American groom/Japanese bride--need good resources for advice


Our son will be marrying a Japanese woman in a traditional Japanese-style wedding. The wedding will be held at a shrine in Kobe.

In response to my earlier inquiry, several readers offered advice about hosting a post-wedding reception for them next time they visit us here in the US. Thanks!

Now it's time to focus on the wedding itself. Our son and his fiance spent a week with us recently. The main thing we accomplished during their visit was to change the date from December to March. Now my sister and brother-in-law can attend with us and perhaps even some of his American friends. We have some more information about the ceremony, but we still have many questions.

I found a lot of information online about traditional wedding customs, but most assume both families are Japanese. Other sites talk about Japanese marriages taking place in America; but I can't find much information for an American groom and his family when the wedding will be in Japan.

Does anyone know a good resource for getting pratical advice in this situation?

Here are just a few of the questions I need to ask:

1. What is expected of the groom's family financially? I've heard that the groom's family picks up more of the tab for weddings in Japan than is typical in the US, but I'm not sure exactly what to expect. I don't want to offend her family by doing too much or too little.

2. They will be married in a Shinto shrine. A brochure from the shrine shows a picture of priests leading a procession of several people. The bride and groom are in formal kimonos and it looks as though family members also are dressed in kimonos. Chiaki said my husband and I could dress as we liked. Her mother could arrange to rent kimonos for us or we could wear our own western dress. I'm not sure which would be more appropriate. Again, I don't want to offend by making the wrong choice.

3. They plan to hold the reception at a restaurant close to the shrine. She described a meal of several courses, so I imagine it will be quite expensive. I've been told that guests typically give large cash gifts (about $300), but then they expect to receive a gift in return from the couple. I gather that the cash from guests helps cover the cost of the expensive meal as well as the cost of the gift from the couple. I'm not sure how much, if anything, is left as a "real" gift to help the couple set up their new life together.

My son and his fiance want to get away from the traditional exchange of cash and gifts. They want to tell their guests "no gifts", but then they assume that the guests will pick up the tab for their own meals. This whole idea makes me very uncomfortable. I can't imagine asking guests to pay for the reception dinner, even if they are off the hook for a big cash gift. I don't know how they would communicate this change in tradition to their guests.

A few of his friends have said they might come from the US for the wedding. With the expense of the trip, I don't think they should be expected to give large cash gifts or buy their own reception meal. We would want to pick up the tab for the American guests and family members, but I don't think we can absorb the expense of covering the meal for all of their Japanese guests. Should we encourage them to stick with the traditional gift-giving customs or help them find a gracious way to handle it otherwise.

These are just some of my many questions. It would be very helpful to find a good resource for advice that is practical and sensitive to the two cultures.

Comments (4)
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Since your family is from a different culture, I suspect you will be given wide lattitute and not be expected to behave as if you were Japanese.

I would suggest reading up on Japanese customs and wedding traditions so you know what they are -- but not necessarily trying to follow all of them. Ask your DIL-to-be and her mother for advice, and defer to as much of it as you comfortably can, diplomatically explaining your reasons for those customs you can not embrace.

For example, the offer to rent kimono is generous and kind, but there are many traditions that go along with wearing kimono, and you may inadvertently do something offensive or foolish that would not stand out or offend if you were dressed in Western dress. Obscure (to Americans) things like wrapping right over left or the proper number of layers of undergarments. Also, you both would probably need to be 'professionally dressed' for the event, which may be uncomfortable for you.

Giving money as a wedding gift is a widespread tradition among Asian (and many other) cultures, and one you should probably not try to erradicate. You don't need to participate, as presumably, your cultural traditions will be given similar respect. You might also ask to include a select few American traditions -- perhaps throwing rice, stomping a wine glass or tossing a bouquet? Maybe mention the possibility to the bride, explain the reasons for the tradition -- but be prepared to acquiesse graciously if they're not particularly important to you.

As for your expected financial contribution, if you can't find the information online, perhaps the Japanese Studies department at a university could help you. Or a library? Or a friend of Japanese descent? Or ask your son to ask the bride to be. Some direct questions can be embarassing, but surely far less so than doing the wrong thing. Your FDIL will want you to make a good impression on her parents, and should be willing to be "uncomfortably frank" to make this happen.

Gift-giving is a very important ritual in Japan, and the gifts to and from the wedding couple would be, I imagine, rather MORE important than most other types of gifts. If there's one area where I'd be especially reluctant to break with Japanese tradition, this would probably be it. Get the 'low down' from your FDIL and her parents and explain to the American guests how it works so they will know what to expect and also not feel/appear foolish and ill-bred.

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Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. With regard to the kimono, I will try to get more guidance. Her mother apparently is trained to wrap kimonos for formal occasions, so she could help me, but I don't know yet how she really feels about what I should wear.

In the meantime, I also came across a very helpful website:

It has very active discussion boards similar to this one with both Amerian and Japanese participants.

My first inquiry resulted in several helpful responses that were both informative and reassuring.

For example, I asked about my son's plan to get away from the traditional exchange of cash and gifts. They want to tell their guests "no gifts", but then they assume that the guests will pick up the tab for their own meals. This whole idea made me very uncomfortable. I couldn't imagine asking guests to pay for the reception dinner, even if they are off the hook for a big cash gift.

Apparently this is not such a strange idea in Japan. A number of people wrote to say that they have attended wedding parties of this sort with a fixed fee rather than an exchange of gifts. A Japanese mother not only clarified the practice but also provided the actual wording to use on the invitation. She advised them not to use the term "no gifts" as that would sound "refusing". Her suggested phrase apparently will let people know what is expected without giving offense.

I plan to ask more questions on that board about the ceremony, dress, etc., and I hope to get equally helpful guidance.

For anyone planning a wedding or any other activity in Japan, this is a very helpful resource:

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My son is marrying his Japanese fiance this May in Tokyo at a shrine. What do I wear? Please share your experiences! Thank you!

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Jerry Jorgenson

I realize this is an old thread, but if you can't make a trip to Japan, The Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Washington state holds Japanese Shinto weddings. Photos from our 45th renewal wedding.

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