To help you get started on your planning journey, we have compiled a list of things to consider. Hopefully these items will give you the confidence you need to push ahead with your plans to elope in Japan.
Things to Consider
Each season brings something different
Few things are more iconically Japanese than Cherry Blossom! They are simply stunning, and evoke such wonderfully positive emotions and create special memories which are stirred every year during sakura season. All things considered then, it is not surprising that Cherry Blossom season is perhaps the busiest time of year in the wedding calendar.
It is worth noting then that cherry blossom tends to bloom at different times throughout Japan (the following dates from 2020 forecasts):
Okinawa, Southern Kyushu starts blooming around 25th January - full bloom around 2nd February
Fukuoka, Kyushu starts blooming around 21st March - full bloom around 30th
Kyoto, Kansai starts blooming around 19th March - full bloom around the 28th
Tokyo, Kanto starts blooming around the 14th March - full bloom around the 26th
Niigata, starts blooming around 29th March - full bloom around the 4th April
Sendai, starts blooming around 30th March - full bloom around the 4th April
Sapporo, Hokkaido, starts blooming around 29th April - full bloom around 3rd May
A series of public holidays in the first week of May encourages many workers up and down the country to get a few days of paid leave to make a week of vacation time off work - hence "Golden Week." This coincides with a general warming of the weather and is naturally a great time to elope. However, this also means that venues and vendors charge premium prices for events at this time, and hotel cost also jump. We strongly advise avoiding this week altogether, but the rest of May is just as good!
This month sees much of Japan endure extremely hot and humid weather - think 35 degrees and 80 + percent humidity! When you consider that and the fact that it is high tourist season, in our opinion, it is probably best to try to avoid this month.
This is the Japanese word for autumn leaves. Much of Japan and Japanese gardens in general are simply stunning during this period, which is a personal favorite of ours.
New Year has as much importance to the Japanese as Christmas does to most western cultures. Shrines will be focussed on celebrating the season. Therefore, few, if any, will be open to hosting weddings during this time. Many secular venues will likely be closed too.
When is the best time of year to elope?
Each month has its charm
New Year Celebrations, most shrines unable to perform wedding ceremonies at this time. However, non-shinto venues will be open for winter weddings; the perfect time to get some snow!
Cold, but beautiful in the mountains with wonderful powder snow in places like Nagano and Sapporo.
Cool! In mid-March to the beginning of April, a chance of coinciding with the cherry blossom. This is also a very busy/popular time of year for Japanese, so most shrines and venues with good cherry blossom views book up years in advance.
The first week of May is Golden Week - a series of consecutive public holidays - meaning many Japanese take paid holiday on either side to make a week long period off work. This is a very busy time of year for weddings and as with Cherry blossom season, venues book out well in advance. High season in Japan – higher than usual accommodation costs.
Getting warm, but not too hot; beautiful flowers and greenery – an all round good time to get married, if you don't mind a chance of rain. Rainy season typically starts in June, running to around mid July.
Starting to get Humid, still a chance of rain. Recent years have seen heat waves in this month.
Very hot and Humid; high travel season, expensive accommodation costs. We tend to try to avoid events during this month.
Starting to cool down, but can still be hot. There is also a chance of typhoons and rain.
Perfect temperatures. Not summer weather, but not quite fully autumn yet. The leaves, for the most part will not have started changing yet, but you might get some early "Momoji" (autumn leaves).
Getting cooler, but not unpleasantly so, and from around the middle of November, “momiji” is in full swing..
First two weeks OK, with the momiji around until early to mid month. From around the 15th shrines tend to start preparing for the New Year Celebrations. From the 28th December ~ 3rd or 4th January, most venues will be closed. It will be challenging to find a venue open to hosting a wedding at this time – and will incur higher than usual planning costs.
Can we have our marriage legalized in Japan?
Yes you can, but we don’t recommend it. Getting a marriage license involves going to the embassy and the city hall. Sometimes, it involves multiple trips to the city office, to confirm and clarify questions they may have.
We are happy to help with the legal paperwork, but with a big disclaimer – we cannot guarantee that the embassy nor the city office will grant the license; this is out of our control.
Some embassies are able to perform legally recognized wedding ceremonies. However, if you choose to have your wedding legally recognized the Japanese way, it will involve a trip to a city hall after obtaining notarial documents from your embassy. We will be on hand to help and guide you through the process, which is different from nationality to nationality, so please contact us for further information.
Is the wedding ceremony in English or Japanese?
If the ceremony is held at a Shrine, it will be in Japanese. At all other locations it can be in any language you choose, as long as the officiant is able to do so.
Can we say our own vows?
In a Shinto ceremony, you are given a Japanese script (romanized) to read off, but for all other ceremonies, you can write and recite your own vows. We strongly recommend you do so. This is the heart of the ceremony; the more personalized, the better!
Can we bring our own officiant?
Yes, as long as the venue is open to this, we will support your choice of officiant.
However, if the ceremony is at a shrine, we must use a Shinto priest, otherwise, we are happy to work with officiants you prefer, regardless of faith or denomination.
Can we wear western wedding attire at a shrine?
This is dependent on the shrine, and would have to be confirmed with each individual shrine we talk to.
Can we buy the kimonos?
The vendors we tend to use rent out their kimonos. If you want to buy, we would have to do a bit of research with other suppliers. Please note, the cost of kimonos range from as little as ¥300,000 ($2711) to as much as ¥10,000,000 ($90,393 at the time of writing).
Can we get kimonos for my parents and guests?
Yes. All kimonos need to be fitted by someone who knows what they are doing. So, depending on where that happens, we may or may not be able to attend the fitting with the parents and/guests. On the wedding day, our priority is the couple. We will present a list of options, with which your guests can use to make a decision.
How many guests can we invite?
For elopements the guest number is usually quite low, up to ten. Please note that many Shrines request an additional guest attendance fee, usually a flat fee of about ¥30,000.
If you are not having a shrine elopement, depending on the venue and the size of the space, we may also request a guest attendance fee.
Any guest count of more than 20 will be considered a full wedding.
Can we have a reception at a shrine?
Some shrines have the facilities to host receptions. However, if you are thinking of having a reception you will need to upgrade to a full wedding rather than just elopement. Elopement packages take care of the ceremony and preparations only. Anything else requires full wedding planning services.
That said, for those who want to celebrate with dinner, we can book a restaurant on your behalf, but we will not be able to attend. Just let us know at which restaurant you want to make a reservation.
HAIR & MAKEUP
Is hair and makeup included?
Yes, we can arrange for this, but this is always optional. Hair and makeup prices tend to start at ¥35,000 + tax and transaction fees.
Can we bring in our own photographer?
We have no objection to this, however some wedding venues are contracted with certain photographers and so they would have to pay a cancellation fee to the vendor which is passed on to the customer in the form of a “bringing-in” fee. This can be as little as ¥10,000 or as much as ¥100,000. This is always one of the first questions we would ask a potential venue when we meet with them.
How soon and how do we receive the photos?
This is different per photographer and their schedules. Sometimes we have received within four days of an event, at others as much as three weeks.
Our photographers deliver the photos direct to us, which we then deliver to the client via Drop Box.
Given the distance this has proved the easiest, quickest and cheapest way. Couples can then choose which photos to print through a local printing company.
Can you book accommodation for us and our guests?
To be honest, this is something we are reluctant to do. Every hotel has different pricing policies and terms and conditions, which can be a full-time job to stay on top of.
In addition to this Japan is unique in that some hotels charge per room and some charge per customer. This is not always obvious, and so to avoid any problems or misunderstandings caused by potential games of “Chinese whispers” we suggest that couples book their accommodation, either directly or through third party booking sites such as expedia.com or booking.com.
What we can do however, is present a list of hotels that we recommend – but please be sure to do your own research, and ask your guests to do the same, before booking any hotels, hostels or holiday rentals.
That said, some hotel venues will offer discounts for their wedding clients and any guests, this is an agreement that the couple will enter into with the hotel/venue. We will help you to understand the terms of the agreement, but we cannot make the decision for you.
Can you make restaurant reservations for us?
Yes, we will be happy to do this for you, but please note, we will not be able to attend the dinner with you.
BELIEVE IT OR NOT,
WE HAVE BEEN
Can we have a western wedding at a shrine?
No. This is akin to expecting a Catholic Church to host a Jewish wedding. People of any faith or no faith are welcome to get married at a shrine as long as they follow and respect the shinto way of doing things while they are there.
GENERAL ADMIN QUESTIONS
How do we pay?
There are three ways to pay:
For those living Japan and with a Japanese bank account, a direct wire transfer is the easiest way.
For those living abroad, you can either use PayPal, which enables credit card transactions, or TransferWise, which allows you to transfer directly from your non-Japanese bank account to ours.
How far in advance can/should we book?
This depends on whether you are having a full wedding, elopement or vow renewal.
Most vow renewals can be booked in less than two months. For our Garden Vow renewals we tend use public gardens in Tokyo that cannot be confirmed more than two months in advance. For anything in Nara, Kyoto or further afield we can book further out.
For weddings, we recommend you book no less than 10 months out, to increase our chances of securing your chosen venue on your chosen date.
Are you contracted to/with any particular venues and vendors?
No. While we do have favorite vendors we like to use repeatedly, we are not contracted to or with anyone. All suggestions are free from obligation and while we will make recommendations, with the exception of Tokyo Garden Vow Renewal, which is dependent on garden availability, you have the final choice in which vendors or venues you decide to use.
Why is the planning fee more expensive for elopements and vow renewals outside Tokyo?
Quite simply, this is because we have to cover our transportation fee. We are based in Tokyo, so any event outside the city will incur travel costs and, if necessary, hotel stays.