Marriage

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Matt Alt

    Reporter

    Born in Washington D.C. in 1973, Matt's interest in Japan was kindled by robot toys in his childhood. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before co-founding a company that produces English versions of Japanese comics and video games. He also writes extensively about cultural trends including yokai, ninja, emoji, and more.

  • Noriko Nagamine

    Main guest

    Noriko Nagamine is the editor-in-chief of "Nihon no Kekkonshiki," a magazine dedicated to traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies. Originally an editor of a magazine about weddings in general, in summer 2009 Nagamine started her own magazine that focuses on the appeal of Japanese-style weddings. The magazine showcases in particular weddings at Shinto shrines, special wedding clothing, and traditional ceremonies that live on in the countryside. This exposure has been a factor in the growing popularity of traditional weddings in Tokyo.

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April 3, 2018

Marriage

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Springtime has arrived in Japan, and that means wedding season is starting to get into full swing! No matter where you are in the world, getting married is an exciting event for all involved and a time to celebrate with friends and family. The path to starting married life in Japan is steeped in tradition and ceremony, some of which may be different from what visitors from other countries are accustomed to.

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One unique part of a Japanese wedding is the candle-lighting ceremony, where the newlyweds visit each table of guests at the reception.

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Cutting the cake together is also an important gesture done by the new husband and wife. 

Once two people have decided they want to get married in Japan, there are four main types of weddings to choose from: Shinto, church (which may or may not be Christian), Buddhist, and secular. No matter what kind is chosen, there are typically two main parts: the ceremony and the reception, both of which appear on the show. The ceremony is generally smaller than the reception, with only close family and friends in attendance. The list of guests is longer for the reception, ranging from extended family to work colleagues and former teachers.

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Traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies have been growing in popularity recently.

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Although Christianity isn’t a dominantly practiced religion in Japan, church weddings are actually the most popular type.

While gift giving is a usual practice at most weddings, the type of gift that is given varies from one country to the next. In the United States, for example, it’s common for couples to create a wedding registry and for guests to purchase something to help the newlyweds settle into their new home. In Japan, it’s customary to give the bride and groom goshugi, celebration money. As we learn on the program, a common price estimate for Japanese weddings is three million yen, so the goshugi helps to offset that cost. Money is placed inside a decorative shugi-bukuro, a special envelope just for the occasion. Additionally, not just any amount will do—amounts such as 30,000 yen or 50,000 yen are typical, but 20,000 yen or 40,000 yen are a no-go. Odd numbers have been considered lucky since olden days (the sake drinking ritual during a Shinto-style wedding is also centered around odd numbers), but because even numbers are divisible by two, they’re considered unlucky for a wedding.

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The pot is tipped twice before sake is poured into the cup on the third tip.

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Three different-sized sake cups are used, and each one is lifted two times before being sipped from on the third occasion.

Numbers aren’t the only things with special meanings. Over the course of the show, we see traditional imagery that symbolizes the bride's willingness to enter the groom’s family, such as the white kimono that is exchanged for a colored one, or the headpiece that covers the bride’s “horns.” Another custom that may also have been taken for granted is the bride using her new husband’s last name. Recently there has started to be some pushback against this practice in Japan, but it remains a somewhat complicated issue. Japanese law currently states that a married couple must share a surname. This is because it is necessary for a couple’s last name to match on the koseki, the official Japanese family register. Although it isn’t written that it is the wife who must change her name, 96% of the time that is in fact what occurs. When that happens, the wife becomes part of her husband’s family unit in the register. To avoid having to change their names, sometimes long term partners (who may or may not have children) forgo getting officially married.

There are times when the husband takes on the wife’s last name. One reason this may happen stems from old inheritance traditions, where wealth was usually passed down to the eldest son. To get around this, families with only daughters would adopt their new son-in-law after a marriage, while families with many sons would try and marry the younger ones into well-off families. The son-in-law would then change his last name in order to carry on the family line and, when applicable, the family business as well. These adopted sons-in-law are known as mukoyoshi. The practice  still lives on in modern times.

As expert guest Noriko Nagamine notes at the end of the program, marriage was originally seen as bringing not just two individuals together, but two families together. It seems that’s an idea that still has some hold in Japanese society today.

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A common sight at weddings near and far: emotional family members.

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Another typical Japanese practice is the bride reading a letter to her mother at the wedding reception.

The importance of family connections and names affect people from all walks of life. Recent news has focused on the possibility of an upcoming marriage for Princess Mako. According to the Imperial Household Law of 1947, whenever a female member of the imperial family marries a commoner, she is removed from the imperial family. Being forced to leave the imperial line, however, is only applicable to females. Emperor Akihito’s wife, Empress Michiko, was a commoner before they got married. (That marriage made history in its own way, because Empress Michiko was the first commoner to marry into the imperial family.) As females leave to start families of their own, however, there are fewer people to take on official duties. The pressure this is putting on the imperial family has caused some to question if the practice should be changed.

The way people approach getting married in Japan is constantly evolving, and certain traditions are starting to reflect societal developments. Some aspects are seen as more of a novelty, whereas others have been updated to embrace the times. As family dynamics as well as population demographics continue to shift in modern-day Japan, it will be interesting to see what influences they have on the idea of marriage, as well as what customs end up living on.

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