November was a busy month, as anyone planning a wedding in Japan was probably planning to attend at least a few others as well.

I’ve heard it’s good luck to witness a wedding procession on a visit to a Shinto shrine, but I have never had that luck. Turns out the secret is to go on a weekend in spring or autumn–especially November, it seems! I witnessed my first traditional Japanese wedding on November 1st when a friend of mine was getting married at Izumo Taisha–one of several weddings scheduled back to back in the Kagura-den that day.

Quick reminder for newer readers to the blog: Izumo Taisha is one of the grandest Shrinto shrines of Japan, as it is where the 8 million gods from around Japan gather for their annual meeting to discuss En-musubi, which is often translated as “matchmaking” but it’s more nuanced than that–En is any sort of tie or fated relation or encounter you might have. Like most Shinto shrines visitors are not allowed in the Honden (main shrine where the god resides), but the Kagura-den is decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa (sacred rope) and is a popular spot for Shinto ceremonies.

Although I did not attend the hiroen (wedding reception), when I got home I received a gift from another Japanese friend’s wedding. I was not able to attend that one because of the distance, but sent an o-shugi with my best wishes anyway, and she returned the favor by sending the gift I would have received if I were attending as a guest anyway.

So how does this work? Let me start by saying that Japanese weddings are expensive to attend. I appreciate the gift-giving culture surrounding bridal registries in the US so that guests have the fun of selecting something while being sure the couple will want it and that no one else has purchased it yet, with the general rule of thumb being that if you attend the wedding reception the value of your gift should exceed the value of your meal, and you might bring along extra cash to pin to the bride and groom to help them out. However, there is also something to be said for the usefulness of straight, cold cash. In Japan, you better make sure that cash is only in crisp, clean, fresh bills in a decorative envelope designed specifically for an auspicious occasion such as a wedding. This is o-shugi.

Although the o-shugi package–which you can find at department stores or in convenience stores–has instructions for where to place the money and where to write your name and address, it doesn’t cover all the finer details. Hopefully you’ve made sure to buy an envelop intended for weddings rather than funerals or visits to sick people (as there is a similar set of expectations associated with those), but the bigger question is usually how much to put in it?

After consulting with Japanese friends and checking around the internet for advice, the basic answer is that if you are a friend attending the reception, 30,000 yen (roughly $300) in an odd number of bills (to imply they can’t be slipt evenly in a divorce) is the safest bet.

Even though I did not attend the reception, I was still served lunch for attending the ceremony. Note all the auspicious symbols, such as the red and white knot, the pine, and the sekihan (rice colored with red beans).

“But what if we’re not really close friends, just co-workers?”
“What if I’m not attending the reception?”
“What if it’s a foreign couple who just happens to be getting married in Japan?”

…you might ask. In those cases, I can only suggest you use your best judgement but to err on the side of generosity. Just try to get an appropriate o-shugi envelope and you’re probably already in good shape! Enjoy the chance to dress fancy, because there will be people dressed very, very fancy. The bride will probably have two or three fancy outfits, complete with wigs. If you plan to stay for the after-parties, plan on very high entrance costs.

In the middle of November I attended an outdoor DIY wedding in the woods overlooking Lake Shinji and Izumo En-musubi airport (probably the most appropriately named airport to have close to your wedding venue), and the following weekend I had to end my morning plans early to get back and meet three people stopping by my apartment.

The first was a friend who had forgotten something the day before while she was in town visiting from western Shimane. She was visiting for a wedding.
The second was an old-coworker who wanted to say hi while he was back in town from Tokyo. He was in a bit of a rush to get to a wedding.
The third was a friend who stayed for tea, and was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Osaka for a friend’s wedding.

What plans had I been cutting short that morning?
A samurai bridal procession and wedding at Matsue Castle.


It’s been a few years since the last wedding at Matsue Castle, but it was something I had already heard of before. When I was studying abroad in a different region in 2008, I saw a brief news segment about a wedding taking place in a castle, complete with period dress for all the relatives, a full procession, and a happy feudal lord and princess waving to the crowd from the watch tower. It left a strong imprint on my memory that they had won a nationwide contest to hold their wedding like that and–being the history nerd and samurai fan that I was and still am–I found it cool, but I did not remember which castle it was. I only found out recently that it was the castle I see from my window every day.

Turns out its been a royal comedy of errors in trying to get pictures of this event, as they were supposed to have two this year but the first one was canceled due to the groom’s injury, and I was only able to see the opening procession for the second one. Furthermore, my camera broke and I lost all my data. I ran into Kimono-sensei as she had been busy all morning dressing the wedding party up, and she sent photos to me later, but I wasn’t able to download the data. Instead of snapshots I encourage you to check out the page of outstanding photographs on Made In Matsue, and the 51 second news clip on this site will give you any idea what the ceremony was like.

What I didn’t stick around for was mainly the wedding ceremony at Matsue Shrine (down a few stairs from Matsue Castle’s watch tower) and the wedding proclamation from the tower itself, which would have kept me there until lunchtime. Thankfully the weather was comfortable for the crowd that gathered to wish them well, and I got enough of my period-dress fill to last me until the next Matsue Musha Gyoretsu in early April, as well as my fill of weddings to last until next year.

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