Japanese Wedding Guide for Guests | Part-1

Japanese Wedding

The wedding in Japan can be roughly divided into three parts.

  1. The ceremony (挙式 / きょしき / kyoshiki)
  2. The reception (披露宴 / ひろうえん / hirōen)
  3. The after party (二次会 / にじかい / nijikai)

1. The ceremony (About 30 minutes)

It is a ceremony where the bride and groom make their marriage vows in front of God and the guests.
There are two types of ceremonies.

  • Western style (mainly at churches)
  • Japanese style (mainly at shrines)

In Japan, people are not so religious, so they hold their weddings regardless of their belief or religion. (There are not many Christians in Japan, but the majority of people choose a church for their wedding ceremony.)

It is perfectly fine, even if your religion is not the same as the ceremony you will attend, as long as you don’t mind.

At both types of ceremonies, the staff will guide you through the ceremony. If you have trouble figuring out where to sit or what to do, I recommend sitting near some friends of the bride or groom and checking out what they are doing.

*Note for Japanese style weddings

  • You may not be allowed to take photos inside the shrine. Ask the bride and groom in advance or ask the staff on the day if it is okay to take pictures during the wedding ceremony.
  • Before entering the shrine building, you need to wash your hands in a place to purify them. It is a good idea to watch the other guests and copy how they do it. It’s okay if you don’t do it well. Just make sure you have a small handkerchief or towel in your purse or pocket.
  • During the wedding ceremony, the relatives will have a drinking ceremony. (Guests basically do not participate in this ceremony.) If you are pregnant or do not drink alcohol, please be careful. It’s okay not to drink it. You can simply pretend to put your mouth near the sake cup.

2. The reception (About 2.5 to 3 hours)

A wedding reception is a party where the bride and groom are presented to everyone, and food and drinks are served. In the western style, the wedding ceremony is often held in a chapel attached to the banquet hall. So after the wedding ceremony, the guests move to the banquet hall and wait for the bride and groom to come. On the day of the ceremony, the receptionist will give you a seating map, and you will be seated at the table with your name on it.

During the reception, the guests (basically, bosses and friends) give messages to the couple, and a video is played to introduce the couple’s background. The ceremony ends with a speech from the bride and groom thanking their parents and giving them a bouquet of flowers. Wait for the staff to guide you when you leave the venue.

In the Japanese style, the ceremony is often held at a shrine, but the reception may be held at a venue inside the shrine or at a nearby ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurant), or the location may be moved to a hotel or wedding hall for the reception.

3. The after party (About 2 hours)

This is an after party for the friends of the bride and groom to congratulate them. Friends who were not invited to the wedding party are also invited. Since family members do not attend, it is more casual than the wedding ceremony and reception. The venue is often a restaurant or bar.

You can wear the same clothes as for the wedding ceremony. Some female guests may wear a jacket over a dress, and those who wore kimonos may change into a cocktail dress.

When you receive an invitation

Read this article for more information on when and how to write a reply in Japanese when you receive an invitation for wedding ceremonies.

How to Reply to a Wedding Invitation in Japanese

What guests need to prepare before the wedding

  • (Brandnew) 10,000 yen bill x number of bills needed
  • Goshugi-bukuro (A special envelope for wedding money)
  • Fukusa (A silk wrapping cloth for the special envelope) or a large, plain handkerchief or a small furoshiki

What is ご祝儀 (Goshūgi) ?

Celebration gifts for marriage are called 「ご祝儀 (ごしゅうぎ / goshūgi)」. In Japan, it is customary to give money as congratulations when attending a wedding ceremony.

Basically, an even number is divisible, so it is not used in celebrations as it is a bad luck if the two people are also divided. (100,000 yen is fine, though.) Also, 4 and 9 are avoided because they have the same sound as the Japanese words for death and suffering, respectively.

Therefore, the most common celebratory money used in Japan is 30,000 or  50,000 or 70,000 or 100,000 yen.
The price depends on your relationship with the bride and groom.

For the bride and groom

  • Friends, colleagues the same as or younger than them: 30,000 yen
  • Bosses: 50,000 yen
  • Relatives (distant relatives, same age, younger than them): 30,000 yen or 50,000 yen
  • Relatives (close relatives, you are older and in your 40s or older): 50,000 yen or 70,000 yen or 100,000 yen

When a couple attends, 30,000 yen x 2 people makes 60,000 yen. However, since it is a divisible number, you can make it 70,000 yen, or you can make the congratulatory money 50,000 yen and send a gift of about 10,000 yen worth of goods or money on another occasion.

Bills used for celebrations

It is customary to prepare brand-new bills (new bills that have not been used yet) to show that you have been looking forward to this day and have prepared for it, and also to celebrate your new life together with a clean and fresh mind.

However, since this is just a custom, it is okay not to prepare them. If you wish to prepare them, bring the amount you want to give as congratulatory money to the bank, and they will exchange it for new bills.

Goshugi-bukuro (A special envelope for wedding money)

Goshugi-bukuro can be purchased at bookstores, convenience stores, hundred-yen stores, and stationery stores.

They are often located near stationery, envelopes, letter sets, etc. If you are not sure, ask the staff :
「ご祝儀袋はどこですか? (ごしゅうぎぶくろはどこですか / goshuugi-bukuro wa dokodesuka)」.

Those with the letters 「寿」,「御祝」, and「御結婚 御祝」 on them can be used to celebrate a marriage.On the slip with these kanji characters, write your name vertically on the part below the mizuhiki (a kind of ribbon). I know it’s hard to write, try your best…!

If you are going to live in Japan for a long time, it is also recommended to make a stamp of your name for Goshugi-bukuro.

Be careful not to get the black, yellow or gray ones as shown in the image above, as they are for funerals.

*When more than 1 person from the same family attends, you do not need to prepare an envelope for each person. Please use one envelope for your family.

Fukusa (A silk wrapping cloth for the special envelope)

A fukusa is a cloth used to wrap a money envelope such as a congratulatory gift. You can buy them at 100 yen shops, and some of them have English instructions on how to use them.

If you don’t have a fukusa, wrap the money envelope carefully in a handkerchief or furoshiki cloth and take it to the venue.

If you buy one, I recommend the purple one as it is useful for any occasion (weddings, funerals, etc.).

Part-2 features what to wear for a wedding ceremony.

Japanese Wedding Guide for Guests | Part-2

Part-3 features the process of participating in the ceremony on the wedding day, frequently asked questions, and things that surprised foreigners who have attended weddings in Japan.

Japanese Wedding Guide for Guests | Part-3