Japanese “Western” style weddings are awesome

I recently saw someone tweet this:

The Japanese are brilliant at creating unnecessary rules and rituals for adopted western ceremonies. Particularly weddings. Urgh.

Many apologies, Zee-chan, but your statement has inspired me to say something about Japanese weddings. Essentially, that thing is this – I understand the frustration, but for all the ritual and pomp and circumstance, Japanese wedding ceremonies serve a worthy purpose that deserves respect. In fact, the rigidness and ritualistic aspects are kind of the whole point!

Again, I don’t want to single out Zee-chan. I don’t know her and it’s just one tweet, so I have no idea what she is thinking in detail. She just got me thinking about the topic.

But I will say this – I personally have long had complaints about the typical Japanese “western” style wedding, and I know that many other Westerner expats have them too. They tend to consist of sentiments like:

  • Japanese Western weddings are phony-seeming because they are held in a Christian chapel even though the couples and families are rarely practicing Christians

  • It’s weird that they hire white people to act as fake priests

  • They are unnecessarily expensive

  • The cash gifts requested of guests are too high

  • Rules for how to hand out gifts, greet the bride and groom, etc. are too rigid

Many of those criticisms are all well and good, but in general I want to just tell everyone to give Japanese weddings a break! People all over the world have a need for ceremony, and it isn’t fair for outsiders to be dismissive of the necessary rituals for marriage.

For my wedding to Mrs. Adamu way back in 2007, we went through a very conventional wedding planner, but insisted on doing things very simply and in our own way. We had no “ceremony” to speak of since we are not religious. Instead, we skipped directly to the reception and invited only close family and friends to a restaurant of our choosing. We asked one of our close friends to em-cee, created the invitations and audio-visual content ourselves (an MP3 mix and PowerPoint presentations!)

We did this first and foremost because we wanted things to be more intimate and customized to our style, in order to make it more memorable. But another reason we insisted on doing it this way was because we hated the Japanese “Western” style weddings so much and didn’t want to do full Japanese-style either. We openly thought the Western ones were stupid, especially the fake priest thing, and even tried to convince some of Shoko’s friends of this (unsuccessfully).

Well, we had the ceremony and it was a success beyond our expectations. We dressed in kimonos, Mrs. Adamu’s friends performed for us at the after-party, and we were able to bring the two families together (my immediate family flew into Tokyo for the occasion).

We were so proud of how it turned out, and we look back at that day very fondly. But after everything went down, it dawned on me – in terms of the benefits, our wedding was not that different from other Japanese couples who went the more traditional route. Here are some of the good things about having a “proper” wedding:

  • It lets the people in each circle (family, friends, coworkers, bosses) know in a very public way that the two of you are coming together, and it gives the people a chance to meet the other person as well as the other side’s family members

  • More critically, it is a public meeting of the two families to show (and usually give a speech explicitly stating) that they are in favor of the union

  • It gives everyone a chance to celebrate the union and in a way say goodbye to the single person they knew – the speeches and performances by friends are part of this

  • For the couple, it is their chance to know that they are accepted, see that people are happy and celebrating, and thus feel like a real married couple

  • Doing all this formally and in public makes it all official – this was hard for me to appreciate before having gone through it, but if you’re young and not married this is a bigger deal than you might think. For example, my father died a while after this, and for whatever reason I feel better knowing he was able to see me get married.

  • Oftentimes, the gifts collected exceed the cost of the wedding itself, and thus help fund the couple’s new start together

  • It is the bride’s day to live her dream, dress up nicely, and be the complete center of attention on one very special day.

  • And of course, the proceedings are documented on video and in thousands of pictures, to share with the people who couldn’t attend and to look back on years later.

These will definitely vary for each couple/family (and of course it’s somewhat idealized), but I think it’s a decent approximation.

And for all this, it doesn’t really matter what specific form the ritual takes, as long as people recognize it as an official and real wedding ceremony. So if it takes hiring a random white person, signing a fake contract, or whatever, so be it.

It might go without saying, but a wedding day isn’t all about the couple getting married – it also has to (at least mostly) meet the expectations of the guests, especially the parents. And in the case of many Japanese people, that means checking off all the boxes on the “wedding ceremony” order form. It might be expensive, gaudy, “fake,” etc, but it fulfills a very real social need.

This is mostly my own tale of coming to my senses and growing up about the importance of the wedding ceremony. So I am not sure how much this applies to other people, but at any rate I wanted to get this story off my chest.

  1. HOLD UP….wait just a second there….did you just say:
    “The cash gifts requested of guests are too high”
    Maybe I am not reading this correctly, but, in Japan, YOU have to PAY the guests ?

  2. No no, guests bring cash to the lucky couple. Usually the amount is Y30,000 (or Y50,000 for a couple attending together), but can be lower for those who aren’t close friends/family

  3. Hi Adam! I’m amazed my tweet sparked a full blog post. XD I understand your view of things, and those are all valid points. I think Twitter’s 140 character limit has reared its ugly head here – what’s bothering me about the wedding I’m going to is the little, small, “no one would care in the western world” type things, like what kind of envelope you have to put the gift money in, the direction it has to go in, the very limited variety of what you can wear and how you can wear it, when and where you have to bow and say “omedetou” and such… it’s just completely unnatural for me. My family tends to do very casual weddings where it’s okay to slip up a bit, so having to remember all of these rules is driving me nuts.

    And I’m not happy about the cost either, especially since I’m going all the way to Kansai for this one. But I’m just considering that as an admission fee / cultural difference and trying to let it go.

    It’s my first Japanese wedding, so I guess nerves are getting the better of me… I’ll try to enjoy it for the reasons you mentioned above, though! Thanks for the counter-point of view.

    Cheers!

  4. As a guest, you have to pay ¥30000 as an individual and ¥50000 as a couple — much more if you are particularly close to them.

    The main issue with these packaged faux Western weddings in Japan remains that they are commercialized and generic. Companies are basically selling you a pre-fab “special day” in which you make minor changes for additional fees. This is also a fair criticism leveled at weddings in the U.S. so I don’t think it’s fully a Japanese problem. But with the Japanese disposition towards conventions, couples are much more likely to just follow the set pattern. I feel like I’ve been to the same exact wedding several times, and the ones that are special tend to move outside the matrimony industry.

    The Shinto ceremony deep down probably has the same generic qualities, but at least it feels less commercialized and cynical on the part of the people running it.

  5. My wedding’s ceremony was a “jinzenshiki” (人前式), a type of ceremony that is getting more and more popular (according to my wedding planner at least). As the name suggests, it’s a ceremony in front of people, as opposed to in front of God, a fake priest or whoever else.

    We had our friend be the MC for the ceremony, and we had a lot of leeway on how to do the main bit (i.e. where to hold it, how to walk in, say our vows, exchange rings, etc.)

    When it comes down to it, no matter how creative we thought we were being, a few of my friends said it was just like any other Japanese wedding (especially the reception after the short ceremony).

  6. I’ve only ever been to one wedding in America. It looked like every wedding I’ve ever seen on TV. Priest, rings, aisle, white dress, tuxedo, “I do”, rice tossing. Followed by a reception with a cake cutting, speeches, dance.

    I guess I’m not following what makes Japanese weddings so different from American ones. The only “ritualized” differences that stand out are the wedding money (which is an awesome system, in my opinion), the final speech from the rear of the wedding hall, and the lining up at the exit to say goodbye to everyone who attended. None of those are particularly onerous.

    And, on the plus side, no dancing at the reception! Every time we see a wedding in an American TV show or movie, my wife and I mention how glad we are that we had our wedding in Japan.

  7. Zee-chan,

    Sorry, I didn’t see that you’d responded when I made my comment above.

    If you’re talking about the envelopes, etc., then keep in mind you’re not really talking about creating rules for Western ceremonies, but instead your complaint is that Japanese don’t throw out all their existing rules when bringing in Western ceremonies. It’s not like these envelope rules don’t apply to Japanese-style weddings.

  8. We’re going through this organisation right now, with much the same thoughts.

    Having a fake priest is cheesy beyond anything… I mean you might as well be married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas – at least it would be obvious you’re joking.

    Ceremony and formality are important – otherwise you’ve just got yourself a regular party that is not going to be as fun or emotional for everyone. The secret seems to be to seperate the aspects of a wedding that exist for good reasons, like you mentioned, versus those that exist for stupid reasons, like fake priests.

  9. Adam’s comments about “why have a wedding” are all spot on. In many ways it also symbolizes the couple’s commitment to each other, in that the planning and execution of a wedding party is a long, tiresome and possibly embarrassing process. For me, the best part of having a big wedding party was bringing together the different groups of friends that my wife and I had collected over the years.

    I went to a Shinto wedding for the first time late last year, and it struck me as being no less strange than a fake Christian wedding. In fact many of the Japanese guests seemed confused by it. My take is that the rituals are significant, but that unless you have some kind of strong religious conviction (which most Japanese people lack) it doesn’t matter whether you are exchanging cups of sake or singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” (I got married in a real church in Tokyo, where an 80+-year-old Irish priest insisted that our Japanese guests would think we were nuts if we chose any other song)

    One thing you may not realize is that even “pre-fab” Japanese weddings on a standard script can involve a lot of customization. When we planned our reception at a big hotel in Tokyo, there were so many choices of rooms, food, wine, flowers, dishes, tablecloths, seat covers, invitations, cakes, costumes, etc. etc. that we could have spent an eternity agonizing over them without even thinking about the script. That said, when we got married in 2010, the wedding planner at the hotel said that she sees an increasing number of Japanese couples messing with the standard script because they think it’s too boring. The old /deru kugi/ attitude is in a slow but much-deserved death spiral.

    There is a superstitious excuse for the standard 30,000 single/50,000 yen couple price point: you are not supposed to give a single note (which implies loneliness) or an even number of notes (which can be easily divided). And you are supposed to use brand-new, uncreased notes. I broke all of these rules the first couple of times I attended weddings in Japan, but eventually figured things out. In practice some friends or family members of the couple will be the only ones who actually see the envelopes and the money, though the couple themselves will see a tally of what everyone gave at the end of the day so you don’t want to be a total cheapskate.

  10. One thing you may not realize is that even “pre-fab” Japanese weddings on a standard script can involve a lot of customization.

    Yes, but my point is that the customization is like ordering from a menu: you pay for these customizations and they’re mostly from a pre-determined set.

    For most people, wedding’s should have the “smell” of money and glamour, and the Western ceremony (a prestigious import!) works well. Shinto/Buddhist ceremonies can be “strange” but they’re either (1) much more humble than an Aoyama affair, or (2) have the aura of Old Money rather than New Money.

  11. This all rings a fair few bells. When Mrs Kamo and I got hitched (a few months after turning in the paperwork, which I guess really drives home the whole point about public ceremony) we had a shinto affair. Given I’m atheist and she’s not religious in the slightest, the logic was that I had family and friends coming halfway round the world and we may as well put on a bit of a show. Little difference from the rationale for many western style weddings, I guess.

    We had friends MC as well, and aside from a bit of a, er, ‘discussion’ about the seating arrangements for our respective families it all went pretty well. What was perhaps notable was that my side all thought it was a fairly formal affair, but all her side remarked on how relaxed it all was.

    I know it cost a fair bit for the guests, but those party bags don’t come cheap, y’know…;)

  12. Ah, and I forgot to mention that for most of her guests, it was the first shinto style wedding they’d been to. Make of that what you will.

    (I should say that we’re of an age where everyone’s been to a fair few by now, so that’s not a factor).

  13. I had thought that younger folk could get away with 15,000 yen as well, the point being to give at least as much to cover the price of the meal, but not fall foul of the rules that Joe elaborated on. That being said, ten years back I gave 11,226 yen (props to anyone who can guess why) at a friend’s wedding. Boy, did the folks at the reception desk freak out to get an envelope with coins rattling around inside of it.

    I agree with Adamu’s bullets on why a ceremony with witnesses has value. I do not quite understand the “logic”, as kamo put it, of putting on a show with a religious, when one party is non-religious and the other is atheist. (I agree with Joe that unless one has a religious conviction, it matters not whether you choose shinzen or Christian ceremony, but doesn’t atheism qualify as a religious conviction?)

    Also, as I much as I don’t like the wedding industry here, I find from the news that it is changing fairly quickly. Thus, I don’t know that the industry is as rigid, so much as the older guests that people invite to their weddings are rigid. In the face of both a shrinking demographic and an increasing apathetic attitude towards getting married, there are shifting consumer preferences, like the “jimi-kon” or the inexorably growing number of “double omedeta-kon”. On top of that, if you are a bigger player like Watabe, you are trying to figure out what the Chinese like… A company that hopes to survive can’t afford to be rigid, it would seem.

  14. “11,226 yen (props to anyone who can guess why)” – Feb. 26, Showa 11 – Ni Ni Roku incident. Was your friend a Mishima fan?

    Totally agree with Adamu on the significance of weddings. I had one in the Anglosphere and a second a la carte one in Japan and both had their strong points.

    There actually is no “traditional” Japanese wedding. Essentially, premodern Japan was a collection of often very different regional microcultures and wedding practices could be as different as between European countries. The “Shinto Wedding” as we know it was invented in 1900 as a part of the state led drive to homogenize Shinto and build “State Shinto” into the lives of all Japanese, a side of the continuing process of pumping emperor centrism into the lives of ordinary Japanese and stressing affiliation to the modern nation state over village or locality. The “Western Wedding” came into fashion with the proliferation of “community centers” and the rise of disposable income amid feelings of job security and progress in the late 1950s and took its current form in the 1970s.

    Some of the Shinto priests who perform weddings are not actually shrine priests, BTW. Many are basically actors employed by wedding halls. Most Japanese don’t care and I think that is alright. “Authenticity” can be overrated. I know someone who was married by a priest who is now in jail for you know what. How do you think those people feel about their wedding pictures?

    On top of Adamu’s comments about demonstrating closeness and community, weddings also served as a class identifier. The big ones that cost 5000man are an announcement of social status as much as anything and like many Japanese “elite” cultural practices, there are downmarket versions that average people participate in in an aspirational way (you know, the kind of people who go on Shinkon-sa Irrashai… I guess I’m in this group come to think of it).

    I’m seeing a shift, in the inaka at least, to more weddings that are a procedure at city hall followed by a restaurant rent-out (sometimes even guests pay their own). This fits with an era of low (and marginally declining) starting salaries and a lack of job security. Showing your boss that you were seriously middle class in 1969 was important. Now, many just get family and friends (sometimes separately) together and have fun.

  15. Culture and religion are interwoven, and as others have pointed out, these artifacts are as much cultural and social signifiers as they are religious ones. Possibly even more so nowadays.

    I didn’t know M-Bone’s point about the relative newness of the shinto ceremony, but it chimes with the point I was going to make about my Dad and Brother wearing kilts, which in their modern incarnation are basically just propoganda instruments courtesy of Walter Scott.

    When my wife’s family came back to the UK, I had no problem showing them Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s, or Westminster Abbey as culturally significant places, despite fundamentally disagreeing with their philosophical underpinnings. Trying to impose a strict division is something of a fool’s errand, I feel. You take what you want and ignore the rest; it’s the way it’s always worked.

    As for atheism being a ‘religious conviction’, I think that’s a statement which betrays a fundamental misconception about what atheism is, and more importantly what it isn’t. I’m happyt to discuss it, but short of mentioning He Who Must Not Be Named, I can’t think of a surer way to derail what’s becoming quite an interestion thread. I might witter on about it over at my place in the next couple of days or so, if anyone cares.

  16. I don’t mean to bash Shinto weddings particularly (I had one). Everything that I said about power could also apply to various Christian churches, which are just as complicit in imperialism and violence. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy it or use any of it to create our own meanings now. Hitchens, for example, loved the King James Bible and the Catholic mass. I’m partial to them as well.

    Re: kilts – I saw “Brave” the other day. I know it is a kid’s movie, but I was entertained by how it was set in the 5th century, looked like it was in the 14th century, and everything Scottish about it dates from the 17th century at the earliest. At least the Japanese Shinto wedding has aesthetic continuities with earlier practices – the anglicized countries (Ireland, Scotland, Wales) get turned into unchanging 1000 year punchlines by other people’s popular culture.

  17. Both the Western and Shinto wedding styles are bundles of signifiers. There’s a reason that Aoyama happens to be the home to high-end Western-focused grocery stores, avant-garde fashion boutiques, and the modern Western style wedding industry.

    Yes, Shinto weddings may be equally “artificial” but they are not so deeply embedded in that particular milieu of post-war consumer culture. There seems to be defense of fake priests as not being any more fake than anything else in that milieu, which is true, but at least the Shinto wedding lets you fantasize that you have escaped a commercial industry for a little bit. Having gagaku under the procession is a fun anachronism, but you don’t think about the “industry” of gagaku players. I’ve been to many, many over-the-top, three-dress-change Barbie-style wedding recently and all you think about the whole time is how much it must have cost — which I guess is the point.

  18. Big Shinto weddings were playing that precise role in Taisho consumer culture (look how wealthy and cultured I am). A lot of late capitalist / post-war Japanese consumer culture is built around “authenticity”, be it the wedding kimono or any number of mass produced products which advertisers and others work hard to establish an “aura” for and convince consumers to fetishize and ignore the fact that, say, half of the mingei stuff out there is now Made in China. There is something “honestly fake” about Western-style weddings that I think is appealing. Why is the fantasy of authenticity any better than the Barbie fantasy? I’ll give someone who wears a Beauty and the Beast dress at their wedding some credit, at least it is a type of ‘taste’. They are, I think, aware of the playful artifice while gagaku players just get treated as 2000 years of Japanese tradition. Fujiwara Masahiko would love them.

  19. Okay, M-Bone, but Shinto weddings don’t mean that in our era.

    This entire thing comes down to “taste” and goes beyond rational argument. There’s no right answer and no way to convince everyone that fake priests are suddenly not tacky. Western-style weddings and Shinto-style weddings in 2012 signify different things to their audiences, and it’s your choice on what you want to project to your guests. Shinto weddings, by default, project a continuity with tradition — maybe it’s a fake invented tradition, but it’s more continuous than a wedding that was dictated to you by the marketing lords at Zexy.

  20. Maybe this is because most of my experience is in the inaka, but I see Western cheese as at least partly a way to get out from under the thumb of very conservative fathers during the wedding process. “Just Shinto” is down to around 15% of total weddings today and I’m sure there are a lot of patriarchal, locally connected, expect to be bringing a baby to a gokoku-jinjya 10 months to the day after the wedding old guy types behind many of them.

  21. If there’s one type of wedding I’d happily never attend again, it’s a full-blown catholic ceremony. They take at least an hour long and sometimes run longer. Church pews just aren’t that comfortable.

  22. Marxy, it’s interesting that to you, a Shinto wedding feels less consumerist, while at a Western wedding, you just think about how much it must have cost, because for me (a layman who has no idea about wedding prices), Shinto weddings seem like the really expensive wedding style of the upper class. I’d always just assumed that a Shinto wedding must run 1.5x or more the price of a Western wedding.

  23. Depends on the shrine. Meiji etc. is really, really expensive as far as I know — but that’s like getting married at St. Patricks in Manhattan. More neighborhood-y places cost ridiculously little.

  24. Shinto weddings, urban or not, seem neither contrarian nor cool to me. Maybe a little contrarian, as most younger women do not get worked up imagining themselves in a shiromuku, but they are still popular, and the larger shrines in Tokyo and Kamakura are far from running short on applicants for ceremonies.

    This thread contains two themes, the original one about how ceremony is important, and the more continuous one about how the ceremony itself is essentially fashion. While I agree that personal preference plays a large part in the design of a wedding, it still doesn’t make sense that an atheist would get married in a religious institution. To put it crudely, it seems like a sort of penis envy.

    (Adamu was close: 11226 is wordplay with 良い夫婦睦(まじく), and no, I did not think that up. I was blown away by the 2-26 answer, however esoteric it was.)

  25. Yeah, at least for us the cost for the ceremony itself was pretty low. We even had a brief look at Miyajima (World Heritage Site and all), and while the transport and accommodation wasn’t feasible in the end, even there the cost for the actual shrine and ceremony was peanuts in comparison to the reception.

    I think M-bone’s point about ‘getting out from under the thumb’ is a good one. Even with all the ‘giving away the bride’ nonsense of a traditional christian ceremony, it’s still far more equal than the shinto equivalent. You ‘exchange’ vows in church, whereas it was just me reading out a pre-written speech in the shrine. But then we also exchanged rings and paused for people to take photos, which I’m fairly sure is a relatively recent innovation…;)

    We did have a little chat about that aspect of it, but simply by choosing to marry me (loud, brash, gaijin) my wife’s thrown down a pretty clear marker regarding her independence and individuality. We both figured people who know her (ie 98% of the guests) wouldn’t be watching her follow me into the shrine and thinking, ‘There she goes, submitting to her husband. Good job she’s keeping those horns covered!’

    And ultimately that’s the point. Quite apart from any ‘higher’ meaning, we were able to take those cultural points and make them work for us. We could adopt Japanese traditions to allay any fears my wife’s family might have had about losing her, but alter them to our taste to make it clear we were going to do it on our own terms. Obviously that’s not the end of it, but it’s a significant and unique chance to do so. It wasn’t all as conscious as that at the time, but I’d be surprised if similar thought’s weren’t there at some level for every couple choosing to have a wedding, however they choose to do it.

    “Penis Envy”? Yeah, that is pretty crude. Also pretty confusing; I’m afraid I’m really not sure what you mean by that. Who’s penis, exactly? But again, derailment. It’s an interesting issue though, so time-permitting I’ll try to stick something up by Monday.

  26. “it still doesn’t make sense that an atheist would get married in a religious institution.”

    I don’t agree. For an atheist, the “divine” part is simply a non-issue. There is no reason why one can’t be an atheist and still participate in longstanding traditions, see aesthetic value in religious ceremonies (or artwork, or literature, etc.) or whatever. (Like Mulboyne, I can’t see why someone would want to sit, stand, and kneel their way through a longass Catholic ceremony, however.)

    Shinto is a prime example of something that would simply be called “folk tradition” if it had not been turned into an organized religion as part of a modern power project. Kami can simply mean “things that inspire awe” and it doesn’t necessarily mean a belief in the supernatural.

    I’m also skeptical about how much “believers” actually think about the divine on their wedding day. Surely the vast majority of believers in advanced capitalist societies are giving a lot more thought to their clothes, rings, and the hotel bed.

  27. I think the registration at the local council is all you need. I have a friend (Japanese couple) that didn’t have a ceremony in the ‘ceremony hall’, because they simply couldn’t afford the outrageous prices.

    I registered but then got married in a real Christian church, complete with actual Reverend, then had dinner with all the guest in a local Italian restaurant. (I live in Saitama).

  28. I’m an atheist, and got married in a wedding chapel (i.e. not a real church), but by a real priest. To me, it seemed no more weird or “penis-envy”-like than the fact that I also celebrate Christmas, despite not believing Jesus was the son of God, or that I enjoy matsuri, despite not believing that gods comes down to hang out inside omikoshi for the day.

  29. I think the registration at the local council is all you need.

    That’s right—there is no requirement in Japan to have a ceremony in order to formalize the marriage. I believe that most of Western Europe follows the same rule, while in the US you have to have some kind of ceremony after getting your “marriage license” (even in Nevada, though they make the two steps as quick as possible). And in some places there is no such thing as a civil wedding—you have to have the religious ceremony prescribed by your faith. I recall that Israel is like this, but that many Israelis overcome this limitation by getting married in another country.

  30. Nicely said. I just went to the city hall and then, like 4 months later, had a party at my friend’s Irish Pub that my wife and I worked at. My wife wore her kimono and I rented a hakama. We cooked most of the food (and bought the rest at Costco) ourselves. The money we saved on not having a traditional ceremony paid for our 2 month honeymoon in America. The only regret is that we didn’t get some professional photos taken.

    We went that route. It was fine. The full on cermemony are equally fine. Of course.

  31. I had my wedding in Hawaii and had no regrets for doing it there. While the tradition and memories involved for a “traditional” Japanese wedding can be worth it, the costs are beyond belief. I’m glad my parents forgave me for the cost of our wedding, as they were quite shocked (despite the fact it was about half the cost of some of the weddings mentioned above.)

    Then again, I am talking to a Tokyo crowd here, so any issues of money will fall on deaf ears. Typical.

  32. “I am talking to a Tokyo crowd here, so any issues of money will fall on deaf ears”

    When one of my friends decided, as Paul did, to hold his wedding in Hawaii, money soon became top of my agenda. Attending meant shelling out for an airline ticket, getting time off work, and paying for a few nights in a hotel.

    If you live in Tokyo, and count a mix of nationalities among your friends, it’s reasonably common to be asked to travel overseas to attend a wedding. It’s certainly not something to begrudge.

    Any couple planning a wedding, though, needs to take into account the cost to their guests as well as their own direct costs. If you shift the burden too much to your friends, then you risk straining their goodwill.

    I’m not suggesting Paul did that, but I know it to be a major reason other friends of mine have elected not to have a ceremony overseas.

  33. I have had a couple of American friends who married Japanese people and decided to have the festivities in Hawaii. I missed their weddings because it was too expensive, and would have taken too long, to get there and back. That didn’t deter some other friends from going.

    My own wedding, with a ceremony at a real church and a reception at one of the best-known hotels in Tokyo, summed up to almost exactly 30,000 yen a head at the end of the day. And since our guests were, for the most part, not cheapskates, the only thing that put us out of pocket was lodging my family for a few days. Everyone had a great time and nobody begrudged the cost of attendance. We even got a free night and a free anniversary dinner from the hotel.

    We had considered Hawaii at one point, but my family live on the east coast of the US, so the travel cost and time to go to Hawaii would have been about the same as going to Tokyo from their perspective, and of course Hawaii would have been a hell of a lot more expensive for us and our Japanese friends and family.

  34. What we ended up doing for our wedding was to have the ceremony in Hawaii and two receptions – one in Japan (not Tokyo) and one in the States. That way friends and family could attend this term only if they liked, and the option of attending receptions was available for everyone living in Japan and the States. By holding the wedding ceremony in either Japan or my hometown would’ve meant excluding the other spouse’s family and friends (given the expense involved in bringing guests over.)

    The salary that I was getting at the time also meant that we didn’t save any money at all for the entire year. My salary has thankfully improved since then, but it was a real struggle – and this was done without any help from parents whatsoever. The Tokyo jab was meant as a comment towards the author of this article, who I assume is earning a decent enough salary where spending money on the wedding wasn’t/isn’t as much of a problem. Much as I respect his opinions on translation and the like, I get the impression that he wrote his opinion based on his position (which is much more comfortable than a lot of other foreigners in Japan.)

    For what it’s worth, the option we took ended up being cheaper than holding a ceremony in Japan – and for that I have no regrets. We had to compromise on the details of course, but it’s my experience that compromise is something that’s quite normal in marriage. Even though it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, it doesn’t mean that you have to forgo common sense in order to impress friends and family.

  35. Paul: you are forgetting that in Japan, your guests effectively pay for everything. I believe that I spent quite a bit more on my wedding than Adam did (read the post again; he and his wife skipped having a ceremony entirely and did a lot of stuff by themselves), but I ended up more or less breaking even after the envelopes were opened. Honestly the only way you can not afford to get married in Japan is if you have no friends or family, or if you insist on doing everything as expensively as possible.

  36. Was married 16years ago in a simple Shinto ceremony in a very nice shrine. Cost was way way below any ceremony could possibly have been at a Wedding Hall. Also the “non-religious” experience was welcomed and appreciated as a custom with no almighties in sight.

    I’ve been to a few “Western Weddings” and have always enjoyed and felt extremely happy for the couples and families.

    But the ritualization, the gloss, the charade of it all just makes me laugh.
    A few classics – - Signing the certificates with I-kid-you-not, 1metre ostrich feather quills. – The presiding minister who gave me a wink as he walked in and gave me his business card after. Nice guy but as religious as a cat. – A reminding by the staff to not step in the aisle, otherwise known as the Virgin Road and is “Pure” territory for the bride only to tread upon. I calmly told the young mike wearing staff that it’s ok because she(my friend) is 6 months pregnant – so she’s no virgin! The bewildered look of silence was priceless. My wife elbowed me heavily. – The extraordinary effort made by the kitchen in attention to detail and even the chef gave a little speech about how they source only the best freshest organic produce. Truly delicious – but lost on the smokers blowing their waste over all and sundry – even the children. – The cake that could have come directly from a Hollwood musical, tier upon tier, only to taste like so many other bland ubiquitous sponge cakes. But the ooohhs & aahhhs! – The 5 changes of clothing for the Bride and 3 for the Groom. Each earning spontaneous(?) applause. – The rising floor the couple reappeared on after one “costume” change. She resplendent in Scarlet Ohara “Belle of the Ball” wear and he good old Rhett. I thought “Are these the same friends I know”? But it was wonderful pantomine. – A video presentation on a commercial cinema sized screen – I mean it was BIG - that dutifully detailed both bride & grooms lives from birth to now, making the “This is your life” series pale. – the extensive catalogue (book) given to attendeees to choose their own mail order gifts at leisure after returning home, as a thank you for – well -you know just trying so hard. I really appreciated after one wedding, because I got the tool set I always wanted. – etc, etc
    And the costs of 2 of these weddings may well have bought my house.

    But each to their own and a merry time was to be had.

  37. Wedding in Japan is just ridicules…lack of passion, it’s all commercialized and pretty fake, the weekend preist part is the worse. and their wedding dress, OMG, just completely outdated, the photo styles, the MC, the gifts…all standard. i’ve been to two dif weddings but in same hotel in Tokyo, they looked exactly the same haha, it’s like deja vu :P
    Although many couples are wanting to do something different recently, it all goes back to square one, mostly because of their parents or relatives, it’s like a taboo it you dont follow the rule, and most of all is the damn wedding panner companies, they brained wash every Japanese.
    just my little thought

    jc