Shinto Weddings


The first formal Shinto wedding took place in Japan in 1908. The ceremony itself comes from ancient Samuri traditions and still accounts for over 60 per cent of Japanese wedding ceremonies today.

‘Shinto’ means ‘the way of the gods’, and along with Buddhism, is one of Japan’s major religions. It has no one supreme God, and no sacred scriptures. Their belief is in Kami (Shinto gods), which are sacred spirits inherent in everything. Shinto religion holds that humans are fundamentally good, and after death, people become Kami. Many Shinto rituals are performed to dispel evil spirits.

Weddings were traditionally held in a Shinto shrine, where all important ceremonies are conducted. Today, they are often held in Shinto sanctuaries near a reception venue. The ceremony is presided over by a priest, who purifies all who are present (usually family members). The couple’s matchmaker may attend, but today this is often for ceremonial purposes only.

Shinto weddings embrace Japanese heritage and exchanging vows is the most important part of the ceremony:-

  • For the wedding ceremony the bride will wear a ‘shiromuku’ (white kimono). This dates back to the days of the Samurai, and white symbolises not only the beginning of her new life, but the death of her old one.
  • The pure white of the shiromuku worn by the bride, represents her willingness to be dyed any colour, to conform to her new family’s ways.
  • These bridal gowns were considered so precious that they were often handed down through the generations and made into bedding.
  • The brides head is likely to be covered in an hood that is said to hide her ‘horns of jealousy’ and envy that her mother-in-law is head of the family.
  • In contrast to the brides attire, the groom will wear a simple black kimono
  • The Shinto ceremony begins with the priest purifying all those present to ensure that evil spirits are kept at bay.
  • The bride and groom (or sometimes the matchmaker) offer vows to one another, of faithfulness and obedience, in front of their relatives.
  • The San-San-Kudo ceremony, which involves the couple passing a cup containing saki between them, helps to seal their bond. This ritual varies according to family traditions, but the cup is often passed as many as nine times between the bride and the groom.
  • The cup is then offered to the family (and friends, if present), to help celebrate the union and unite the families.
  • At this stage many couples exchange rings, although this was not a part of traditional wedding ceremonies.
  • The ceremony concludes in the sanctuary where the couple offer twigs to the Sakaki (sacred tree), in worship to the Kami.
  • An important part of the betrothal is the giving of gifts as a part of the process of Yui-no. As many as nine items will be passed between the bride and groom, each symbolising a different aspect of happiness and good fortune.
  • Guests at a Shinto wedding will likely take ‘goshugia’ (a gift of money) to the reception. This money will be wrapped in a special envelope and tied with a red and white cord, which are considered colours of good luck to the Japanese.
  • The scale of the Shinto wedding reception can vary, but certain formalities will be observed; one in particular is the bride changing her outfit many times, although she will usually begin the celebrations wearing a red kimono.

© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.