Attending a Japanese Wedding

Attending a Japanese Wedding

Attending a Japanese Wedding

So, it’s final.  In September I’ll be a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding in Brussels.  My plans for attending the wedding have been in the works for months, but finally I’ve booked all of the plane tickets and hotels, which makes it official.

After almost a year of not traveling, I’m finally going to Europe!

Yet, as I started thinking about wedding preparations I found myself at a loss…

Are French/Belgian weddings the same as American ones?  What is considered a ‘good’ wedding gift?  How do they work?  Is it ceremony and then reception, or is there some sort of legal service in between?

It made me reminisce back to my days in Japan and when I had to attend multiple Japanese weddings.  Talk about culture shock…

Wedding Gifts… AKA, Show Me The Money


When it comes to wedding gifts in the States, a toaster, a blender, or even a set of measuring cups could be considered a decent wedding present.

In Japan?  It’s all about the custom envelope–and the money inside.

Japanese Wedding Envelope
Flickr Photo

“I got invited to my very first Japanese wedding, but I don’t know how much to give,” I asked my Japanese friend from college.  “What’s the average amount?”

“Hm… $300?”

“$300!?” I choked.  In America, a really nice gift would be a $50 panini maker, or perhaps a $100 grill if you were feelin’ real generous.  But $300!?  I don’t even think my own parents would give me that much on my wedding day!

“Would they mind $200, maybe?” I pleaded hopefully.

“No that wouldn’t work,” my friend said sternly.  “In Japan, the number 2 is bad luck for weddings.  It means separation.  It’s bad luck to give anything in 2s, even if it’s $2,000.”

So it was give $100 and look like a cheapskate, or fork over $300 for a bride I didn’t even know that well.

In the end, I played the dumb foreigner card and gave $200–because hey, it’s better than $100, bad luck or not (by the way, this couple is still happily married with two kids).

Later on, I learned that almost nobody gives $100 in Japan since, well, it’s chump change for a wedding gift. The minimum for a wedding gift is $300; if you’re really good friends with the bride or groom, then be prepared to fork over $500 or even $600 bucks.

Yeah.  I know.

The Ceremony (fake priest included)!

Yay Fake Priest!

Japanese wedding ceremonies have become very westernized, and getting married in a fake church by a fake priest (yes, there are foreigners that get paid to be a priest) are pretty much the norm.

The layout of a Japanese wedding is now very similar to a western wedding.  The bride wears a poofy white dress, stands at the altar with the groom, and promises their eternal love before the (fake) priest.  Afterwards it’s off to the reception, which is usually at a fancy hotel.

 Sadly, this is going out of fashion
Sadly, this is going out of fashion

Sadly, fewer and fewer Japanese couples have a traditional Japanese wedding at a Shinto Shrine.  The white dress and altar have become their new wedding dream.  One of my goals is to attend a Shinto wedding, so I’m crossing my fingers that one of my single Japanese friends will go back to their roots.

The Fancy Reception

Wedding Reception

Japanese receptions are usually held in a super swank hotel.  The tables are covered in heavenly white table cloths.  The best silver is out.  Only the best Japanese and Western food is served.  Servers are of course in impeccable suits with perfect posture, walking around with wine, champagne, and foie gras for all of the honored guests.

The Japanese sure know how to do receptions right.

Imagine my surprise when I found a beautifully decorated bag sitting not only on my seat, but on every guest’s chair.  The bag contained thoughtful gifts such as a photo album, a photo frame, a hand stitched handkerchief and a box of delicious sweets from the local area.  I was stunned.  Later I found out that it is customary to give a gift to each wedding guest as a thank you token.  At another Japanese wedding I attended, I was given a $200 L’Occitane gift set.  The same price as the wedding gift I gave them.

The rest of the reception was similar to a western wedding, awkward chatter included.  At every Japanese wedding I’ve been to, I was the only foreigner and stuck out like a sore thumb.  Most of the guests eyed me with awkward curiosity, while others tried to avoid me altogether.

Luckily, the Japanese keep the reception busy so guests don’t have to interact with each other too much.  While the weddings I’ve attended were quite mild, many of my other friends have attended Japanese weddings where games like twister were played, the wedding party danced Gangam Style or there was the usual photo album presentation with choreographed music and speeches.

Hakama and Wedding Kimono (super heavy!)

Throughout the reception, the bride is extremely busy.  It’s common for the bride to wear the white dress at the beginning of the wedding, but change into a kimono midway through.  At the end, she changes again into more comfortable wear.  At one wedding the groom went back to his roots and wore the traditional ‘hakama’ wear–which I thought was awesome.

Japanese Wedding Rules

“May I have your name please?” the woman working the check-in list asked with a warm smile.

“Me-a-ri,” I said slowly.  My name was the only foreign name on the list, but I suppose she had to ask for manner’s sake.

“Ah, yes, Ms. Mary,” she pulled out an envelope with my name written on the front.  “Please enjoy the wedding.”  She bowed.

I opened the envelope expecting to find the schedule or seating chart, but instead found two crisp 10,000 Yen bills–in other words, $200 bucks (with the exchange rate back then, anyway).  It was compensation for my “troubles” in traveling to the ceremony location (which I only paid $40 bucks for, by the way).


In Japan, it’s customary for the wedding party to pay for a portion of the transportation burden for guests who come from afar.

Let’s just say, I felt really embarrassed about my $200 wedding gift after that.

I had a Japanese friend who decided to get married in Shanghai, and thus was required to fly all of her friends and relatives to the ceremony.  Not only did the guests get reimbursement for the flight, but they demanded my friend use only Japanese air carriers.  They also ordered the bride to book Japanese hotels, too, which was much more costly than the Chinese or even American hotel chains.  As she told me horror stories about how she had to pay double to fly her guests in on All Nippon Airways, I had to lift my jaw off the floor.

No China Air For Me!
No China Air For Me!

While it is a nice gesture, I think it’s a little much.

Another quirk of Japanese weddings is that only the person invited is allowed to go. Not even their spouse or child may attend as a guest.  This is a strictly enforced rule.  In Japan, the +1 rule just doesn’t exist–which, I’m sure, helps cuts a lot of costs overall.

Overall, Japanese Weddings Are a Good Time

I mean, seriously, you get money and presents and awesome food!  What’s not to like?  And the fake priest and church?  Oh man, talk about entertainment!

The Japanese are also exceptional organizers.  From start to finish, the wedding ceremony and reception is like a dream.  Everything is picture perfect.  From the arrangement of the silverware to the design of the bride’s kimono–everything is planned out to the utmost detail in order to execute the ideal wedding.

But yeah, paying 300-600 bucks as a wedding gift does suck.

If you want to read more awesome wedding stories, check out Autumn’s blog.  The retelling of her wedding could be made into a motion picture.  No, really.

Do you have any good wedding stories?  How do Japanese weddings compare to weddings you’ve been to?  Would you pay $300 bucks as a present? 

24 thoughts on “Attending a Japanese Wedding

  1. I think I would have flinched at the suggested $300 wedding gift — for a solo attendee — too! But yeah, you do get some unbelievable swag.

    We actually flew several guests to our wedding and paid for hotels as well, but that’s because they couldn’t have attended otherwise. (Also, hotels in Nowhere, NH, are super cheap. Shanghai, whoa, that would be another matter.) But we did feel a certain guilt for having the wedding 3,000 miles away from where we lived. Hence, guilt money.

    I had to pick my jaw up off the floor several times while reading your post, but the biggest jaw drop was at the end! Thanks for posting the link and I hope your readers are not disappointed in my apparently quite cheap (by Japanese standards) wedding.

    1. Wow that is so nice of you to fly your guests out to NH! I think I would definitely do the same (although it would really hurt on the bugdet).

      And while Japanese weddings are fancy, they do tend to feel stuffy. Everything is a little too organized so it’s hard to feel any raw emotion in the ceremony. It’s hard for me to imagine myself crying or becoming emotional at a Japanese wedding (especially with the fake priest).

      And of course! Your wedding story is the best story ever.. I really love your writing style, and I want everyone to read it for themselves!

      1. We might be nice. We might also be cheap. If we’d had the wedding in Hawaii or LA, I would have had to fly out at least five family members from New Hampshire. $$$$$ versus merely $$. 🙂

  2. Man, let the bride and groom keep the swag and allow me to keep $200 of the $300! I don’t need a L’Occitane gift set that badly. But I guess it would be fun to get if I wasn’t expecting it. And my travel expenses paid for? Nice!

    This was all really fascinating. I knew nothing about Japanese weddings and would have assumed they were a lot like Chinese weddings. I guess they are in some ways. . . but where I live a 200 rmb cash gift is acceptable in many cases. Did you ever attend a Chinese wedding? What did you think?

    I think American weddings are usually pretty fun. I like that there are on the weekend (unlike many Chinese weddings) and there’s dancing. I also like that we get a plus one (or sometimes the whole family).

    1. I know, the money gift is steep! When I went to a wedding recently I told my friend I was giving the couple $100, and my friend was taken aback and said: “Geez Mary, you’re going to make me look bad giving them that much!” It made me realize that, oh, it’s a normal gift.

      I have only been to one Chinese wedding, but it was kind of a unique one because the couple didn’t have a ceremony. Is this common? Do they just go to the restaurant and that’s it? I wasn’t quite sure if that was just this couple in particular that only had the reception, or if all Chinese couples just do the whole thing in a restaurant. I think the money thing depends on who you’re giving it to and where you live. My friend from Hunan said that for one of his best friend’s wedding he had to give 10,000 rmb or something ridiculous. I fell out of my chair. For the Japanese woman that got married in Shanghai, I gave her 500 rmb in an envelope (it was a lot, but considering she was Japanese she might have mentally expected to receiving 300 BUCKS lol). Anyway, I also heard the Chinese just kind of circulate the money, since you sort of ‘give back’ the money once the other person gets married. If you never get married then… that kinda sucks, ha.

      I like American weddings too. While Japanese weddings can be fun they are quite stuffy. American weddings usually tend to be more casual and happy. And yes. Dancing. I love dancing at the end! (if the couple does the wedding right anyway).

      Mormon weddings. Now those are the worst. They get married at 19 so they have no money, and due to religious reasons there is no booze. So reception is usually light snacks (cookies, cupcakes, bread) and fruit punch. Not. Fun.

      Anyway thanks for the comment! How was your wedding!? Did you have a Chinese one!?

      1. Where I am from, $100 is a pretty generous wedding gift, but I think in Chicago it’s pretty standard (as some of my friends now live down there).

        In China, there is some variation regionally and also depending on if the wedding is in the city or countryside. I’ve only been to weddings in the city and it was much like you described. If I arrive late, all I do is eat and drink and then leave around 2pm. At times I’ve shown up early and saw a short ceremony. There’s an MC and the couple does some bowing to the parents and that’s about it.

        Ming and I got married in the US. He was married once before and didn’t want to do the whole Chinese wedding thing again so we didn’t ever have a ceremony in China, which was fine with me!

  3. Such an interesting post! I was a bit bummed out too when I read that traditional weddings are becoming rarer and rarer. 🙁 And the fake priest! Am I the only one that cringed ever so slightly reading that? :<
    I would totally be hesitant to fork over that much money! But if I knew that they were going to give me that much trouble compensation money and other goodies, I guess I wouldn't mind, you know?
    I went to a Korean wedding and they also had a traditional Western ceremony. But after (or was it before?) the ceremony they did take a good chunk of time in this traditional Korean room, dressed in Hanbok, and taking photos while doing traditional rituals (not sure if that's the word?) For example, he carried her on his back around the room a couple times, and they caught dates with a silk sash. I don't actually remember all the details ^^ The thing was, they did it in a private side room, not at the altar.
    Thanks for the interesting post, as always!

    1. Wow I love that description about the Korean wedding traditions! The groom is supposed to carry the bride around on his back, huh? Haha. Too bad this was done in private.. I really think it’s sad that ‘developed’ countries are adapting western wedding traditions. I definitely think a traditional Korean Hanbok or a Japanese kimono are much more beautiful than a plain ‘ol white wedding dress!

      What was the food like at a Korean wedding? Was it traditional Korean food, or was it a mix of western food as well? (like steak?).

      You know, I’d also REALLY love to go to an Indian wedding… now that looks fun 🙂

      1. Totally agree about the Indian wedding! I think it’s pretty sad, too. 🙁 Although I also concede that I probably only think it’s sad because I find them interesting, which I only do because Ididn’t grow up with it. I’m guessing it’s probably the same reason they want white wedding dresses in the first place, too?

        About the Korean wedding, it was Korean food! From what I can remember, it wasn’t SUUPER traditional/special event-only Korean food. It was regular food you’d be able to eat in restaurants. But no steak this time! Plenty of fruits as dessert, too. 🙂

  4. Japanese weddings sound very interesting! But 300 USD is a little too much, yes. I think the standard in Spain is around 150 euros, no sure because I haven’t been to a wedding there in years! Some couples also do a “gift list” in a mall and guests can buy something from the list, or if it is a big, expensive thing, then several guests can pitch some money. In China I think we give around 1500 RMB? Not sure, it is always my bf preparing the hongbao as it is always his friends’ weddings we are attending 😀 Weddings in China are boring, yes, only eating and if anything seeing the couple pour champagne and cut the cake. I have only been in one wedding that had some Chinese unique customs (like the “fetching the bride”, giving hongbaos to the bride’s friends, lion dancing, reverences to the parents, etc).

    1. Wow, 150 euros is still a lot! We also do the gift registry in the US, at least where I am from. I think $50-75 is an acceptable amount to give or spend on a gift.

      In the city I live in China, 200 rmb is a standard wedding gift for a (not-so-close) friend. I think 500 for someone who is a closer friend or more “important” person and 1000 for those extra special people!

    2. Wow 150 EU is a lot too! In America giving 20 bucks is sometimes OK, haha. I guess we’re cheapskates here–after I went to Japan and China and gave money there, I was blown away. My friends told me horror stories where they gave 10,000-15,000 rmb to close friends and relatives as wedding gifts in China.

      I agree, Chinese weddings are a snooze fest. I wish China would adapt more cultural traditions into their wedding, besides the red envelope 😛

  5. I love your cultural insights and I love the new look of your blog, too! Fake priest! Hahahaha. Why not? Some celeb must have started it and now it’s tres trendy, eh?

    1. Lani!!! Thank you so much!

      I think the Japanese saw how we do weddings and thought it was super romantic (that, or they were just brainwashed by American media). It’s kind of sad, I really wish there were more Japanese weddings.

  6. Haha, love the fake priests! And man, it’s crazy how the bride and groom don’t seem to come out on top with the gift money vs. guest gifts and travel expenses. I can’t imagine paying for all my out-of-town wedding guests!

    And hey, I might be stopping in Brussels for a day or so in mid/late September. We’ll be like ships passing in the night 🙂

    1. Yeah I love the fake priest, too. If I were a dude I would totally take up that job in Japan–I think he said he got paid $500 for the whole day, plus he got to go to the wedding!

      Wow I can’t believe you’ll be in Brussels at that time! I’ll be there from September 12 – 21. Are you doing a European honeymoon? Maybe we’ll have a fateful encounter haha.

      1. Yeah, we’re starting in Iceland and making our way down to Croatia 🙂 We’ll probably end up passing through Brussels around Sept 21-22. So close!

  7. In the past Ive been to quite allot of Japanese kekkonshi but cant say I ever enjoyed one of them. I latter found out that weddings in Japan are a show of force; this means one family is showing off their bling and power to the other one, like they are worthy to be accepted of each other (extremely important in Japan). Thus the elaborate dinners and gifts, dresses etc. Its not like a wedding in the West at all, but very Japanese, like everything is forced and scripted. It all makes sense to me now. The Christian minister part of it is actually insulting to people of that faith, because there is nothing Christian about it. Try working in one of those places, the food they go through. Its the same thing with the soshiki places, they just process families through all day, its not like a wedding in the U.S. or Europe. Its actually a bit bizzare. I think the original Shinto wedding where the priest girls dance in front of the altar is more real Japanese and the woman gets dolled up in the kimono, but most Japanese dont want that; they prefer the “western” wedding, but its not Western at all (another one of those paradox).

    1. Haha wow so bitter! Some weddings in the U.S. are also just a show of wealth and power and materialism at its finest… Although I do have to say, it’s definitely not a ‘our family is better than your family’ type of battle. And honestly, I like Japanese weddings WAY MORE than Chinese weddings. Those are not only boring but they lack any kind of emotion whatsoever. It’s just a big food/booze fest to get money (and even though there’s booze and food no one is really having fun).

      I think Shinto weddings look great. If I were to marry a Japanese guy I’d totally make him do that.

  8. On a more positive side of it, if your the reciever of the gifts, it really helps out. Before, probably still do, newly weds could go to this place and pick out applicances etc for free, I think the city hall sponsored it.

  9. I perform around 400 Japanese weddings a year in Hawai’i. FYI: We are not all “fake” priests. I and two others in my group actually have 4-year post graduate theological educations at accredited schools. We are formally ordained by established mainline denominations.

    That being said, only around 1% of the weddings I perform are legal weddings. Truth be told, the rest of them are technically “blessings” upon an already-existing marriage. So even if the officiant isn’t “fake,” you could say the wedding ceremony itself is.

    Nevertheless, the Japanese absolutely love playing dress-up and having a formal “fake” wedding. There are often real tears of joy, so there certainly is a romantic aspect to it!

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