All about Marriage and Weddings in Japan

Karin
2022/08/31

There’s many many things to know about marriage and weddings in Japan, whether you’re planning to get married, have a wedding, or have been invited to attend. We summed up what you need to know, from frequently asked questions about marriage in Japan to how to plan for a wedding, or etiquette when you are a guest. 


Table of Contents

  1. Marriage in Japan
    1. How do you say marriage in Japanese?
    2. What is the legal marriage age in Japan?
    3. What is required to get married legally in Japan as a foreign national?
    4. Is same sex marriage legal in Japan?
  2. Weddings in Japan 
    1. Traditional and Modern Wedding Variations in Japan
    2. Having a Wedding in Japan
    3. Attending Weddings and Receptions in Japan
  3. To Close

Marriage in Japan

Here are frequently asked questions about marriage and getting married in Japan.

How do you say marriage in Japanese?

There are two ways. 

婚姻 konin」is legal marriage. When you register your marriage in a process called 「入籍 nyuuseki」 in Japanese, you will fill out a「婚姻届け konin todoke」form and receive a marriage certificate in turn. Once you do, you are legally married.

結婚 kekkon」 is the general term for marriage, whether it’s legally registered or not. Some wait until after the 「結婚式 kekkon shiki」or wedding ceremony to register the marriage, while others decide not to register in order to keep separate last names. 「結婚生活 kekkon seikatsu」refers to one’s married life with their partner. 

What is the legal marriage age in Japan? 

18. It used to be 16 for women, 18 for men, but that was changed in accordance with lowering the legal age of adulthood from 20 to 18, put into effect in April of 2022.

What does this mean? At age 18, anyone can get married without parental consent. 

※Ministry of Justice, “民法の一部を改正する法律(成年年齢関係)について

What is required to get married legally in Japan as a foreign national? 

It depends on where you are registering your marriage first, and whether one or both of you are foreign nationals.

Both of you are foreign nationals

If you and your partner are both foreign nationals and plan to get married in Japan, please consult your local embassy or consulate for the process. You may not need to register your marriage with your local municipal office. 

One of you is a foreign national

If you are registering your marriage first at the embassy or consulate of your home country, then you must follow the rules and conditions according to them. Within 3 months of completing that process, you must register your marriage with your local municipal office in Japan. 

If you register your marriage first at your local municipal office in Japan, then you would submit the proof of legal marriage along with the other legal documents that the embassy or consulate may require. 

Items you will most likely be required to submit to the local municipal office in either situation

  • 「婚姻届け konin todoke」‐ form to register marriage

  • 「戸籍 koseki」- family registry (required from the Japanese partner)

  • 「結婚証明書 kekkon shoumeisho」‐ marriage certificate from foreign embassy or consulate

  • 「出生証明書 shusshou shoumeisho」- birth certificate

  • 「婚姻要件具備証明書 konin youken gubi shoumeisho」‐ certificate of legal capacity to marry (proves that you are legally allowed to marry according to the laws of the home country of the foreign national(s)) or an equivalent document if the home country does not issue such document 

  • Your passport or equivalent document to prove your nationality and residence card

Note that any documents written in your native language must be translated into Japanese

One of our team members shared that one of the most difficult things was figuring out the requirements for their home country, so it’s important to check and confirm the details carefully. 

Also note that you will most likely need the proof of legal marriage issued either by the Japanese municipal office or the foreign embassy/consulate in order to change your name on your passport, change your status of residence (if applicable), etc. 

※Ministry of Justice, “国際結婚、海外での出生等に関する戸籍Q&A

Is same sex marriage legal in Japan? 

Legally speaking, no (as of August 2022). Japan’s constitution and government has not legally recognized same-sex marriages. However, many cities, wards and local municipalities have partnership certificate systems in place now. This is not the same as legal marriage but offers some benefits such as the ability to apply for public housing (private property owners can refuse to accept housing applications for any reason), hospital visitation, etc. Some of these partnership certificates are even recognized at a prefectural level, and more and more prefectures and cities have begun to recognize each other’s certificates should the couple move. 

Due to the growing number of people who approve of same sex relationships and legalizing same sex marriages, people are hopeful for change in the near future. We will update as new information comes in!

Read more details about getting married in Japan in our article “Guide to Securing Marriage Documents in Japan for Foreign Nationals”.

Weddings in Japan 

While weddings themselves are optional, many couples opt to hold one, often spending lots and lots of money (more on this later) to do so. 

Here we cover wedding traditions in Japan, what it takes to hold a wedding in Japan, and things you must know if you are invited to a wedding in Japan, including experiences from our married team members. 

Traditional and Modern Wedding Variations in Japan

There is no one standard way to have a wedding in Japan. Thanks to various religious and cultural influences, there’s a variety of wedding practices in Japan. The majority of traditional wedding ceremonies have Buddhism, Shintoism, and Christian influences, sometimes a blend. And if you’re a foreign national, you can incorporate your country’s or culture’s traditions as well! 

Weddings in Japan are often described as traditional or modern. Traditional wedding ceremonies in Japan are Shinto or Buddhist style ceremonies where the couple would get married inside a shrine or temple respectively. On the other hand, modern wedding ceremonies in Japan are usually reflective of western wedding ceremonies, held at a chapel or hotel with the bride wearing a white dress and the groom wearing a suit. The couple can decide which style is best for them. 

Let’s take a look at some of the more common Japanese wedding ceremonies.

Christian Style Wedding Ceremony

The Christian style wedding in Japan is the most common and preferred choice of ceremony style. According to the annual survey by Zexy, a large bridal company in Japan, 51.5% of weddings between April 2019 and March 2020 in the country were Christian style weddings, reaching up to 56.7% in the Tokyo metropolitan area. 

※Zexy, “ゼクシィ結婚トレンド調査2021” pg. 116

This is less based on religion, as only around 1% of Japan is Christian, but more on the look of the wedding. Wearing or seeing their partner wear the “white wedding dress” has become an ideal for many, as well as getting married at a church or chapel. Thus, couples who hold this type of wedding will either rent a church or chapel, or have a ceremony at the chapel room located at many hotels.  

The ceremony includes things like scripture reading, singing hymns, the exchange of rings and wedding vows, all led by a minister. Some couples even ask for a Caucasian minister to complete the “look” of a western style wedding, while other couples opt to skip certain religious aspects like the hymns. Other common aspects include the bride's father (or both parents, or close family member) escorting her down the aisle towards her future husband as a sign of his blessing and the bride's mother lowering her daughter's veil as a sign of her blessing.

Shinto Style Wedding Ceremony

Shinto or 「神道」is a Japanese indigenous religion and a Shinto wedding is called 「神前式 shinzen shiki」or a wedding before the「神 kami」or gods . The venue for Shinto style wedding ceremonies is usually at a shrine, and a Shinto priest officiates the ceremony. These types of traditional Japanese ceremonies are usually very private and only attended by the bride and grooms’ closest family members and friends. 17% of couples opted for a Shinto-style wedding in between April 2019 and March 2020 according to Zexy. 

※Zexy, “ゼクシィ結婚トレンド調査2021” pg. 116

If you go to a famous shrine on the weekend, you might be able to spot a Shinto wedding being held, which includes a procession from one area of the shrine to the next. Usually you’re allowed to watch if they’re in a public area of the shrine. Just make sure to maintain a respectful distance.

The ceremony itself includes a purification ritual, a declaration of vows, pouring and drinking ceremonial sake called 「三々九度 sansankudo」- both by the bride and groom as well as their families, an exchange of rings, and an offering of 「榊 sakaki」a Japanese evergreen branch to the kami.

The bride will wear a kimono - either all white or a colorful one, often featuring a mix of red, white and black. They may or may not wear a wig and a headdress to complete the full traditional look. On the other hand, the groom typically wears a kimono called 「紋付 montsuki」which includes traditional pants called 「袴 hakama」, which is worn over a black kimono paired with a black jacket called 「羽織 haori」tied together at the front with a white cord called 「羽織紐 haori himo」.

Buddhist Style Wedding Ceremony

The Buddhist wedding ceremony is called 「仏前式 butsuzen shiki」. It’s not as common as the Shinto or Christian style wedding - making up only 0.7% of weddings between April 2019 and March 2020, but some still opt to have it, holding it at temples. Like the Shinto ceremony, usually only close family and friends are invited to keep the wedding party small. 

※Zexy, “ゼクシィ結婚トレンド調査2021” pg. 116

The main difference between Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies is that the wedding vows and ceremony are before Buddha instead of kami, and that sutras are recited. The vows also reflect Buddhist beliefs that this relationship will be carried into the next life.

The Buddhist ceremony also has the sansankudo exchange and drinking of ceremonial sake and a ring exchange. 

Wedding attire is similar to that of the Shinto wedding. 

Jinzen Wedding

The second most popular wedding type is actually called a 「人前式 jinzen shiki」which literally translates to a ceremony in front of people. It made up 29.4% of weddings according to Zexy. This is a wedding ceremony arranged by the couple with no religious background, instead saying their wedding vows in front of their friends and families as their witnesses and adopting various wedding traditions from around the world to create a unique wedding just for them. 

※Zexy, “ゼクシィ結婚トレンド調査2021” pg. 116

Instead of a religious figure, an MC - whether a professional or a trusted friend - will lead the ceremony. The venue will also most likely not be as related to religion, such as a garden or restaurant. 

There is a lot more active participation from guests, with activities ranging from creating the bridal bouquet together, or a joint art project, or a candle lighting ceremony. 

Attire tends to be white wedding dresses and suits, but it is up to the couple entirely.

As weddings in Japan tend to be quite formal, especially compared to other countries, this type of ceremony may be the easiest to incorporate different cultural aspects. 

As one team member suggests, 

“Combining the Japanese style and your own country’s style may be the best way to create a unique and lasting enjoyable time and memory, both for you and your guests.”

Having a Wedding in Japan

While there’s too many things to list for wedding preparations - those who have planned a wedding will know! - here are just some of the basics. 

Ceremony vs Reception

We listed common「式 shiki」or ceremony styles above, but the reception, called a「披露宴 hirouen」is separate! Usually only close friends and family are invited to the actual ceremony, as venues tend to be quite small and the ceremony itself is quite intimate and personal.

The reception is where the couple will invite a wider circle of relatives, friends, coworkers, etc. This often includes a meal, speeches by the couple and family members and close friends, and a time for photos with guests. While a little more laid-back than the actual ceremony, the reception still tends to be quite formal with a strictly planned agenda. 

There is also often the smaller 「2次会 nijikai」after the reception, for the couple to spend time with people they are close to. Usually people from work who may have been at the reception, such as the couple’s superiors at work, will not be invited to this gathering. The couple still pays for this part, so it’s important to keep that in mind in terms of budgeting.

Resources for Planning

Most couples nowadays use online resources for planning their wedding. Popular websites include Hanayume, Zexy, MyNavi Wedding, Wedding Park, etc. They also offer discounts and perks for using their services, as one of our team members received many Amazon gift cards for making reservations to see wedding venues through their site! 

Zexy also publishes a physical magazine every few months with the most recent information and options in terms of planning and holding a wedding. Other fashion magazines have a special bridal and wedding edition every so often as well.

One of the newer resources is actually Instagram. Brides in Japan will make a bridal account specifically for wedding planning. They can connect with other brides getting married around the same time or learn from brides who recently got married, offer and read tips from actual experiences, get inspiration for various aspects they may want to include in their own wedding, etc. 

These resources are helpful especially when not hiring a wedding planner - although most venues will have a wedding coordinator couples will work with. 

Wedding Attire Shopping

In western countries such as the United States, the bride will usually go with her bridesmaids and mother to choose a dress. While having bridesmaids and groomsmen is becoming a little more popular in Japan, most weddings in Japan don’t have them, or will only have one of each if any. 

So one of the differences between western and Japanese wedding planning is that Japanese couples will often go wedding attire shopping together. Thus the groom will often know what dress the bride will wear beforehand, as they picked it together. 

Trying on wedding dresses and kimonos (and other outfits, as brides often change dresses during the reception, or change into a kimono/dress partway through) takes a long time and requires reservations in advance. 

Cost of a Wedding in Japan

This depends entirely on the style, number of guests, etc. but please note that weddings in Japan tend to be very very expensive. 

The budget includes venue, wedding attire, meal, flowers and other decorations, gift for the guests, etc. 

Some of our team members opted to have their wedding ceremony in their home country as it’s cheaper, or to not have one at all. 

As one member puts it

“I went through ALL of my savings. It cost 1.5 million yen.”

And another

“Please budget for at least around several hundred thousand to millions of yen.”

According to Zexy, 87.7% of couples had been saving up for their wedding beforehand. 

And for good reason, because the national average for the wedding cost is 3.1 million yen. (Around 22,300 USD as of August 2022 exchange rate)

※Zexy, “ゼクシィ結婚トレンド調査2021” pg. 33

Attending Weddings and Receptions in Japan

Same as planning for and holding a wedding, the etiquette of attending a wedding can be a whole article in itself, so here are the basics. 

Attire

Weddings tend to be quite formal affairs so plan accordingly. If you are invited to the ceremony, the dress code tends to be more formal. Women may be encouraged to wear either a kimono (to the Shinto or Buddhist weddings) or a nice dress like an evening gown or pant suit (not white, no shoulders showing and not too short). Men are encouraged to wear a suit and white tie, unless otherwise specified. 

The reception tends to be a little more casual but still formal. Business casual is the best route to go. If you wear a sleeveless dress, it’s good manners to bring a shawl to cover your shoulders. Men should still wear a white tie, and still wear a suit jacket. 

As always, match the outfit to the occasion and venue and if you have any questions, it’s good to check with the couple. 

Gift

In Japan, cash gifts called「お祝儀 oshugi」are much appreciated and expected as compared to gift items. This also makes it easier for the guests as they do not have to think about what the couple likes as a wedding present. 

However, be aware that there’s rules about the amount. It’s usually 30,000 yen for a single person, and 50,000 yen for couples, and is presented in nice envelopes called 「祝儀袋 shugi-bukuro」. The amount may seem like a lot, but weddings are very expensive affairs that guests help pay for.

Some couples recently simply ask that their guests cover the cost of the meal, which is specified in the invitation. 

Guests also receive nice gifts from the couple at the end, which can range from food to nice household items.

To Close

We covered many aspects of marriage and weddings in Japan. We hope it’s helpful, whether you’re considering getting married or attending your first wedding in Japan. 

As for some closing advice from our team, both about attending and holding a wedding in Japan if it's in your future:

“Budget a lot!”

“It takes a lot of planning so prepare well in advance!”

“(If you are interested) I recommend trying out a Japanese style wedding, as you can experience aspects of Japanese traditional culture.” 

Writer

Karin
Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, living in Tokyo. Love: Movies, (mostly pop) music, hunting for good Mexican food. My kryptonite: 漢字&期間限定 (kanji & limited time offers)

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