David Chart's Japan Diary

October 24th 2006

The official photographs of the wedding have started to arrive. The studio photos came on Saturday, and the official snap photos came yesterday. The snap photos have been made into a photobook, properly printed on paper, and they look absolutely great. I think we ended up going for the most expensive option for those photographs, but I have to say, looking at the result, it was well worth it. Along with the book, we received a DVD will all 700 photographs that were taken in digital form. That included quite a lot of photographs of the ceremony so, as promised, I can now talk about our Shinto wedding ceremony.

As I mentioned before, the ceremony was held at Yushima Tenjin, a shrine to Sugawara no Michizane, the kami of scholarship, poetry, and storms. We chose this shrine for a couple of reasons, some of which will come up in the course of explaining the ceremony. Another, however, was that I felt that a kami of scholarship was an appropriate patron for our wedding, given my background. It turned out that it was a good choice for a number of practical reasons, as well. Most notably, Yushima Tenjin has no objection to you bringing in outside outfits, photographers, and video cameras. That meant that we could do everything apart from the ceremony through Happo-en, which kept things simple. As that suggests, the ceremonies vary in details depending on the shrine hosting them, but, based on the research we did when choosing a shrine, the broad outlines tend to be the same.

On arriving at the shrine, pretty much the first thing I did was hand over the "hatsuhoryou", or "first rice money", to pay for the ceremony. I'm not sure that it had to be done then, but it had to be done sometime and I wasn't at all sure that there'd be a good moment later in the proceedings. As it happens, I don't think there was.

Writing our names Yuriko writing her name on the vows, while I fill in the wedding record book.

The first part of the ceremony proper had us going into a waiting room and writing our names on the wedding vows. I carried this piece of paper during the ceremony, and used it at the appropriate point, and most of it was already written. I filled in the date and my name, and then Yuriko added her name. While she was doing that, I filled in our name and address in the shrine's wedding record book. These documents have no legal standing; legal marriage and ceremonial marriage are completely separate in Japan. On the other hand, they are definitely nice to have; we get to keep the vows document as a memento of the ceremony.

Next, there was a pause while we waited for all the guests to gather, and for the shrine staff to get the shrine ready after the previous wedding. October 1st was taian, which is the luckiest kind of day according to traditional Japanese fortune-telling, so it was a popular day for weddings; Yushima Tenjin, which is not particularly famous as a place for weddings, had three.

Entering the shrine The procession, about to enter the shrine. One of the miko has just entered, and I and Yuriko are just behind.

The ceremony started with everyone lining up to process into the shrine. We formed into two lines, with Yuriko and me at the front. My relatives and friends lined up behind me, Yuriko's behind Yuriko. In front of us were one of the shrine priests, and two miko (shrine attendants). The procession left from the shrine office, and went behind, to a place with a water stoup for purifying ourselves. I rinsed my hands (but not my mouth, unlike a normal shrine visit), then Yuriko, then everyone else behind us. This, obviously, took some time, as we had about fifty guests at the ceremony, so Yuriko and I had to wait while the procession formed up again behind us.

We waited on another of the reasons for choosing Yushima Tenjin: the shrine office is connected to the main shrine buildings by a covered bridge. It doesn't go over a river, unfortunately, but getting to process over a bridge was a nice touch to the ceremony. As I mentioned last week, while we were standing on the bridge lots of people took photographs and congratulated us. The procession went across the bridge, around the veranda running around the outside of the shrine, and then into the shrine through the main entrance. As we entered, we bowed once to the kami.

This photograph also shows our outfits, although last week's entry has an even clearer image. These are very traditional Japanese wedding outfits. I'm wearing a monpuku ("badge clothes"), a kimono and hakama (trouser-skirt), with a black haori (over-jacket) marked with a family badge. Since I don't have a family badge, we just took the generic one. Apparently, not having a family badge is quite common these days, or at least not having any idea what it might be. Yuriko is wearing shiromuku, which means "white innocence". I believe that this style of kimono is fairly recent, having been adapted in the twentieth century from the traditional western white wedding dress. The hood, called a wataboshi, serves much the same function as a veil on a western dress.

The seating plan We sat in the middle of the worship hall, facing the inner shrine, while all the guests sat lined up at right angles to us along the sides.

Once we were in, we proceeded to our places. The bride and groom (that's us) sit in the middle of the worship hall, facing towards the main sanctuary, where the kami is enshrined. The guests sit in parallel rows along the sides of the worship hall, facing the centre, and thus looking towards the bride and groom. The groom's guests are on his side, the bride's on hers. Traditionally, the father is at the top of the front row, nearest the inner shrine, followed by the mother, then other family members. My complicated family meant that we had to fiddle with this a bit, so that we had my father, then his wife, then my mother, then her husband, then my sister. Traditionally, only family attended a shinto wedding, but that tradition is decaying quite rapidly, and Yushima Tenjin assured us that there was no problem with friends attending the whole thing. Particularly in the cases of friends who had travelled thousands of miles to be there, I think that was a good thing.

Being purified The Shrine Priest waving the onusa over us.

The first stage of the ceremony proper the ceremony of purification, shubatsu, performed by the priest who led us into the shrine. This involves saying one of the liturgies of purification (haraekotoba), and then waving an onusa over the people to be purified, while they bow their heads. This is, as far as I know, invariably the first part of any formal Shinto ceremony, being necessary to purify people before invoking the kami.

Shinto liturgy The priest, just visible in the depths of the shrine, offers the Shinto liturgy.

The next stage is, from a religious perspective, probably the main step, the offering of Shinto liturgy (norito sojo). This was offered by a more senior priest, possibly even the chief priest. During this, everyone stood and bowed their heads. (We got instructions about standing and sitting throughout the ceremony. Fortunately, one of the priests speaks reasonable English, and thus could give instructions that my family and friends understood.) Shinto liturgy is not all fixed from the distant past, but it is always in 1000-year-old Japanese. That means that even most Japanese people have trouble following it. As a result, I don't know exactly what the priest said, but I do know what the broad outlines were.

First, he announced our names to the kami, and probably where we lived, and said that we had come to get married and ask the kami's blessing. The liturgy probably then went on to be a bit more specific about the kinds of blessing requested, but I didn't catch any of that.

The following stages, while they might have had less religious significance, had rather more personal significance. First was the san-san-ku-do. This is a ritual sharing of sake, and is believed to have its origins in rituals of friendship between samurai in the warring states period of Japanese history. However, its origins are not entirely clear. In the past it was, apparently, the main feature of a Japanese wedding ceremony, and so it has been preserved in the current ceremony.

The precise form of the ceremony varies from shrine to shrine, and we weren't given a detailed account, in advance, of how Yushima Tenjin do it. Thus, I think I got it wrong. Not seriously, however, and it's entirely possible that no-one except the miko who were assisting us even noticed. I did manage to make a nonsense of the name, however.

San-san-ku-do Yuriko drinking sake during the san-san-ku-do.

"San-san-ku-do" means "three-three-nine-times". The idea is that nine sips of sake get taken, in three groups of three. The two miko brought the necessary items to us, one carrying three red laquered sake dishes on a red laquered offering stand (sambo). Each dish had, in gold, the kanji for "kotobuki", or "congratulations on your wedding". The other was carrying a large gold jug, which contained the sake. (You can see all the implements in the picture.)

First, one of the miko took the smallest dish by its foot, and handed it to me. I took it by the body, which I think was right. The other miko then poured sake in, tipping the jug but not actually pouring twice before, on the third motion, actually putting sake in. I think I was then supposed to do the same, only substituting drinking for pouring. I didn't, though, I just drank once. The miko then took the dish back, again by the foot, and presented it to Yuriko. The other miko then added a bit more sake, in the same way, and Yuriko drank. Yuriko actually did the three sips thing.

The medium-sized dish was presented to Yuriko first, then to me, while the largest, and last, was presented to me first, again. Thus, if everything had gone correctly, each of us would have taken three sips from each of three dishes, for nine sips each in total. Let's pretend that's what happened.

While this was going on, gagaku (ancient ceremonial music) was being played. Yushima Tenjin has live performers for weddings, which is another reason we chose there; a few places use tapes. Gagaku uses three wind instruments; a bamboo flute, a bamboo recorder, and a very unique instrument that's rather tricky to describe. The resulting sound is very distinctive.

For the next step, Yuriko and I proceeded to the inner part of the shrine, escorted by the miko, next to the main sanctuary. There, we read out our wedding vows. We read these together, which was a little tricky, despite having practised, because Yuriko can read Japanese more quickly than I can. We got through without any disasters, however, although I'm told that most of the guests could not hear my voice. I don't know how much the text of the vows varies from one shrine to another, but the Yushima version translates roughly as follows:

Swearing our vows Yuriko and me in the inner part of the worship hall, swearing our vows.

On this fortunate day the two of us bind our vows as husband and wife before the kami of Yushima Tenmangu. The fact that, we, bound together as lifelong companions in this wide world, set off on our life's journey amid everyone's warm congratulations is the greatest good fortune we could have. From today forward we swear that, keeping these feelings alive in our breasts, with deep understanding and love, we will, establishing our home and building a vibrant life, work to make our family flourish.

Obviously, the name of the shrine, at least, changes depending on the shrine. After reading this, we offered tamagushi (ritual branches) to the kami, and, I think, performed the standard double bow-double clap-single bow ritual. Tamagushi are a very common feature of formal shrine visits; they consist of a branch of sakaki (an evergreen) with white paper tied on.

Exchanging rings Me, putting Yuriko's ring on her finger.

We then returned to our places. The miko told us to turn inwards to turn round, so that we turned towards each other, rather than away. Once we had returned, the miko brought the rings, and we exchanged our wedding rings. This custom is a western import, but it is now standard in just about all Japanese weddings. Also standard is the fact that both partners give the other a ring; Japanese wedding rings are always sold in pairs. It is normal for the inside of the rings to bear one or two small gemstones, and an inscription. Gagaku was played again while we exchanged rings. First, I put Yuriko's ring on her finger, paying attention to make sure I took her ring, not mine. Then Yuriko put my ring on me.

Dancing miko The miko, dancing.

The next stage was another reason we chose Yushima Tenjin. The miko performed a sacred dance asking for prosperity. This dance is quite slow and formal, and performed for the kami rather than the audience. We could see it very clearly, as it was performed directly in front of us, but I'm not sure how well all the guests could see. Obviously, gagaku was played during the dance. This was another very nice touch to the ceremony, helping the feeling that this was something rather out of the ordinary. The two miko perform essentially the same actions, so I am sure that there is some significance to the fact that two of them dance, rather than just one. Maybe it's because it's a wedding, but there may be a more general reason I don't know.

Next was another bit of formal sake drinking. For this one, everyone present got sake, and we all stood to drink together. This symbolises the unity of the two families and groups of friends. Even the children present got sake. In the case of my friend's two-year-old son, he decided he was going to drink this, got a mouthful, and then quickly changed his mind. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see that.

Final bow Our final bow, at the end of the ceremony.

The ceremony was then closed by the presiding priest, and we all bowed once more to the kami, before leaving.

Leaving the shrine The procession leaving the shrine.

We left in procession just as we had arrived, with the priest and miko leading. This time, Yuriko and I left the shrine at the same time, bowing to the kami together. However, I led the way in the procession, as the veranda isn't really wide enough for two. There are, I think, two reasons for me going first. One is Japanese tradition; the husband walks in front of the wife. The other is purely practical. As you might have noticed, the shiromuku has a bit of a train, and if I was walking behind Yuriko I'd have to keep quite a distance.The procession concluded the ceremony, so we thanked everyone and set off back to Happo-en for the reception, which I talked about last week.

Apparently, it is quite common for international couples to have shrine weddings, although the other two weddings on the same day as us were both purely Japanese as far as I could tell from the names posted on the board outside the shrine office. Certainly, it's very different from a Western wedding, which is what most Japanese people go for these days. I'm sure we made the right choice for us.

There are still lots of things I haven't written up, but I really ought to get back to work now. At least this covers another of the very important events I skipped over.