Ultimate Guide to Getting Married in Japan
Japan has a rich history, with traditions, principles, and cultural traits that attract many individuals to the country. Getting married in Japan is like a dream come true. Perhaps you decided on Japan for your marriage, but you’re unsure of how the whole process works, including the rules and paperwork.
To get you started, here’s a complete guide on how to get married in Japan as a foreigner, what types of weddings you can have, and all the accompanying costs and customs.
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Getting married in Japan?
Although organizing your wedding ceremony and choosing the perfect venue in a place like Japan is extremely exciting, it isn’t the most difficult task you have to face. There’s more to it legally than meets the eye, so let’s dive into the details.
Unfortunately, Japan’s progress in same-sex marriage is still lacking and the constitution doesn't allow same-sex marriage. Same-sex civil partnerships, however, are possible. There are currently 20 municipalities in Japan offering this symbolic partnership.
- In Tokyo: Shibuya, Setagaya, Nakano, Toshima, Edogawa, and Fuchu
- Other: Takarazuka, Chiba City, Osaka, Sakai, Hirakata, Yokosuka, Sapporo, Fukuoka City, Iga City, Oizumi, Soja, Naha, Kumamoto City, and Odawara.
Many of the top wedding locations in the country accommodate same-sex ceremonies, Tokyo’s Disney resort being one of them.
If you’re a foreigner marrying a foreigner
You may wonder if you can get married without being a Japanese citizen or resident. The answer is Yes. If you're eligible to get married in your country of origin, you can get married in Japan too.
Marriage in Japan between foreigners usually consists of a civil or religious wedding or a combination of both. However, unless you register with the city or municipal office, a wedding ceremony alone does not mean you’re married according to the Japanese legal system. In the next paragraphs, we’ll list some requirements and documents needed to be legally married in Japan.
What are the primary legal requirements for getting married in Japan?
There are some rules in order to legally get married in Japan. These count for both foreigners and nationals in Japan.
- The husband shouldn't be under 18 years old, and the wife shouldn't be under 16 years old. If you're under 20, this means your parents will need to grant special permission.
- If you're a divorced woman, then you should wait 6 months to get remarried.
- Japanese law doesn’t allow blood-related people, people related by adoption, or related through other marriages to get married.
Mandatory paperwork for getting married in Japan
We all know the hassle of paperwork in Japan. Without making it too complicated, here’s a list of the documents you’ll need when getting married.
Important - All foreign nationals should translate their documents into Japanese.
- An application for your marriage registration. This is called kon-in todoke (婚姻届) and has to be filled in in Japanese. It’ll look something like this:
- Your birth certificate
- Your passport
- An affidavit of Competency to Marry is required for all foreigners wanting to get married in Japan. This proves that you’re legally free to marry, and this form can be obtained via the foreigner’s country's embassy or consulate in Japan for a certain fee. This link is to the one from the U.S. embassy, as an example.
- If you’re divorced, they require proof of formal termination of your previous marriage(s). This must be conducted within 2 months of the marriage registration date.
- Japanese citizens are also required to prepare a certified copy of their family register. This shouldn’t have been issued more than a month prior to the marriage registration.
Exact requirements may differ depending on the civil office, so contact your local Japanese office and your local embassy for details.
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How and where to have a marriage registration in Japan
Filing for marriage registration is always held at the local government office that is closest to the Japanese spouse’s legal residence. However, if you’re foreign and non-citizens, the registration is held at the closest local office where you’re to be married.
Keep in mind that in order to be officially registered, your application should be signed by both partners and two additional witnesses. You have the choice to choose your witnesses regardless of their nationality, but they shouldn’t be under 20 years of age.
You may want to request a Certificate of Acceptance of Notification of Marriage from the same local office you’ve chosen to go to. This document legally proves your marriage.
It’s best to calculate these costs beforehand to avoid any surprises. Here are some of the main registration costs that you want to keep in mind.
- Affidavit to Marry for foreign citizens: more or less ¥5,500
- Proof of marriage: around ¥350, to ¥1,400
- Translation services: If required, you will need approximately ¥11,000
Types of weddings in Japan
There’s a popular saying in Japan that goes: “Born Shinto, married Christian, die Buddhist”. As it says, Japan tends to celebrate and practice all three of these religions simultaneously.
Nowadays, Christian-like weddings are garnering more popularity in Japan. More and more brides and grooms opt for this style, a whopping 64.3% of couples to be exact. The other two options, namely civil weddings and Shintō weddings, are chosen by 16.8% and 16.7% of couples respectively. Only a very small number of couples opt for Buddhist ceremonies.
Although Shinto weddings are the traditional wedding ceremony in Japan, most weddings commence either with Shinto or Western Christian-style ceremonies for family members and close friends. After that, there is usually a reception dinner and an after-party at a restaurant or hotel banquet hall.
When the reception and party are over, the married couple’s extended families and friends start to make speeches and gift money is presented in a special envelope called shūgi-bukuro (祝儀袋). It’s tradition for the couple’s family to give money as a gift about twice as much as their friends.
How much money should I gift as a guest?
It’s common to give 30,000 yen as a gift. Giving 20,000 yen or 40,000 yen or any other even number is considered bad luck. You could give 10,000 yen, but that may not even offset the costs involved with holding a wedding. Therefore, 30,000 yen is the standard amount.
Getting married in Japan: Western-style weddings
As mentioned above, Christian weddings are very popular. Chapel ceremonies have actually become the number one choice since the mid-1990s and they are widely accepted around the country.
The Protestant liturgy is followed by the majority of weddings in Japan. So, a Western-style wedding in Japan will usually look a little like this:
- Western-style weddings are held in a private chapel
- The bride enters the ceremony with her father, and she is given away to her husband by him. The exchange usually consists of bowing and shaking hands.
- Hymns, Benedictions, Prayers, and Bible readings are staples
- Exchange of rings
- Wedding Kiss
- Saying vows in front of God
In recent years, the tradition of lowering the veil has emerged too. This custom is typically carried out by the mother of the bride who lowers the veil on behalf of her daughter right before she walks down the aisle to her husband with her father.
In case your wedding is performed by a non-Japanese wedding minister, the ceremony is typically carried out in a combination of Japanese and a western language, i.e. English.
If you’re wondering where to hold your chapel wedding in Japan, Coralvita Chapel in Okinawa is a popular option. This sea-side chapel boasts huge, gorgeous, and open windows.
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The cost of getting married in Japan Western-style
In terms of the budget, you can cut down costs by opting for a low-key wedding as opposed to a luxury celebration. Moreover, the prices will dwindle if the planner merges the ceremony and reception venue, catering, flowers, and planning into one package deal. You can also opt for a low-key reception instead of a ceremony.
Note that you’ll be spending ¥250,000 for your wedding planner, ¥30,000 to ¥60,000 for flowers and decorations, and ¥100,000 to ¥200,000 for the photographer on average.
Your guests will be expected to pay an entrance fee aside from the traditional wedding gift. This fee is usually around ¥5,500 to ¥11,000 (about $50 to $100 US) and serves as a fee to cover the cost of food and drink per person.
Roughly, your wedding in Japan will cost around ¥3.34 million, i.e. $30,000 US which can cater to 70 to 80 guests. Remember that apart from these average estimations, there are always possibilities to face unexpected costs or chances to cut down your costs.
What to wear to a Western-style wedding
When it comes to wedding attire, it is common to rent a dress or tuxedos for your wedding in Japan and these rental dresses will typically cost around ¥10,000 to ¥100,000. As a guest, it is common to wear a black suit and a formal dress for women similar to what you would wear in any western country.
Getting married in Japan: Traditional or Shinto-style
Traditional Shinto ceremonies are also known as Shinzen shiki (神前式). They originate from the wedding ceremony of the Taisho Emperor over a century ago. With time, the Shinto wedding ceremonies became the traditional wedding ceremony.
Where are they held?
Shinto weddings are held in the main building of a shrine. Heian Shrine is one of the most popular and crucial Shinto shrines in Kyoto. Although Shinto weddings are naturally supposed to be held in Shinto shrines, these traditions have evolved to the point that many weddings are now held in hotels and banquets.
The process of a traditional Shinto wedding ceremony
If you want to get married in the traditional Shinto way, chances are you'll witness one of the most colorful and creative ceremonies with exquisite traditions.
- Firstly, everyone will be led to the shrine by the shrine maiden accompanied by the gagaku performance that consists of 3 types of traditional Japanese flutes. Note that this isn't mandatory, but will be performed by the performers if hired. This ceremony is called sanshin no gi (参進の儀).
- The entrance or nyūjyo (入場) happens in the order of familial ties to the couple. The left side of the altar is accommodated by chairs for the bride's guests and the right for the groom's.
- Then the purification ceremony or shubatsu no gi (修祓の儀) takes place by a Shinto priest. The bride, groom, and the assembled congregation are purified in the process.
- Now it’s time for the shinto ritual prayer reading or norito sojo (祝詞奏上). In this reading, the Shinto priest reads a ritual prayer to announce the marriage to the deities, and he will request blessings and protection for the newlywed couple. In the end, all your guests will stand and bow.
- The next custom is the exchange of the cups or sankon no gi (三献の儀). The couple will exchange cups that contain sacred wine. The exchange happens 3 times while the couple takes 3 sips each time. This process is known as the san-san-kudo (三々九度). This is one of the core elements of Shinto weddings. The ritual supposedly represents sharing joys and sorrows equally, as a married couple. Another is it symbolizes birth after birth or to represent man, woman, and child, or heaven, earth, and man.
- After that, Shinto maidens will perform an ancient Shinto dance combined with music as an offering to the god. This tradition is called kagura hōnō (神楽奉納).
- Then, the bride and groom will approach the altar and the groom will read the marriage vows while the bride adds her name to the vows. This is calles seishi sojo (誓詞奏上).
- Next, the tamagushi hoten (玉串奉奠) are offered to the gods. These comprise a Sasaki branch with tied cotton strips. This process will often end with 2 bows and 2 claps, but will differ depending on the shrine you’ve chosen.
- Subsequently, the couple will exchange rings. After this exchange, or yubiwa no gi (指輪の交換), the newlyweds will be drinking 3 sips of sacred wine with the wedding guests, emphasizing the celebration of this novel bond.
- Finally, the saishu aisatsu (斎主挨拶) happens which is where the Shinto priest and the rest bow before the altar and exchange celebratory words.
After this, the wedding party will be relocated to a more casual place to celebrate further.
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What should you wear to a traditional wedding?
Attendees or the bride and groom don't have to wear kimonos at a Shinto wedding. However, because of the preference to retain the elegant and spiritual atmosphere, many couples like to show up in traditional Japanese costumes. In fact, it’s one of those occasions that you’re able to wear a lavish kimono, so why not bathe in that luxury?
If you're planning on getting married Shinto-style, you have a few kimono options as a bride including the shiromuku (white kimono), kurofurisode (black kimono), or iro-uchikake (colorful kimono). The most popular option for many couples is the colorful kimono, since they translate more vibrantly in photographs.
However, the shiromuku (white kimono) is the ultimate choice of many, not to mention the most extravagant. Sometimes, the bride will change into a red kimono after the ceremony for the wedding reception, since it symbolizes good luck. Later, she may even further change into a western-style party dress.
Likewise, the bride has two options for headdresses including the bridal kimono hood wataboshi, and an even more traditional style which includes a whole hairstyle called tsunokakushi.
The groom can wear a haori, a light coat worn over the kimono, or a hakama, a pant-like kimono, which are typically black or gray with 5 family crests imprinted.
Want to know more about traditional clothing in Japan? Check out on Japan Switch:
Ultimate Guide to Yukata vs Kimono
How much does it cost for getting married in Japan Shinto-style?
Compared to a chapel wedding, Shinto weddings are significantly cheaper. However, before getting your hopes up, remember that prices vary depending on the shrine you choose.
For instance, the ceremony fee for Okazaki Shrine in eastern Kyoto is more or less ¥90,000 ($820) without a kimono. Consulting a wedding planning professional before is the best option here, because they can search for the best shrine within your budget.
The cost of the traditional kimonos will be starting at a price of around ¥90,000 ($820) too.
If you hire a professional traditional Japanese court musician, or gagaku (雅楽) performers, then you’ll be spending ¥30,000 to ¥50,000 or $250 to $400 more. However, this will infuse a sacred and authentic touch to your traditional wedding that you’ll cherish in the long run.
Popular venues for getting married in Japan
Meiji Jingu was built for Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken of Japan from 1915 to 1926. It’s extremely popular to hold Shinto-style weddings because you’ll get married like a royal couple! There are also venues nearby for receptions and a lot of restaurants to choose from.
As the oldest and most colorful temple in Tokyo, it attracts visitors worldwide. Although the ceremony hall is small, the temple itself is huge and especially in the spring and fall, the colors look gorgeous.
Shunkoin Temple is a Zen temple that has English wedding services, making it very popular for foreigners. It’s a beautiful place to hold a serene wedding.
This beautiful resort is located by the sea and surrounded by lush greenery. There’s a chapel overlooking the sea, which means you can enjoy a sunset celebration.
Just as the name suggests, this is not just a location where you can hold a wedding, it's a whole village dedicated to marriage! Because it’s catered especially towards weddings, you’ll have everything to make it perfect! Receptions are European-influenced and there are beautiful private gardens, in the middle of Tokyo!
This hotel is extremely classy and elegant, with a mixture of traditional Japanese and Western influences. Golden interior, murals, ceiling paintings, and sculptures adorn the place and you can hold your wedding here Shinto-style.
This chapel is one of the most popular destinations. With huge windows and a chapel that looks towards the surrounding lake, the atmosphere is one of serenity and splendor!
Have a Frozen-themed wedding at this beautiful museum in Hokkaido. Icicles and snowflake patterns adorn the place as well as a sky-like roof painting.
One of the most beautifully green garden-like churches you’ve ever seen! It’s almost magical, with glass windows allowing natural light, which will make your wedding the most memorable event for everyone.
Gorgeous garden wedding? Say no more! Yokohama Geihinkan is a combination of lush nature, modern luxury, and Japanese tradition. Celebrate your wedding surrounded by flowers and fruits, with the sounds of antique bells.
Getting married in Japan: Conclusion
It’s important to understand customs if planning a traditional wedding, but in the end, Japan is a great country to get married in. Japan is very engaged in weddings and will make sure you get the best experience possible. We hope this guide provided some answers to your questions about getting married in Japan, so you can fully enjoy and celebrate the joys of matrimony.
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