My daughter has a great fondness for all things Japanese and she thrills to the knowledge – any knowledge – about Japan. So as I started this new series on wedding traditions, I decided on Japan as our first around the world outing to study the wedding traditions. Most of my information comes from research both online and off.
According to Japanese myth, the creation of all things occurred because of the marriage of the god and goddess Izanagi and Izanami. These two gods came down to the primordial earth from their place amongst the heavens across a rainbow bridge. Their union produced the islands of Japan, the moon, the sun, the trees, the mountains and the wind.
In honor of this, there are many traditions associated with the wedding that begins with the engagement and the yunio (ceremony) that seals it. At the highlight of the yunio, gifts are given wrapped in ornate rice paper. The gifts themselves are symbols dried cuttlefish for its phallic shape, a long linen thread representing the gray hair of old age, kelp or the konbu because the Japanese character can be etched into it meaning ‘child-bearing woman’ and finally, a folded fan that can be spread out to offer the wealth of the future and potential growth.
Tradition Continues in their Wedding Clothes
From the Edo era (1700-1900), the silk, all white kimono will decorate the brides of the samurai. The white symbolizes the end of one life (the end of being a daughter) and the beginning of a new (becoming a wife). The bride’s hair is secured by tortoise-shell combs and lifted completely up and away from the face. Her skin will be pained a creamy weight and a veil will cover her head and her face. The bride may change her kimono during the different portions of the ceremony and for the Japanese American bride, irises are among the best choices because they are purple and purple is the color of love in Japan.
For the groom, traditional dress includes a black silk kimono bearing his family crest in white in five different places. He usually wears a striped or pleated skirt under the kimono called a hakama. He will carry folded white fan of his own and he will wear white sandals. It is rare for this outfit to be rented as most of these treasured kimonos are handed down from one generation to another.
The Japanese Wedding Ceremony
A tradition Shinto ceremony will honor the spirits of the natural world or the kami. The purification ceremony will include using a branch called the harai-gushi. The priest will call to the gods to bless the couple. At the conclusion of the ceremony, there will be a ritual sharing of sake from three flat cups that are stacked atop one another.
The tradition of sharing sake is called san-san-kudo and how it is performed generally follows the traditions or customs of the family. The bride and groom take sips of the sake and then the sake is offered to the families of the bride and groom.
There are other customs and traditions that may mark a Japanese wedding including Buddhist traditions. We’ll talk about that another time. Have you ever seen attended a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony?