Shinto Wedding Ceremony Guide

Traditional Japanese Shinto wedding ceremonies are an amazing site for locals and foreigners alike. The Shinto wedding in the current form originated from the wedding ceremony held in 1900 of the Crown Prince (Emperor Taisho), at the Shinto Sanctuary in the Imperial Palace. Since then, Shinto-style wedding ceremonies based upon the ceremony held at the Imperial Court became popular among the people.

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In Japan, marriages were categorized into two types according to the method of finding a partner—miai, meaning arranged or from an arranged introduction, and ren’ai, in which the couple met and married on their own. Since the 40’s, ren’ai has become increasingly popular and is the norm today.

shinto wedding photoPhoto by TeamEki Attribution-NoDerivs License

The Japanese bride-to-be may be painted pure white from head to toe, visibly declaring her maiden status to the Gods. Two choices of headgear exist. One, the watabōshi, is a white hood; the other, called the tsunokakushi, serves to hide the bride’s ‘horns of jealousy.’ It also symbolizes the bride’s intention to become a gentle and obedient wife.

shinto wedding photoPhoto by James Willamor Attribution-ShareAlike License

Traditional Japanese wedding customs shinzen shiki involve an elaborate ceremony held at a Shinto shrine. Procedures vary between shrines but the most common process is shown in the following guide.

shinto wedding photoPhoto by Thilo Hilberer Attribution-NoDerivs License

The Shinto Wedding Ceremony 

Before the Ceremony

  • An explanation of the ceremony is held in the waiting room of the shrine 30 minutes before the ceremony
  • The bridal couple and relatives proceed to the main shrine with the shrine maidens and,shinto wedding photoPhoto by conbon33 Attribution License depending on the shrine, ritual musicians, which is called the Procession 参進

Wedding Ceremony

  • A Purification Rite called Shubatsu 修祓 is held with all in attendance standing and bowing to be symbolically purified
  • Prayer called Norito-sojo 祝詞奏上 is held with the Shinto priest announcing the marriage of the bridal couple to the shrine altar. Everyone in attendance stand and bow
  • Kaguramai (Dedication of Sacred Dance) 神楽舞 with a Shinto maiden dedicating a sacred dance

shinto wedding photoPhoto by m_nietzsche Attribution License

  • Chikai-no-sakazuki (Exchange of Nuptial Cups) 誓いの盃 is held with the exchanging of Sake called San San Kudo 三献の儀 where the bride and groom take turns sipping three times from cups of three different sizes: small, medium and large. The first two times, the cup is raised to one’s lips and only on the third sipping is the sake drunk
  • Wedding Vows called Seishi Sodoku 誓詞奏読 are held with the bridal couple approaching the altar and the groom reads the wedding oath
  • Presenting the Sakaki Branch cakked Tamagushi Hoten 新郎新婦玉串奉奠 is held and is the ritual representing the safe end of the ceremony. The bridal couple receives the sakaki branch from the shrine maiden and places it at the altar and the couple bow twice and clap twice
  • Exchanging of rings is then held called Yubi-wa Kokan 指輪の交換 where the Groom and Bridge exchange wedding rings
  • Guests drink Sake dedicated to the kami called Shinzoku-hai 親族杯 in celebration to make a strong bond between the couple’s relatives

shinto wedding photoPhoto by robertpaulyoung Attribution License