Went to a “wedding party” last month. As you can imagine, I was really excited to see the cultural differences between Japan and America in such a fundamental ceremony as a wedding. I was not able to attend the ceremony itself (I am not that close of a friend with the couple), but was invited to attend what was referred to as the “second party” – more or less a second reception. Apparently this is fairly common. Many people here must be acknowledged with an invite of some kind and some face time with the bride and groom on their big day. Bosses, and coworkers are often included in addition to family and close friends. For example, the branch managers and area manager of our company, as well as our area teaching trainer attended the main ceremony for this wedding, while the attendees of the second party were myself and my other American co-worker (who had only worked with the bride for 4-6 months), some former co-workers from previous schools the bride had worked at, and several high-school and college friends of the groom. With that many people involved, additional, separate parties may be held in order to accommodate everyone. In my friend’s case, the wedding itself and both parties were held at a nice hotel, but tradition is to have your ceremony at a shinto shrine.
Though I did not attend the wedding portion of my friend’s big day, I have learned a few facts about how Japanese weddings differ from those in the US. One striking difference is that guests at a Japanese wedding do not bring presents, but instead give a hefty cash gift. Usually this is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 yen (close to $400), but can vary somewhat based on how close you are to the bride and/or groom. Also, you are to give only brand-new bills, and you give them in a special envelope. These envelopes just look like pretty gift cards and are easily found at any department store. Also, though some brides wear traditional kimonos, and often parents and special guests will wear them as well, it is popular these days for brides to wear western style gowns, which my co-worker chose to do for her ceremony. The groom in this case wore a shiny Western-style tux, though there is traditional dress for men as well. Another traditional element of the ceremony is a letter of thanks that the bride reads to her mother. Apparently there are portions of the ceremony that are always dedicated to acknowledging and appreciating the families of the betrothed couple, and in general the ceremony here is thought of more as the joining of two families than just the marriage of two individuals.
There is apparently no rule against wearing black to a Japanese wedding. In fact, It’s not only okay to wear black, it’s actually what most people wear. The appropriate attire for men seems to be a black suit with a white shirt and light, shiny, pastel colored tie. At the second party I attended, women seemed to be wearing cocktail dresses – but again – mostly in black! There was too little variation of colors to tell whether white was actually frowned upon in any way, for any reason, the way it is in the US. I have also seen pictures of Japanese wedding parties, and it seems to be traditional for the mothers of the bride and groom to wear a specific kind of black kimono that has an ornate decorative pattern on the skirt portion.
Here is a picture of a Japanese couple in traditional wedding dress, along with what appears to be the mother of the bride. Picture borrowed from japaneselifestyle.com.au
At the second party I attended, there were still no gifts, except from a few people, and they seemed to be hand-selected. There is no registry. However, WE, the guests were given gifts. In a sense, this is only fair, because there was an admission fee of 8,000 yen (roughly $100) for attending. I mistakenly thought this was a “gift” that required a special envelope and brand-new bills, but in actuality it was treated as a door charge much like you would pay for a public event. In addition to catered hors d’eouvres and free drinks, every guest received a little box of cookies as a small token, but it was a bit larger and nicer than the bookmark, or candle, or mini trinket that people receive at American weddings.
Also, we played party games much like you would at a bridal or baby shower (although these were dual-gender appropriate and there was no lingerie or baby stuff of course). We played bingo for some great prizes. There was an iPod nano, a package of Kobe beef, and two tickets to Disneyland given away as the top prizes. Smaller prizes were Starbucks giftcards. Someone won a deluxe coffee maker just for randomly picking the right bingo card upon entering. We also played a guessing game where we were told interesting facts about the lovely couple and had to choose true or false by standing on one side of the room or the other. Instead of true or false, the Japanese use Maru and Batsu – which literally mean circle and X. (This goes all the way down to quiz shows, school quizzes, etc. for example, when correcting a quiz, teachers at my school will circle the correct answers in red. I found this confusing at first, because an American teacher would use a check mark for correct answers most likely, and either cross off OR circle the errors, but probably never circle the right answers). Besides party games, we mostly just ate, talked with other guests, and took pictures with the bride and groom (who were now wearing their 3rd party outfits of the day – a western style tux and party dress).
The event ended promptly at 9pm, the start and end time having been announced on the email we were initially sent as an invitation. Most functions here end fairly early in the evening, as it turns out. The train stops running rather inconveniently around 12:30 or 1am, which means that if you travel much distance you must time your departure carefully. Your last train from that area may be as early as 10:30pm, and if you miss it, you will find yourself stuck there until they start again at 4:30am. Hence the popularity of capsule hotels here for businessmen who stayed out too late working or drinking with coworkers.
Apologies for the lack of pictures, but I felt it inappropriate to post pics of a personal event like a wedding reception without permission from everyone involved. Friends and family who are curious can email me to see pics 🙂