Until recently Japan was considered a land of mystery. American movies, unfortunately, did not depict the delicate and intricate workings of the Japanese society. Today, some Japanese couples have western-style ceremonies, just like American couples, but in former years this would have been considered unacceptable. Older pictures show beautiful, slim women in kimonos, their black hair in a bun on top of their head, walking on wooden clogs. The farm women were shown in black, padded pants and tops. Mainly, what the Americans knew about these people they read in books.
In Japan there is an ancient myth that all things, including Japan itself, were created by the marriage of male and female gods, similar to Zeus and Hera. Although, today, many Japanese weddings are conducted in a Western-style, in previous year’s marriage was conducted in a strict Shinto ceremony.
Once a boy or girl attain the age of marriage a search for a suitable partner began. Often times marriages were arranged between overlords who wished to strengthen their power. In these cases often the couple had not seen each other until their wedding day.
Sometimes there was a Mi-Ai interview whereby the future groom managed to obtain an invitation to the house of someone he was interested in. At that time he would leave a token, such as a fan to indicate his interest in the woman. If the woman was impressed she was seen using the fan. This was just an indication that they were interested in getting to know each other, not necessarily an invitation to marriage.
The bride always wore an all-white wedding kimono which symbolized a new beginning as it was believed the bride ‘died’ as a member of her family and was ‘reborn’ into her husband’s family. Her face was painted a creamy white. The bride changed her clothing several times during the wedding; one of the kimonos indicated that she was a young, unmarried woman. This was the last time she could wear this outfit. The groom wore a black kimono with the family crest in white and wore white sandals. He carried a white, folded fan.
The wedding ceremony was strictly, Shinto, in that it honored the natural world spirits. After a purification ceremony, the priest called on the gods to bless the couple. The ceremony ended with the sharing of sake from three flat cups stacked on top of one another. This was usually done according the family’s custom; the groom takes three sips from a cup, followed by the bride taking three sips, then passing it to the family for the same routine. The first sip represented three couples (the bride and groom and their parents), the second sip represented human flaws, and the third sip represented deliverance from the human flaws.
The Japanese wedding banquet food was very special, representing happiness, prosperity, many children, and happiness. The food was served in special ways to represent these attributes. For example, clams were served with the shells together representing the couple’s solid union; fish was formed in a circle to represent solidarity; etc.
Incorporating Japanese traditions into a traditional wedding ceremony can provide a unique twist while honoring your heritage. Many more traditions exist providing a traditional ceremony with beauty, romance, and culture that will be long remembered by those in attendance after the event is over.