Marriage in Japan: How it's different
by Ako Nanakarage, Outpost Contributor
Weddings are blessed ceremonies in all cultures. Examples include the wearing of extraordinary clothing expressing purity, the swearing of vows administrated by an official person, acceptance of rings as symbols of a couples' promise of being together in their life, a momentous honeymoon.
However, the style or the process of weddings may largely reflect each culture. I took two powerful economic countries, the United States and Japan, and compared wedding styles in both countries which may mirror the culture.
It is not easy to define who Americans are. Americans include whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and so on. We may think of Americans as German American, Chinese American, Jewish American and African American.
Thus, the elusive definition of "the Americans" can infer variable religiously and racially mixed bridal couples. On the other hand, despite the rapid wave of westernization that swept over Japan after the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Japanese still tend to think of themselves as a unique united race different from other Asians.
Since Japanese have favored endogamy, marriage within their own race, most Japanese have similar physical characteristics with only minor individual variations. They have dark hair, yellow skin, medium height and no clear-cut facial features. Japanese can even tell other Asians from Japanese, by their dressing style and public countenance.
The preferred time for Japanese wedding is spring or fall. After deciding the approximate time for the wedding, the final decision of the precise day largely depends on the koyomi, the astrological calendar, which is used for choosing days for special events like weddings and funerals. Taian and Tomobiki days are considered best days for weddings. Sunday is the day off for most Japanese, and the wedding is usually held on Sunday or a national holiday.
Because there are few Sundays or holidays which match with Taian and Tomobiki, the range of preferred days are narrowly limited. As a result, there are many bridal couples who wed on the same day. In recent years, however, many young people do not observe the traditionally preferred days.
Japanese commonly have a ceremony and a reception at the same place, because most commercial wedding halls and many big hotels have shrine and church chambers where couples can have either Shinto style or Christian style ceremonies.
In Japan, the Shinto ceremony, a successful blend of ancient and relatively modern elements, has become a standard part of the wedding. The ceremony includes practices with other Shinto rituals mixed with customs like the ring exchange and the sharing of sake cups.
The opening ceremony of the reception is a very formal event, the new bridal couple's entrance, speeches by nakodo, very important guests, and several rituals including the cutting of the wedding cake. A toast (kanpai) comes next, and kanpai means the start of the banquet. Then, the guests can eat, drink, relax and talk.
The change from the formal to the informal reception is marked by the bride's change of dress. After the kanpai, the emcee announces the bride will leave for her first oironaoshi, a change of dresses, a symbol of the transition to married status. As entertainment, guests give congratulatory speeches, do karaoke and some dance performances.
Although hadekon, a fabulous wedding, was standard during the period of Japanese good economic condition, jimikon, a plain wedding, recently has become popular among young couples because of the increase of jimikon among Japanese famous television personalities.
The average expenditure of the wedding is still around five million yen ($38,461.54, $1=130 yen). However, the cost will range from two to more than ten million yen. The cost does not include honeymoon fees. These costs differ in number of guests. The highest expenditure in both American and Japanese wedding is the reception cost.
In Japan, it is common for guests to give cash as wedding gifts (oshugi). Although I could not collect current information about oshugi, on average couples received 1,509,000 yen ($6,288, $1=241 yen) in oshugi in 1982 (Resource: Sanwa Bank Survey).
It was enough to defray three-fourths of the cost for the ceremony and reception. Thus, oshugi helps wedding budgets. In the United States, some guests give cash as wedding gifts and others give living goods as gifts. Registry is a good way that guests can contribute to a couple's new life by buying gifts from the list, which a bridal couple has registered for at a certain store.
Akira Nagamatsu, a bridal consultant at Shiroyama Kanko Hotel, said popular places for honeymoons among Japanese couples are Australia, Hawaii and West Coast of the United States.
Japanese travel agencies do not recommend couples to go to unsafe places.
Nadine Kato, an advisor of International Club of University of Nevada, Reno, married a Japanese man, Takeshi Kato, in 1995. Mr. and Mrs. Kato had one wedding in Japan on May 5, and another in the United States on August 20.
They decided to have two weddings because of their idea that they wanted to honor both American and Japanese weddings traditions.
Her impression of the two different style weddings is that Japanese weddings were more formal, and the wedding staffs took care of everything very well. She said American weddings were more casual and fun and the staff took care of their wedding a little.
In the case of the American wedding, they spend too much time talking to many wedding service assistants to get good services. Even though the Katos had two weddings in two countries, they managed to save on wedding expenditures. They spent $6,000-$7,000 in each wedding.
In the Japanese wedding, Mrs.Kato changed clothes two times. Mrs. Kato had a very traditional wedding ceremony at her husband's house and both dresses were kimono.
In the American wedding, they had an outside wedding near a lake. Mrs. Kato commented that their weddings were really interesting and good experiences.
Although Japanese weddings have been much influenced by western culture, over 90 percent of weddings are Shinto. The mainstream Shinto style may reflect the idea that Japanese still look at themselves as a unified race.
copyright May 1998 Nevada Outpost