Runaway Bride: Getting married in Japan

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We love Japan. We really do. Some people really really love it though. Sarah and Robbie love Japan so much that they went and got married there! We caught up with Sarah to find out what it’s like to get married in Japan as a Westerner.

Wedding in Japan

Special day

My husband and I returned to Kyoto to do what most people find very intriguing. We went to Kyoto for our honeymoon… not that different you might think…  But we made our marriage extra special by indulging in another wedding!

Having been together for nearly 10 years, we’re not quite childhood but ‘teenage’ sweethearts. Our wedding day in England was very emotional and extremely special as it had been a long time coming. When we started planning our honeymoon (it was always going to be Japan) I came upon Inside Japan’s wedding package. It was perfect! A wedding in Japan. This country that I have adored since I was a little girl, and a place which embraced us so warmly on our first visit.

The wedding package included a three-night stay at the Granvia hotel, three nights in a junior suite (overlooking Kyoto Tower) and our breakfast/evening meals.

The Granvia hotel, Kyoto: Dressing up for a wedding in Japan

Male wedding kimono - wedding in Japan

Our first day at the Granvia hotel involved choosing our wedding attire. I chose a beautiful ivory shiromuku adorned with cranes – the ones you see leaping in the air during the breeding season on the snowy plains of Hokkaido. I also opted for the traditional wataboshi, a white standing veil/hood which is held up by what can only be described as hair scaffolding!

The purpose of the wataboshi is to hide the horns of jealousy of the bride. Rob wore traditional Japanese groom hakama which looks like long pleated skirt, and a haori a type of coat/jacket.

On the morning of the ceremony we were dressed by the Granvia staff (you could they had done it all before). The shiromuku I was wearing involved an under-dress, several layers, and lots of padding. It was very heavy, but I had been warned by a Japanese friend of mine so I was prepared. Before the wataboshi was put in place, the hairdresser placed kanzashi in my hair; the beautiful hair ornaments you see framing the faces of maiko.

Wedding day

Kamigano shrine, Kyoto: The ceremony

We were driven to the Kamigamo shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto. After a brief walk-through of the ceremony with one of the priests, we were lead to the shrine where the ceremony was to be held. Several people visiting shouted “omedetou gozaimasu” or congratulations. This made the day extra special as we were embraced by the Japanese people for having a traditional ceremony in their country.

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Before we entered the shrine we did a purification ritual. Water was poured over our hands by the priest while he recited a purification prayer. A purification ritual was then performed by another priest at the shrine.

After this we were offered omiki, or sacred sake. After sipping three times from three cups we exchanged rings (the same ones we exchanged all the way back in England) and offered a tamagushi (sacred branch) to the alter.

During the ceremony beautiful gagaku music was performed by priests (if you haven’t heard gagaku music, Google it and wait forthe hairs on your arms stand up. It’s simply beautiful).

Wedding reception

After the ceremony, which lasted around 30 minutes, we were driven back to the Granvia hotel where we were led to a large open area in the hotel grounds. A tradition of some Japanese weddings is to ring a large bell… so we did!

The staff surrounded us and clapped. I did everything I could not to cry with happiness. That evening, we indulged in a 10-course wedding breakfast which included: sashimi, tempura, miso soup and beautiful tender beef, all brought to us on ornately decorated plates. “Oishii”!

What is it like to get married in Japan?

I would recommend having a wedding ceremony in Japan if, like me, you are fascinated by different cultures. Or want a special way to exchange vows with the person you love. Or you have an insane obsession with Japan in general. The package was worth every penny.

From the moment we stepped in to the hotel lobby we were treated like William and Kate, and the attention to detail was just out of this world. I am proud to say I got married twice!

To all the staff at Inside Japan and the Granvia Hotel, Kyoto. Thank you so much for allowing Rob and I to share such a beautiful and perfect experience with each other. None of it would have been possible without your knowledge, passion and love for Japan. I look forward to the day we can show our children how beautiful and special Japan is and why I fell in love with a country so far away from a tiny village in Yorkshire.

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