Congratulations, you’ve been invited to a Japanese wedding! Now, after the first giddiness has receded, it’s time to think about how the hell you’re actually going to get through it without making a culturally insensitive fool of yourself. Luckily, we’re here to help.
DON’T: FORGET TO RSVP (WHETHER YOU’RE GOING OR NOT)
A Japanese hiroen, a fancy wedding ceremony often held at an upscale hotel’s banquet room, is a unique experience, so move heaven and earth to be there. Either way do not forget to send back the slip that came with the invitation card, filled in properly to show whether or not you will be attending. Circle 出席 (shusseki) if you’re coming or 欠席 (kesseki) if you, for some inexplicable reason, will not be able to make it – presumably you are in prison or trapped under something heavy.
DO: GO ALL ’80S PROM DRESS
Yay, slinky cocktail dress time! Think again. There’s an unspoken dress code that applies to female guests in particular. Channel your inner American high schooler on her way to prom and get yourself a shiny-fabric dress – it’s the one occasion where a bit of sheen is the done thing. Tone down the vivid colours, stick to knee-length (no mini dresses, no maxi dresses) and cover thy shoulders – with a shawl if you have to.
Above all, keep those shoes closed. Even at the height of summer, no toes are to be flaunted, no matter how great your pedicure. Men, no white suits (that’s for the groom) nor black ties. And for either sex, the universal rule holds true: whatever you do, please don’t try to outdress the bride.
DON’T: FORGET TO PAY (OR PICK THE WRONG ENVELOPE)
Like anywhere in the world, weddings in Japan cost money. A lot of money. Partially as a way to make up for this, guests are expected (read: required) to ‘donate’ money, known as goshugi, when attending. ¥30,000 per person for friends and coworkers is the going rate these days in big cities. For a boss or senior colleague, it’s more like ¥50,000.
The notes should be ¥10,000 bills which can’t be evenly split (so ¥30k is fine, ¥20k a no no) and go for the flashiest, prettiest envelope you can find – no minimalist business, as the simple envelopes found right next to the shugibukuro (wedding money envelopes) at convenience stores are those used for funerals.
Also note that the afterparty (nijikai) has a separate fee, often around ¥10,000. Some choose to skip the hiroen and just go to the nijikai; at the height of wedding season, that choice may be the last thing standing between you and abject poverty.
DO: LOOK UNDER YOUR SEAT
The upside of having to pay for a wedding is that it comes with a lot of goodies. And not for the newlyweds, but for you, the humble guest. When the hiroen starts clearing out and everyone starts heading home or to the afterparty, be sure to grab the bag located under your seat; it’s not a life vest, but a hikidemono, a well-stocked goodie bag. Contents can range from expensive confectionery to tableware and even a gift catalogue (letting you pick out something you actually want).
DON’T: PARTY TOO HARD
Contrary to wedding ceremonies in some countries (we’re looking at you, Great Britain), a Japanese reception is not the place to get sloshed, dance on the table or try to snog one of the bridesmaids/best men. The hiroen is for being somewhat solemn and civilly tipsy, with the only emotion coming into play being some light tears shed upon watching the video of the newlyweds’ journey to romance. Upside? No obnoxious drunken uncles.
Illustration by Bunny Bissoux