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A Traditional Japanese Shinto Wedding

No matter where you get married, it’s always a daunting experience filled with months of planning and even more spending. But combining two families from completely different cultures and countries, adds a whole new dimension. My brother jumped in the deep end when he announced he was getting married in Japan.

Here’s a little bit about his Shinto Wedding Ceremony!

My brother has been obsessed with all things Asian ever since he was a small boy. It started with growing bonsai, but snowballed into leaving South Africa to teach English in Thailand before settling down in Japan.

He’s been living in Yamanashi, a small farming town about 4 hours outside of Tokyo, for the past 3 years teaching English to kindergarten students. It was in this small town that he met his girlfriend, Miyuki, and on the 23 April 2017 he took the plunge and got married.

Preparation is key… or not!

Firstly, getting any information from my brother ahead of his Wedding was nearly impossible. He’s not big on the whole “preparation” thing, and generally just goes with the flow. So we were largely left to our own devices. We all know what that means – the internet. We tried to read as much as possible ahead of time, but in the end we figured if my brother wasn’t that phased with our behavior, we shouldn’t worry either.

Before the Shinto wedding ceremony:

We arrived in Japan about 10 days before the wedding and used this time to not only explore the area but meet Miyuki’s family.

Here’s a tip – bring gifts! Big gifts, small gifts, just bring gifts!

We were spoilt almost daily. It was better than Christmas. In fact, we were seriously worried about fitting all the gifts back in our luggage. Of course, we brought a few gifts from South Africa to share, but I couldn’t help but feel like we had under prepared. My advice would definitely be to stock up on gifts.

Then there was the food… Almost every family gathering involved a mountain of food. You definitely want to come hungry. But be warned, this is not a one-course kinda meal. Oh no, the food doesn’t stop coming. Whether it’s a family dinner at home, or a night out at a local restaurant there is always a TON of food to be enjoyed.

On the Wedding Day

For Clint and Miyuki’s wedding they decided to go with a traditional Shinto Wedding Ceremony at Misogi Jinja Shrine before having the reception at a nearby hotel.

The Shinto wedding ceremony is very intimate with only family of the Bride and groom invited. Clint managed to sneak in a few fellow teachers who had never seen a wedding ceremony in Japan, but in general only family attend.

When the bride and groom arrived at the shrine, they are taken to a waiting room along with their parents. After removing their shoes, before entering, they were seated opposite one another and they were all offered a hand towel to clean their hands before enjoying some Japanese tea.

Shinto wedding waiting room
Both the bride and groom’s family sitting in the waiting area.

The Shinto priest then discussed the proceedings with the family, so everyone has an idea of what’s to be expected. Of course, this explanation was in Japanese, so my parents had no clue what was said, but they got a general idea thanks to hand gestures.

The bride and groom then signed their wedding certificate and they all departed for the wedding ceremony.

The Wedding Ceremony

The hostess at the wedding will guide you to your seat – it’s very specific with each family sitting on opposite sides. Father, then mother beside him, then siblings next and so on… Considering my parents are divorced – it made seating particularly fun!

You’ll hear the beat of drums before the Shinto priests (there were two), groom, bride and shrine maidens make their way to what I describe as the shrine stage. The bride and groom are then seated, with the groom on the right and bride on the left, facing their guests.

Shinto wedding bride and groom
Bride and groom take their seats.

Shubatsu (Purification Rite)- All in attendance need to stand and bow. The priest symbolically purifies all the guests.

When in doubt, we just follow the other guests.

Norito-sojo (Prayer) – The priest reads the “Norito” aloud to the gods. Norito is a document announcing the marriage of the bridal couple to the shrine altar. Again all guests must stand and bow.

Kaguramai (Dedication of Sacred Dance) – The shrine maidens perform a brief dance to the gods, in the hopes of making them happy and blessing the families.

Chikai-no-sakazuki (Exchange of Nuptial Cups) – The priest then calls the bride and groom to stand and exchange sacred Sake called San San Kudo. The bride and groom take turns sipping three times from cups of three different sizes: small, medium and large.

You’re meant to only raise the cups to your lips the first two times, only sipping the Sake on last round, but I’m not sure Clint knew this. I swear he downed them all.

Seishi Sodoku (Wedding Vows) The groom then makes this wedding oath in Japanese – thankfully he was able to read this from paper. He did pretty well too!

Tamagushi Hoten (Presenting the Sakaki Branch) – This is the part Clint was dreading. Essentially, the bridal couple receives the Sakaki branch from the shrine maiden and places it at the altar. It sounds simple, but there’s a certain way to present the branch which the priest explains. Clint was just praying he didn’t screw this up. Once the branch is presented, the bridal couple bows twice and claps twice.

Yubi-wa Kokan (Ring Exchanged) – Finally, its ring exchanging time! This is very similar to “western” weddings where the groom places the brides ring on her left ring finger, and the bride places the groom’s ring on his left finger.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom leave the shrine in the same way they entered with the priests guiding the way, followed by the groom, and then the bride and shrine maidens.

End of Shinto Wedding Ceremony
Finally married!

Shinzoku-hai – All the family then gather together to share sacred Sake. The groom introduces each member of his family to the bride’s family, and then the bride follows introducing her family. At the end we all get given a cup of Sake and drink to ensure a strong bond between the families.

Shinto Wedding Family picture
Here’s the whole family!

Once the Sake was shared and various family pictures taken, we made our way to the hotel for the reception.

It was an absolutely amazing experience! I loved every second of it and I’m just so happy I was there to see it all.

Shinto wedding picture of clint and miyuki
The beautiful bride and groom.

Welcome to the family, Miyuki!!!

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A Traditional Japanese Shinto Wedding

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