Photo by Marco Mastrojanni via Flickr

You will find four major styles of wedding celebrated in Japan including Shinto, Christian, Buddist, and non-religious. In the past, it was the Shinto style wedding that dominated Japan. This style of wedding became popular in the early 20th century before it was replaced by the more westernized Christian “White Wedding” in the late 1990s. Even though Christians make up about only 1 percent of Japan’s population, Japan has adopted the fancy flowing white gowns, exchanging of rings, bouquet toss, taking honeymoons, and more.

While Christian-style weddings may now be the preferred type of ceremony in Japan, accounting for over two-thirds of unions, let us take a deeper look into the elaborate Japanese wedding dresses of the more traditional Shinto style wedding. Shinto style weddings involve several wedding dress changes throughout the celebration and we will discuss outfits worn by both the bride and groom. It is a beautiful tradition that is sadly vanishing from Japanese culture, not only due to Christian style weddings, but also because Japanese marriages have dropped to record lows in recent years.

 

The Shiromuku

Posing
Photo by gwaar via Flickr

Let us start off with the bride. For Shinto weddings, brides typically start by wearing an ensemble known as a shiromuku. This mostly white ensemble is worn during the wedding ceremony and signifies pureness, cleanliness, and virginity. Being dressed in white is also symbolic of the bride being a blank canvas for accepting her new husband’s ideas and values.

The shiromuku consists of a white furisode kimono that has a trailing hem called a kakeshita. Over this, a maru or fukuro obi (broad sash) is worn around the waist and is secured by a scarf-like obi-age and a rope known as an Obi-jime. Next a second robe-like kimono known as an uchikake is put over all this.

Footwear consists of tabi socks and zōri sandals and accessories include a hakoseko purse, sensu folding fan, and sometimes a kaiken knife (from the age of the samurai). While western brides often wear veils, the shiromuku often consists of wearing a large white hood known as a wataboshi. This is said to hide the bad spirits that exist in a woman’s long hair as well as making the bride’s face only visible to her husband. Other brides may choose to wear a tsunokakushi hat over their shimada wig which is adorned with kanzashi hair ornaments. Wigs are styled in the Edo period shimada style. Some brides may wear the wataboshi during the ceremony and then switch to the tsunokakushi for the reception.

While most of the shiromuku ensemble may be white, the kimonos as well as the wataboshi and bows may be lined in vivid red.

 

The Iro-uchikake

Under the cherry blossoms
Photo by gwaar via Flickr

After the wedding ceremony, brides get ready for the reception by changing into a much more colorful iro-uchikake. The iro-uchikake is most often bright red but may also be gold or more modern colors such as deep purple or turquoise. The garment often features beautiful designs consisting of cherry blossoms, cranes, or other Japanese motifs. The symbols chosen often are meant for the purpose of bringing good luck or fortune.

 

Hikifurisode

Brides looking for a little less formal dress often opt for a hikifurisode. It is a classic kind of bridal kimono that may simply be worn at the wedding reception. The hikifurisode is generally an o-furisode which has a longer sleeve length. It is often worn with a small trail and without a fold at hip-height. Brides choosing to wear a hikifurisode often get to showcase their own individual style a bit more by adding their favorite accessories. While many brides use the hikifurisode as a third change of clothes during the wedding, some may choose it as their sole dress since it is lighter weight and often much more inexpensive than the other two more formal choices.

 

Mon-tsuki Haori Hakama

Groom Shinto Wedding Attire
Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp) via Flickr

While the bride’s attire may get the most attention, the groom doesn’t escape having to dress up. Although the groom isn’t expected to go through the often multiple costume changes the bride must endure, they do dress up in what is known as a montsuki haori hakama. This consists of a traditional formal kimono known as a mon-tsuki that is adorned with family crests, a pair of striped hakama trousers, and a haori overcoat.

Much like the suits or tuxedos worn by western grooms, the formal kimonos worn during Shinto style weddings lack color. They are often black or grey with white family crests. This type of garment is worn not only by the groom but also by many male wedding guests.