This fun-loving couple always knew they wanted to have a ceremony in spring. And why not?! It is a stunning time of year, and Japanese views of pink and white cherry blossom are famous worldwide. They wouldn't be the first couple to seek out such settings for their elopement, and certainly won't be the last. However, after initially inquiring about Garden ceremonies, they opted for a Shinto Shrine Elopement. This way they could experience more of Japan on their trip. They would still see the cherry blossom, but it wouldn't be the thing that makes or breaks the big day.
They were coming to Japan for a two week trip, taking in the sights of Tokyo and Kyoto, and decided to schedule a ceremony on the Tokyo leg of the trip. Knowing that cherry blossom would be the icing the cake, we offered an additional photo-shoot beneath the pink and white stuff. For this, they wore western attire, and we ventured out into a city park at 7:30am one cold Saturday morning. However, it was so much fun that we soon warmed up!
It is rare that we get to spend anytime with our elopement couples before the wedding day, and so it was all the more special to actually meet them for drinks the night before. This enabled us to get know each other and build a rapport that is sometimes difficult through online video conferencing. We had a lot of fun drinking, talking and eating with them on two occasions while they were here, and feel that we have built a genuine friendship.
The Wedding Day
The weather this spring was cold! However, on the wedding day itself it was, thankfully, warm and sunny! This couple, with a sunny disposition, certainly brought the sunshine with them! Ayako met them at their hotel in Shinjuku at 07:30am ready to get a taxi to the Kimono studio where they selected and changed into them. Unusually for most brides, she picked out her kimono in a matter minutes! For them, the idea of getting married in Spring was heavily influenced by the opportunity to coincide with the cherry blossom. Therefore, once the bride saw the pink cherry blossom motifs on one of the kimonos, the choice was made.
She looked stunning! The groom looked no less handsome too!
All in all it took just 90 minutes for the bride and groom to get ready, after which the only thing left to do was get to the shrine. They went separately, with the groom arriving first.
At the Shrine
We started the shinto shrine elopement with "first-meet photos". Unlike western weddings, where the bride walks down the aisle to meet the groom at the altar, there is no such custom here at traditional weddings in Japan. However, this is an essential part of the day, so we asked the shrine to accommodate us with this. And, they were more than happy to do so. The groom arrived first, to await his bride in front of the shrine. The big moment didn't disappoint! Upon seeing each other in full kimonos, the nerves, if there were any, dissipated quickly and they, nay - we all - broke out into huge smiles.
Following on from the first meet, there was a 30 minute photo-shoot in the grounds of the shrine. The place is impressive. Although ostensibly a local shrine in a residential area, well away from the tourist hordes in Tokyo, it is as beautiful as any you will find anywhere in Japan. Especially unique, for a local shrine, is the fact that it houses an impressive Noh Theatre stage. This is incredible photogenic and became a focal point for the photographer.
After the pre-wedding shoot, we went inside for the rehearsal, which can always be a little daunting. As with all religions there are certain protocols and rituals that couples need to observe. And when coupled with an exotic language it has the potential to be quite intimidating. However, the staff at the shrine are so welcoming, kind and friendly; they put everyone at ease. Ayako was also on hand to translate and explain the order of the ceremony. Needless to say, the rehearsal went smoothly and they were soon set for the real thing.
Shinto Shrine Elopement Ceremony
Just before the commencement of the ceremony, they were ushered in to a side room to relax with a cup of warm sakura tea. Sometimes things can get a bit hectic on wedding day, and so it is good for everyone, not least the couple, to sit and take in their surroundings. It is a way to savor the moment; to be mindful. The worst thing that can happen on anyone's wedding day is for it to go by in a blur! We are mindful of this, and like to give our couples some time to just take things at their own pace!
After some rest-time, the shrine presented them with a certificate, in Japanese, which the couple signed and dated. It is a nice touch and makes things more formal, even if the couple receive their wedding license in their home country. There is no administrative link between wedding ceremonies and marriage applications in Japan. These are done separately and on different days, unlike in western marriage traditions. So, to have a commemorative certificate from the shrine is a classy move - greatly appreciated by the couple.
The ceremony always starts with a ritual washing of hands, before proceeding in procession to the shrine itself. After this the priest reports the marriage to the Kami - god - then rings a bell, which brings blessings from God. A central part of the ceremony is the ritual drinking of sake from the same cup - great for sake lovers. Shinto followers believe that drinking sake from the same cup strengthens the bond between the couple.
Following the sake drink, it is the couple’s turn to speak. In shinto there is a set oath that the couple must read, in Japanese. This couple had been practicing this for months ahead of time, and it showed. They did great! Next was the ring exchange. This is the same as western weddings, and always brings about great pictures - see for yourself, below!
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After the ceremony
Because they were here during the spring, they really wanted to get some cherry blossom! There was a little blossom at the shrine, but not much. So, on a cold Saturday morning, I (Ross) met them at their hotel in Shinjuku. From their, we went to a nearby park for a wedding dress photo-shoot. This rounded off their experience here - they had had a traditional Japanese shrine wedding, and completed it with a dress shoot in a modern city park. Yes, it was early, but the light at that time of morning was beautiful and the pics came out great!