A typical western style wedding, but this is not in America, Europe or Australia. This wedding is taking place in Japan. Even in traditional parts of Japan, many young couples wish to have the fabled ‘white wedding’ of the western world. Couples choosing a ‘traditional’ Japanese style wedding, held in a Shinto shrine, are now in the minority. Bizarrely, no matter whether the couple chooses a Shinto ceremony or a Christian-themed ceremony, they must first prove that they are in fact married. This usually involves filing the correct paperwork for marriage at the local government office months in advance. Documentation must then be shown to either the Shinto priest, or to the wedding company staff at the Christian chapel hall, before the wedding ceremony can legally take place.
According to findings in 2011 by Yano Research Institute, the wedding ceremony and reception party market in Japan was estimated to be JPY 1,516 billion yen (about USD 15 billion dollars). The average price for a wedding and reception, usually held in a hotels or wedding ceremony chapels and halls, hovered around 3 million yen (USD 24 thousand dollars). However, wedding venues have recently been offering more reasonably priced ceremonies and parties due to economic deflation in the last few years.
Nevertheless, those figures are just for the wedding ceremony and reception. Many companies offer complete packages that include the initial engagement ceremony and jewelry, wedding day ceremony and reception, bride and groom wedding clothing, bridal jewelry, hotel stay afterwards, honeymoon travel, and even ‘starting furniture’ for newlyweds. That market, as of 2010, was estimated to be worth JPY 2,748 billion yen (approximately USD 27.5 billion dollars), a market which has shown to be strong despite the recession.
The service is usually pretty similar to a wedding ceremony typically seen in the Protestant Church. After the father of the bride ‘gives her away’ to the groom, the couple walk forward and/or up to stand in front of the altar/pulpit. After a song or hymn is sung, the wedding celebrant will offer a prayer, and then this is followed by the reading of an excerpt from the Christian bible. A personal message from the wedding celebrant is given, followed by the marriage vows (called Seiyaku in Japanese) and the exchanging of wedding rings. The couple then signs the chapel register and finally the wedding minister officially announces them as husband and wife. Most of the ceremony is conducted in Japanese language, but the personal message and prayer is delivered in English. No wedding would be complete without the traditional wedding kiss, and this can take place after the wedding vows or at the end of the service before the final hymn.
Most wedding halls tend to play a rendition of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March as the newly married couple makes their exit to the warm applause of everyone gathered. Guests are then ushered to the front for wedding photos, and are soon joined by the bride and groom for further official wedding photos. Finally, everyone follows the married couple to the reception hall for the party. Being Japan, this is still a rather formal affair and contains more than a few prepared speeches from family and friends. It is only after the first dance between just-married husband and wife that the reception takes on a more relaxed and casual tone, usually denoted by the change in music from traditional to modern, and the party rages on into the night. There are often pre-arranged ‘after parties’ held at various Karaoke bars or hotel bars following the reception.