Japanese wedding etiquette is a beautiful blend of tradition and modern customs. It consists of two parts: the ceremony attended by family only and the reception with family, friends, and colleagues. Even though it’s a joyous occasion, Japanese weddings have strict rules and manners. Therefore, for guests attending a Japanese wedding, learning and respecting these etiquettes becomes essential to fully participate in and appreciate the cultural richness of the ceremony.
Here are some key points to keep in mind:
Wedding invitations in Japan come along with an RSVP postcard. You need to send them back whether you plan to come to the wedding or not within a week. If you can't decide yet, explain your situation to the sender. The address you have to send it back to usually is already written. You just need to diagonally cross the kanji 行 after the sender's name and write 様 instead.
At the back of the postcard, you will see the attendance confirmation. There are two options: ご出席 (goshusseki means attending) and ご欠席 (gokesseki means not attending). If you will attend the wedding, double cross the ご in front of ご出席 and ご欠席. Then, circle the 出席. If you're not attending, do the opposite. Next, fill out your name and address. Don't forget to cross the honorific as seen as the picture below. Lastly, write a congratulatory message or apologize if you can't attend.
Back (Not attending)
No plus one
In Japanese weddings, the concept of a "plus one" is not as common as in some Western cultures. The guest list is usually carefully curated months in advance and invitations are specific to named individuals. People don’t bring their spouses or partners unless it’s explicitly stated that guests are allowed to bring companions.
Every seat in the Japanese wedding venue is carefully chosen and has a special meaning. The organizers think a lot about where each person will sit, considering their relationships and the order of the ceremony. Whether you're up close for the vows or at a decorated table for the party, each seat is part of the big plan to make sure everyone has a good time. Therefore, bringing unannounced companions will cause a problem because there’s no place for them to sit.
Japanese weddings are formal occasions, and guests are expected to dress accordingly. For men, this typically means wearing a dark suit with a white tie. Women often opt for elegant dresses, preferably in subdued colors. Just as in many Western cultures, white is reserved for the bride so don’t wear white. Female guests should also wear modest dresses and shoes that cover their shoulders, knees, heels, and toes. If you have visible tattoos, it's advisable to cover them.
Modesty and conservatism are key considerations. Avoid outfits with bold patterns or excessive accessories. Keep accessories and makeup understated. The focus should be on the celebration of the couple, not on individual fashion statements.
Cash gifts are the most common and widely accepted presents in Japanese weddings. Every guest is expected to register their name and give wedding congratulatory money (goshugi) to the receptionist before entering the hall. It's customary to use a specific type of envelope called "shugi-bukuro" (祝儀袋) or "noshi-bukuro" (のし袋) designed for weddings. They come in various colors and designs, and you can find them at stationery stores, department stores, or specialty shops. Don’t forget to write your name on the envelope.
Envelope for wedding congratulatory money
Giving cash gifts comes with certain expectations depending on how close you are to the couple. If you're a friend or coworker, it's kind of expected to give around JPY30,000, which is a nice contribution to the celebration. For close friends and relatives, the range is a bit wider, from JPY30,000 to JPY100,000, showing a scale for how close you are to the couple. If you're immediate family, the expectation is to give a bit more than JPY100,000. These amounts aren't just about money; they symbolize the strength of your relationship and how important your connection is to the couple in Japanese culture.
When giving congratulatory money at a Japanese wedding, it's a cultural norm to choose an odd-numbered amount to convey well-wishes, good luck, and positive energy to the newly married couple. Avoid even numbers, especially 4, are associated with bad luck because the Japanese word for "four" (shi/四) sounds like the word for death (shi/死). Additionally, avoid number 9 (kyū/九) too, because it is often associated with bad luck or hardship due to its pronunciation similarity to the word for suffering or agony (ku/苦). So, save choices include amounts ending in 1, 3, 5, and 7. It's a thoughtful way to align the gift with cultural beliefs and contribute to the positive energy surrounding the couple's new journey together.
Hikidemono (引き出物) refers to the traditional wedding gift that guests receive as a token of appreciation for attending the wedding and offering congratulations to the couple. You can find a hikidemono bag on or under your seat. These gifts can vary widely and may include items such as towels, small household goods, regional specialties, or even gift catalogs that you can choose later and have mailed to you. The gesture of giving hikidemono is a way for the couple to express their gratitude to the guests and share a part of the celebration with them. Don’t forget to take it home with you.
In Japanese weddings, it is a customary practice for the bride and groom to participate in a "send-off" or "seeing-off" ritual called "Ochiyuku" (お送りく). This tradition holds cultural significance and symbolizes the couple's gratitude and appreciation for their guests' presence and well wishes.
During this ritual, the newlyweds often stand near the exit, and as guests leave, they personally express their thanks, bid farewell, and sometimes even offer small gifts or tokens of appreciation. This act of seeing off the guests is a way for the couple to reciprocate the joy and blessings they have received during the celebration.
The send-off ritual reflects the importance of expressing gratitude and maintaining a connection with the guests. It adds a personal and heartfelt touch to the wedding, reinforcing the bond between the couple and their loved ones as they embark on their journey together. Additionally, it aligns with the Japanese cultural emphasis on courtesy, respect, and reciprocal gestures in social interactions.
Some couples in Japan held an after-party or nijikai after their reception ended. It's a time for friends and family to unwind, share stories, and celebrate the union in a less structured environment compared to the formalities of the wedding ceremony and reception. Guests can enjoy additional food and drinks, socialize with one another, and partake in more casual activities. The after-party can be held in the same venue for guest convenience, or they can also move to an izakaya.
The nijikai is not a mandatory part of every Japanese wedding, but it has become a popular and enjoyable tradition for many couples and their guests. It allows for a more intimate and personalized celebration, often extending the joyous atmosphere well into the evening. If you're invited to the after party, make sure to prepare the attending fees. In some cases, it might be a fixed fee, while in others, guests may be expected to cover their individual expenses at the venue, such as food and drinks.
Embracing the customs of Japanese weddings is a way of appreciating the cultural richness that makes these celebrations so special. As guests, understanding these etiquettes not only enhances the enjoyment but also allows us to play a part in the beauty of this sacred and joyful event. Attending a Japanese wedding and learning the manner can likely result in creating lasting and meaningful memories of your stay in Japan.