Attending a traditional Shinto wedding in Japan

Tsurugaoka-hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura

Remember last week when I said I was going to be leaving the country?  Well, I’m back!  I was briefly in Japan for the wedding of my good friend Anna!

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(from left to right) Munehiro, Serina, me, Haruka, and Anna.

I first met Anna about 10 years ago though an online penpal service called something ridiculous like ‘friends of the world’.  I was in grade 10 at the time and was immensely curious about Japan.  At the time I was big into anime and manga and my class of 9 kids at Kelliher High School didn’t have anyone who shared my interests, so I booted up our dial-up internet on the farm and made a profile.  Anna wasn’t interested in comics at all, but we fast became friends.  Over the last 10 years, she’s visited me and my family in Canada and spent a weekend with me here in Seoul, and I’ve travelled around Japan with her and met her family as well.  Even on our slowest years of communication, we still send each other emails and a Christmas/birthday present every year.  So, when she told me that she was getting married and wanted me to come as her special guest, I was greatly honoured and said I would be there without fail!

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Flash forward to May 11th, 2013.  I travelled to Tokyo from Seoul for just a quick weekend trip (I had a final exam on Thursday, and would have two more on Monday).  I was more than a little terrified!  I’d never had to get around the Tokyo transit system on my own.   Thankfully it all worked out ^^  I did some screenshots of the directions to my hostel on my phone and managed to find the way easily…didn’t hurt that I just had to turn a corner ever time I saw vending machines ^^

On Saturday morning I met up with another one of Anna’s friends by the name of Serina who was kind enough to help me travel to Yokohama for the wedding.  It was about a 40-minute train ride from Asukabashi Station (the closest station to where I was staying).  Once there we met up with another girl by the name of Haruka.  The first part of the wedding included travelling from the Yokohama Sheraton Hotel to the Tsurugaoka-hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura.  There was a special private bus for the family members of both Anna’s and Munehiro’s  family for the drive.

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All of Saturday was unfortunately shrouded by pouring rain.  Taking into consideration however the unbearable (for the poor girl from dry Saskatchewan) humidity and heat on Friday and Sunday, maybe this was for the best ^^  I think Anna would have died in her kimono.  Also, my friend Patricia from Spain said that they consider it good luck for their to be rain on the wedding day.

Some girls in pretty summer yukata.  One had a punky bright pink-black yukata with fedora. So cute!

Some girls in pretty summer yukata. One had a punky bright pink-black yukata with fedora. So cute!

Wish plaques

Ema (wish/prayer) Plaques

A tree that we couldn't quite figure out why it was so special ^^

A tree that we couldn’t quite figure out why it was so special ^^

While we waited for Anna and Munehiro’s turn at the shrine, we saw two more wedding processions go by!  Serina, Haruka, and I walked around the shrine as we waited for the time to come around.

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Here comes the bride and groom!

The waiting room

The waiting room
I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures during the official ceremony but we were allowed to take pictures in the waiting room and during the family introductions.

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They had welcome everyone at the entrance into the waiting room.

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The Anna and Munehiro with the shrine miko (shrine maiden – has a part in caring for the shrine and performing ceremonies).

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The lovely bride in her beautiful kimono.
Anna’s family sat to the left of the bride and groom, while Munehiro’s family sat on the right hand side.

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The bride and groom with their parents.  I found this to be a curious effect.  Both sets of parents were very happy and laughing much of the day, but the minute it came time for the pictures they all turned stern faced.

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Anna’s kimono was lovely!  But also huge and heavy!  She had a lady following her around all day to help her lift it as she walked up stairs and for sitting down.  Also, when Anna accidentally pulled out her fan and didn’t know how to put it back into the folds of the kimono the lady stepped up and helped her fix it.

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Everyone in the traditional ceremony was given a small ceramic dish with the bird symbol of the shine stamped into it.  At the end of the ceremony everyone was given a small splash of sake (Japanese rice wine).  We got to keep the dishes after!  A nice little souvenir.  Mine is currently holding skittles ^^

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The family procession.

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The only picture I was allowed to take of the temple.  It was considered rude to take pictures during the ceremony.  May of the tourists and visitors to the shrine would take pictures as they walked by.

During the ceremony there was a lot of things I didn’t understand, but was still very interesting to watch.  They waved branches, bowed several times, drank sake three times in order from three different dishes, and did a traditional Shinto act (when you enter a Shinto Shrine, you’re supposed to ring the bell, bow twice, clap twice, and then bow deeply).

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I took this one of a different wedding as we were exploring the shrine ^^

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After the wedding was finished we all got back on the bus and headed back to Yokohama.  The wedding supper was being held at the Yokohama Sheraton hotel on the 28th floor.  Look at the view!  Even with the low, precipitation-heavy clouds the view was great!

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The banquet hall was like the rest of the supper…uber fancy-dancey!  I was the only foreigner at the wedding, and my name was the only on printed in Romanized letters in the seating arrangement.
This part of the wedding was a bit bigger.  It was now that the friends and coworkers arrived.  There was 55 people in total at this part.

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Anna and Munehiro bowing to their guests as they enter.  There was a lot of bowing in all the ceremonies.  I felt a little bad for Anna and her husband.  They barely got to sit down and eat!  The evening moved at a fast pace.  First they addressed their guests, the appetizers were brought out, cake was cut, more pictures, more food, more pictures….so busy!

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When it came time to cut the cake, I noticed the cute little figures on top dressed in aikido (a Japanese martial arts) uniforms (aikidogi).  Anna and Munehiro first met in their university’s aikido club ^^

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Like in North American weddings, they did the feeding each other the cake.  I was terrified it was going to turn like so many weddings where they smeared the cake on each others faces and would ruin their kimono.  Thankfully things didn’t get that far.  However, after Munehiro gave Anna a regular bite-size piece of cake, she proceed to pick up the remainder of the slice and feed it to him.  Anna looked mighty pleased with herself after that ^^

To the meal!!  I swear to you, I am taking these names right out of the menu ^^  This was by far one of the fanciest meals I’ve ever had…in my life!  I kid you not.  There was a total of 9 courses (including the wedding cake).  The menus was in French and Japanese!  Talk about fancy!

1The appetizer and salad : Croquette de Crème de Crabe et Fromage Blanc et Sauce Fondue de Tomatoe – crab and white cheese croquette with tomato sauce and  Oreille de Mer et Langoustine Kuruma au Vinaigrette de Gingembre Petits Légumes et Salade d’Herbes – abalone and shrimp salad with a ginger vinaigrette.

2The soup (the first brought us out the bowls with just the small pile of clams and we were wondering just what it was ^^) : Soupe aux Clams de Manhattan – Manhattan Clam Chowder.

3Main dish number one! Homard Sauté à la Sauce Newburg et Purée de Pommes de Terre au Citron –  sauteéd lobster with newburg sauce and puréed citron potatoes.

4Palate cleanser and Main dish number two : Granité “Yuzu” –  shaved ice with Yuzu (a Japanese citrus) and Mille-feuille de Aloyau de Boeuf et Ris de Veau Sauté au Vin Madère Tian de Petit Tomate – layered sirloin and veal with wine sauce and tiny tomatoes.

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The desserts!  Omelette à la Norvégienne – I’ll be honest…the translation doesn’t make sense to me. They call this a Norwegian Omelette.  It think it is more akin to Baked Alaska.  A meringue was lit on fire over top of ice cream.  It was followed up by slices of wedding cake and coffee.  

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After the cake was cut, Anna was escorted out of the dining room by her youngest brother (a second year in high school) out of the hall.  He was so shy!  He raced ahead of his sister and only returned to her side after some teasing.  Munehiro soon followed and was escorted by his grandfather.  The pair returned after they had changed into Western style wedding clothes.  While we waited they played a slideshow with pictures of Anna and Munehiro growing up.  Anna had included a picture of her with my family from when she spent Christmas with us!  I was so touched!

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Once again, the bride and the groom!

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After they re-entered the dining room, they held a candle lighting ceremony.  Everyone had a rose-shaped candle by their plates.  Either Anna or Munehiro would light your candle and then you would spread the flame around the room.  They turned off the lights and words in Japanese were said (my knowledge of Japanese is very, very sparse.  A million thanks go out to Serina who gave me a running translation).

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We all blew out the candles together and then it was on to the speeches by some of the coworkers and friends.

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At the end of the night, Anna and Munehiro presented their parent’s each with a clock that had an alarm set for their wedding day that would strike every year.  Another slide show was played and another picture of Anna and I was included!

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As we were all leaving, we were each presented with small gifts from the bride and groom.

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Because Munehiro’s hometown specializes in umeboshi (pickled plumes) everyone got a small dish of those, as well as two adorable usagi (rabbit) magnets.  If you gave a speech or were part of the wedding party you got additional presents.  Everyone got a box of Belgium cakes and then a gift picked out for you by the bride/groom.

My goodie-bag!  Every chair in the hall had a newspaper on it which held a wedding announcement for Anna and Munehiro.

My goodie-bag! Every chair in the hall had a newspaper on it which held a wedding announcement for Anna and Munehiro.

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I got a lovely make-up brush from Koyudo!  It’s so pretty!  I was honestly shocked to find out that we got gifts!  Every wedding I’ve ever been to in Canada, the most you get is a little parcel of candy that they set at each table…and if you’re young, you spend the night running from table to table stealing away this candy ^^

Myself, Serina (far right), Haruka (besides Serina) with Anna's parents.

Myself, Serina (far right), Haruka (besides Serina) with Anna’s parents.

The entire evening was incredible.  I had a great time, and everyone was so nice!  Anna’s parent’s recognized me and were so happy to see me!  They invited me back to their house the next time I was in Japan.  Anna’s mother kept calling me kawaii (cute).  There were so many smiles shared! I only wish I could have spoken easily with them.  Every time anyone asked me a question, I wanted to reply in Korean ^^

The day after....I'm still shocked that she came out to see me!  She was so exhausted!

The day after….I’m still shocked that she came out to see me! She was so exhausted!

Despite her busy schedule, Anna managed to meet up with me for a short little time on Sunday before I had to get on the train back to the airport.  We both laughed at how we were being spoilt…seeing each other twice in one year! ^^  The trip flew by!  I still have a hard time believing just last week I was in Japan!  It felt so surreal not to be able to read any of the signs…but at the same time, their vending machines totally beat the ones in Korea ^^

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Thanks again to Anna, her lovely family, and all the wonderful people who helped me out while I was in Japan!  I had an incredible experience and will cherish it always!

Till next time!~

P.S. The posty song this week is actually the Japanese song that was used in Anna’s portion of the slideshow!  It is by a singer called Superfly and the song is ‘やさしい気持ちで’ .  I’m not sure what that means, so if you speak Japanese, please let me know!  There is a bit of a lag on it, so please wait about 6 seconds and it will start playing!

The hardest part of preparing for the wedding according to Anna ^^  She made these adorable bears dressed as them for the day.  So very very cute!

The hardest part of preparing for the wedding according to Anna ^^ She made these adorable bears dressed as them for the day. So very, very cute!  I just love them!

2 thoughts on “Attending a traditional Shinto wedding in Japan

  1. Beautifully done, Sami … and a very beautiful wedding! Thank you so much for sharing with us this amazing experience….loved every picture and every description of the event! We love the Japanese people and their culture! You’re a very talented lady, Sami; would love to share other memories of your adventures/travels when we meet up with you back home!

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