(article by Shu Shu Costa from the feature entitled: “Rituals of Bliss”; text & images courtesy of aOnline)
In ancient Japanese myth, all things were created by the marriage of the male and female gods, Izanagi and Izanami–Japan’s Adam and Eve. According to legend, these two gods came down to primeval earth from the heavens on a rainbow bridge. Out of their union came the islands of Japan, the sun, the moon, the mountains, the trees and the wind.
The engagement is sealed by a ceremony called the yunio. The highlight of this ceremony is the giving of symbolic gifts wrapped in ornate rice paper. The gifts include: dried cuttlefish for its phallic shape; kelp or konbu because the character can be written to mean “child-bearing woman”; a long, linen thread to symbolize the gray hair of old age; and a folded fan which spreads out to show future wealth and growth in numbers.
The Wedding Outfits
The all-white silk wedding kimono dates back to the Edo era (1700-1900) and the traditions of the brides of the samurai. White symbolizes both a new beginning and an end, because the bride “dies” as her father’s daughter and is reborn a member of her husband’s family. The bride traditionally wears her hair up, fastened by tortoise-shell combs. A white cloth and veil cover her head, and her face is painted creamy white. The bride changes several times, once to an ornate gold, silver and red robe embroidered with auspicious symbols such as cranes and flowers, and again to a deep-colored, highly patterned kimono usually reserved for young, unmarried women. This is the last time she will be able to wear this kimono. Irises are a beautiful choice for the Japanese American bride; the color purple is the color of love in Japan. The groom wears a black silk kimono with his family crest in white, in five different places. Under this kimono is a striped, pleated skirt, or hakama. He carries a white folded fan and wears white sandals. Many Japanese Americans still treasure kimonos handed down through the generations. Renting an outfit is quite expensive: One New York store charges upwards of $1,600, which includes the services of a professional to dress you.
The traditional Shinto ceremony honors the kami, the spirits inherent in the natural world. After a purification ceremony using a special branch called the harai-gushi, the priest calls to the gods to bless the couple. The ceremony ends with a ritual sharing of sake from three flat cups stacked on top of one another. Popularly called san-san-kudo, this ritual can be performed any number of ways, depending on your family’s custom. The groom may lead, taking three sips from the first cup, followed by the bride, who also takes three sips from the first cup. Then they move on to the second and third cups. The sake is then offered to the couple’s families. In the U.S., Japanese Americans seeking a traditional ceremony turn to the country’s Buddhist traditions. One highlight of the ceremony is the rosary, or o juju, which has 21 beads of two different colors. Eighteen beads represent the couple, two represent each family and one represents the Buddha. Joined on one string, the beads symbolize the joining of the families. The san-san-kudo, more cultural than religious, is also performed at the Buddhist ceremony.
Each dish in the Japanese wedding banquet is a symbolic wish–for happiness, prosperity, long life or many children. For example, konbu is served because the word sounds like the last half of the word for joy, yorokobu. Fish can be served with the tail and head forced up from the plate forming a circle, the symbol of eternity. Clams are served with both shells together, the two halves symbolizing the couple. Lobster is often served for its deep red color, the color of luck. The number of courses never equals a multiple of four, since the word for “four,” shi, sounds like the word for death. For dessert, a Japanese bride might choose to serve komochi manjyu, which is made of gummy, sweetened rice with fillings inside.
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Other Asian Wedding Cultures:
- Exploring a few Ethnic Wedding Traditions, The Gainesville Sun (January 20, 2001)
- Adding Asian Elements and Traditions to Your Wedding, IMdiversity.com (April/May 2001)
- Married to Tradition, San Antonio Express-News (June 23, 2001)