Traditional shinto wedding.
Photo by Simon Desmarais

Gone are the days when tying the knot was confined to a ceremony in a Christian church; now, couples looking to celebrate their love through marriage have a wealth of more unique options available to them.

As wedding destinations go, Japan surely ranks as one of the most romantic. Famed for its delicate cherry blossom, elegant temples and ancient traditions, Japan also has surprises up its sleeve when it comes to getting hitched. Read on to learn why a Shinto wedding – the country’s traditional type of ceremony – could well be the perfect celebration for you and your partner.

What is Shinto and what are the traditional features of a Shinto wedding?

Shinto beliefs

Japanese gates

A Shinto wedding is a traditional marriage ceremony that takes places at a Shinto shrine in Japan. Shinto is a system of beliefs centred around worshiping kami, a word loosely translated in English as “spirits”. The kami can influence people’s everyday lives, bringing good fortune or misfortune to worshippers.

Praying to these spirits normally take place at private Shinto shrines in family’s houses or at one of the thousands of larger shrines that are dotted around Japan. Shinto shrines are an iconic part of Japanese architecture, recognizable the world over for the vermilion-coloured torii gates that mark their entrances.

Shinto weddings are held at these shrines and the first ceremony actually took place relatively recently, when Crown Prince Yoshihito (who would later become Emperor Taishō) married Princess Sado in 1990.

Features of a traditional Shinto wedding

Although Shinto weddings were once a popular type of marriage ceremony, estimates now suggest that only twenty percent of all Japanese weddings now are in this style. The majority of Japanese couples now opt instead for a “white” or “Western” wedding.

wedding
Photo by David Offf

But those that do take place include the following features:

– The wedding takes place at a Shinto shrine using a Shinto priest
– The couple are dressed in traditional outfits, with the bride wearing a white or silk kimono or “shiromuku” – the colours associated with purity in Shinto – and a hood (or “wataboshi”) or a paper hat (“tsunokakushi”) on her head.
– The most important feature of the wedding is the purification ritual, the san-san-ku-do ceremony that sees the bride and groom sharing and exchange three different sized cups of sake, which are poured and offered to the couple to be drunk.
– Vows are then read by the groom and the whole wedding party – which normally only consists of a small group of close family – join together in drinking sake.
– Offerings are given by the priest and a representative of each family to thank the kami that have blessed the union and finally the rings are exchanged.

After the official ceremony, the celebrations continue at a large hall or hotel, where more friends and family are invited to join the reception. Food and drink are served and speeches are made.

Guests are expected to make gifts of money to the couple and in return are given wedding favours, known as hikidemono. These can range from tableware to confectionary and even catalogues from which the guests can choose their own gifts.

How to plan a traditional Japanese wedding

Even if you’re a resident of another country, it is possible to celebrate your marriage with a traditional Shinto wedding.

Organizing your Shinto wedding

One of the initial stages of planning is to contact a Shinto shrine directly to organise the dates of the celebration. Many can hold up to 15 weddings per day, but it’s still essential to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

here comes the bride
Photo by David Offf

Another vital step in planning your wedding is to file for marriage at the local government office in Japan. You can only conduct a Shinto wedding if you have the correct official paperwork and documentation.

Costumes and make up are other crucial components and bridal outfits can be hired from Japanese companies or hotels that offer wedding packages.

Get in touch with Kotohogi-wedding.com, who can help you find the perfect Shino shrine and wedding reception venue, or take all of the planning out of your hands with their range of wedding packages that will ensure the day runs without a hitch.

Although the website is in Japanese, don’t hesitate to contact one of their wedding planning specialists who can assist you in English.

Best times of the year for holding a traditional Japanese wedding

Spring and Autumn are the most popular times for wedding ceremonies in Japan, with the months of March, May, October and November when most take place. Expect no rainfall, clear skies and the chances of seeing the cherry blossom in bloom or autumn colours in all their glory.