: 家内, 妻, 新婦, 嫁 and 奥さん are all used. Similarly, the equivalents for a husband are 旦那, 新郎, 夫, and ご主人.
家内 and 妻 are used for one’s own wife as much as 旦那 and 夫 are used for your own husband. 新婦 and 嫁 are two words for the bride and 新郎 for the groom. Finally, 奥さん and ご主人さん are used when referring to the significant other of someone else’s family.
Another common word is 夫婦 to mean “married couple,” which is made up of both the husband (夫) and one of the bride’s (婦) kanji. Some couples even go to great expense to get married on November 22nd as 11/22 in Japanese number code can be read as いい夫婦 meaning they’ll be a lucky couple.
So what about the ceremony itself? A traditional Shinto wedding will be held at a 神社 though these are now more of an exception than a rule. Christian-style weddings account for around two-thirds of Japanese marriage ceremonies and are the most popular choice for young couples tying the knot in Japan.
A Christian or Western-style wedding is likely to be held at a チャペル (chapel) or at a ガーデンウエディング venue in Japan. The chapel is typically connected to a major hotel where the families will celebrate together at the 結婚披露宴 (wedding reception).
In terms of outfits, the groom tends to be quite traditional. The most popular, the 燕尾服 (tailcoat), likely hasn’t changed much since the Meiji-era, including a pair of 手袋 (gloves, usually white) that are carried, never worn.
The bride will likewise dress in a traditional white dress (ウエディングドレス) with a bouquet (ブーケ) and veil (ベール). Unlike the groom, she will wear her gloves which are then removed prior to the ring being put on her finger.
One thing that is unique to Japan is the 二世の契り(marriage vow). In Japanese, it’s unusual to say “I do.” Instead, the question is usually said with the verb 誓いますか (Do you vow?) and the answer is typically はい、誓います (Yes, I vow).
After the main event, everyone will go to a hotel or similar location for the 披露宴. This is followed by the 二次会 (after-party) but these can occasionally be joined by other parties up to the fourth (四次会) or fifth (五次会) after-parties. Expect to see lots of glassy-eyed, hungover people as there is a tongue-in-cheek rule that the parties must get increasingly more debauched as they go on and the oldies drop out.
Guests are normally required to offer a 祝儀 (a congratulatory gift of money) which is offered in a 祝儀袋 (a special envelope for wedding money gifts) covered in bows and ribbons. On the other hand, there has recently been a move towards 会費制 (pay-as-you-go style) which makes things a lot easier if you’re going to multiple weddings in a year!
For more on learning Japanese
- Learn Japanese with our original study materials on GaijinPot Study
- Questions about studying Japanese in Japan? Take a look at the Japan 101 section on Higher Education and Studying Japanese
- Join our GaijinPot Study Facebook group to connect with fellow learners
- Learn more about the GaijinPot Study Placement Program