Rachael Sexton

Japanese Weddings in the Late Twentieth Century

At the time that Toshi Yoshida completed his woodblock print Early Spring in Amuzino, a beautiful traditional rendering of a favorite site to be wed in the Amuzino Mountains, the image of the Japanese wedding had changed much from the natural and serene setting that Toshi’s print suggests.  Words like hade (meaning ‘showy’), hanayaka (meaning ‘gay’ or ‘colorful’) and goka (meaning ‘splendid’ or ‘gorgeous’) were being used to describe the ceremony and the betrothed were increasingly buying into the pre-packaged wedding.

The Japanese wedding during the late twentieth century entailed many of the traditions familiar to western culture such as the exchange of rings and the cutting of the cake.  However, several uniquely Japanese traditions flourished.  The Shinto ceremony, which became an integral part of the Japanese wedding, succeeded at integrating ancient Japanese tradition into the increasingly commercialized ceremony.  Perhaps, even, it was the Shinto ceremony that fueled its rapid commercialization, as it required specific elements relating to venue, for both ceremony and reception, and trained personal to perform the still unfamiliar rituals.

The Shinto ceremony, despite its roots in ancient Japanese tradition, has been a relatively recent addition to the wedding experience.  The ritual was first devised for the imperial wedding of Crown Prince Yoshito, which marked the first imperial wedding since the early Meiji Restoration.  It harmoniously combined religious aspects reminiscent of Christianity with Shinto tradition, and, in effect, succeeded in reviving the imperial wedding on the whole.  Following the Shinto wedding ceremony’s debut, Shinto shrines began receiving requests for similar ceremonies for the common man, and thus started the tradition. The shrines used for these ceremonies are composed of one room, and are reserved solely for wedding ceremonies.  The Shinto ceremony incorporated elements akin to those of familiar Shinto rituals including acts of purification, prayer, invocation and offering.  Other, more distinctly associated with weddings, included the exchange of rings, the recitation of vows and the sharing of sake cup.

The wedding day itself requires a large investment of both time and money, and is the product of a compromise established to reconcile the couple’s wishes with that of their parents.  Many hours are required to prepare the wedding party, especially to dress the bride.  The donning of the bridal kimono is elaborate and often requires the bride to arrive two hours earlier than the rest of the party.   The groom also wears a formal kimono, however, at this time the western suit and gown were gaining popularity among young couples.  The nakodo is also a very important part of the entire proceeding.  These appointed “go-betweens” are required to play an active role in maintaining the couple’s welfare.  The nakodo are a married couple, selected by the couple, who represent the “successful marriage” and demonstrate the betrotheds proximity to the marital ideal through their physical proximity to the betrothed.  Thus, throughout much of the ceremony, the nakado are especially close to the couple, taking a special place of honor that separates them from the rest of the guests.

However, these very general descriptions of the day’s proceedings and the general practices of the late twentieth century Japanese wedding do not reveal the manufactured nature that the Japanese wedding had begun to assume.  The location of these ceremonies seems to shed a bit more light onto the rapid commercialization of this sacred rite.  Around this time, the wedding parlor was growing in popularity.  It offered convenience and services that the more traditional setting could not.  Today, couples can buy an entire pre-packaged wedding, from ceremony, to reception, to the plastic cake with a pre-cut slot into which the bride and groom can slide their knife.  Parlors have even gone so far as to include special effects such as laser displays as part of the wedding package.

When Yoshida completed Early Spring in Amuzino, which was eventually given as a gift to his newly wed son, shrine and temple weddings had significantly declined in popularity, with only 4.5% of all weddings taking place at such sites.  It was, without a doubt, the parlor and hotel weddings that dominated the scene, accounting for 29.9% and 42.7% of all weddings, respectively.  Even in the 1970’s, temple and shrine weddings only accounted for 11.8% of weddings at that time (Goldstein-Gidoni 44).  However, this change that occurred between the 1970’s and 1989 (the year Yoshida finished the piece), while small, remains suggestive of the shift from the tranquil wedding ceremony, much like the scene so eloquently articulated in Early Spring in Amuzino, to the commercialized and unashamedly gaudy modern wedding.


Edwards, Walter.  Modern Japan Through Its Weddings: Gender, Person, and Society in Ritual Portrayal.  Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1989.

Goldstein-Gidoni, Ofra.  Packaged Japaneseness: Weddings, Business and Brides.University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1997.

“Wedding Traditions.” 01 May 06 <http://hec.osu.edu/people/ebradshaw/wedding/wedding_traditions.htm>.

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