A frequent sight at popular Shinto Shrines is a wedding procession and the more we saw of them the more fascinated I became with the customs and the Japanese wedding kimono worn by the brides. I needed to know more about these elaborate outfits and formal ceremonies.
Something you will regularly see as you travel around Japan in the shines and in public places are Japanese Shinto weddings, or post-wedding photography. On the first day of our first trip to Japan, we were at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo and saw three wedding parties move through literally one after the other.
Of course, not all weddings in Japan are in the Shinto tradition, western-style weddings have become increasingly popular in modern Japan or having no ceremony at all.
The Japanese couple will be already be married before the ceremony takes place, no ceremony is required for it to be official. The legal aspects of the marriage are all carried out at a local government office before any ceremony takes place. Those official documents then need to be presented in order to be married a the Shrine.
The Shinto ceremony itself is beautiful and quite complex but this post is specifically about the elaborate wedding outfits. The ceremony usually seems to take place at the large popular shrines like Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Itsukushima on Miyajima Island and Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine in Kamakura. It also seems to be a far more popular option amongst more mature brides than the young ones.
The typical Shinto brides outfit is called the Shiromuku and consists of 6 main parts. These are the white kimono, the over robe called the uchikake, a ceremonial fan, a large white hood called the wataboshi, the tsunokakushi which is the ceremonial headband and an elaborate heavily ornamented hairstyle that is often a wig.
The outfit combines styles of two very different eras. The kimono is fashioned on a samurai-class garment of the Edo period while the outer robe takes its design from medieval Japan.
A full ensemble, even to hire would cost around $10,000+, not an insignificant expense for the brides family.
Not all Shinto brides choose to be married in an all-white outfit. When worn with a coloured outer robe it’s called the iro-uchikake (literally coloured robe) and the rest of the pieces remain unchanged. The colours chosen are generally scarlet, orange or gold. The choice is the brides, while white in the Shinto religion signifies both purity and death it has only come to be associated with weddings over the past century. Not wearing white doesn’t have the same significance as it might for a western bride.
The all-white hood called the wataboshi is the Shinto equivalent of the western bridal veil. The bride wears it before and during the ceremony and is a symbol of innocence and purity.
The headband is perhaps the most unusual piece for a non-Japanese observer. It is the concealer of horns, a woman is believed to have horns of jealousy which must remain hidden from the prospective husband until after the wedding.
The hairstyle as mentioned earlier is usually a wig. It originates from the Edo period (the early 17th to mid 19th centuries) it’s heavily oiled and twisted in a very specific way. The hair is then decorated with wooden lacquered combs and delicate kanzashi ornaments.
Let me know below if you’ve seen a Shinto wedding or photo session while in Japan? Which style do you prefer, the white or coloured outer robes?