Guide to Attending Japanese Wedding: Phrases, Etiquette & Things to Avoid

If you settle in Japan, you may find yourself receiving an invitation to a wedding and pondering all the traditions and formalities that come along with it. Weddings, otherwise known as kekkonshiki (結婚式), in Japan are a time of celebration, a time to eat and drink with friends and family and to celebrate a couple beginning married life. The signing of the marriage, however, when the couple is married by law, actually takes place on a different day at the town office and can be months before the actual wedding day. So when the ceremony takes place it is a chance to finally celebrate.  

If you ever get invited to a wedding in Japan, there might be some words and terms that are good to know before you attend. On the other hand, there is a certain set of words that are considered a harbinger of bad luck. How do you congratulate the bride and groom at a wedding in Japan? How should you attend a Japanese wedding appropriately? Read more to find out!

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What is a Wedding like in Japan?

Japanese weddings don’t differ tremendously from those in the west: the bride wears white for the ceremony, but there are also some traditions and formalities that set Japanese weddings aside. For instance, there are two categories, youshiki (洋式) which indicates a western style wedding that usually takes place in a chapel or hotel and the bride wears a white dress. The second type is washiki (和式) which indicates a traditional shinto wedding at a shrine where the bride wears a white kimono. Both weddings follow the same etiquette when it comes to gift giving and after the ceremony a reception usually follows. 

japanese wedding attire traditional

If the bride decides to have a dress change which is very common at Japanese weddings, especially for washiki, she will change from her white kimono to an elaborate colorful kimono, often with the most gorgeous, intricate embroidery. The change from white to color signifies the change that she is now married. Some brides choose instead to change to a wedding dress or a ballgown and some will even go through 3 dress changes throughout the day. As Japanese weddings run down to the minute, a top tip is to go to the restroom should you need it during one of the dress changes!

traditional japanese wedding

What to Wear for a Wedding in Japan?

If traveling far you may already be deciding what to pack. On the actual day of the wedding, you won’t want to take too much luggage as you’ll receive a thank you gift from the couple and you don’t want to have your arms full on the way home. You’ll find many guests attend weddings with almost no luggage at all or very small bags. However, if it is in the winter months and the wedding is indoors, it is best to dress indoors in a big coat on top as you’ll be able to store this at the reception in the cloakroom. If you are coming with a suitcase you should be able to store this in the cloakroom too. 

Many women wear dresses at weddings but a suit is acceptable too. The main rule to follow is to try to find a dress that covers your knees and shoulders and avoid a low neckline. For shoes, try to avoid those that show your toes and large heels, a kitten heel is more appropriate. Other than that, avoid white and try to keep the outfit elegant yet simple, nothing too flashy. the Japanese go out of their way to make sure the bride stands out on her big day and many people will actually attend the wedding in all black, so if you have a black dress, this may just be the perfect occasion! For hair it is best to pin it up if you have long hair as wearing it down can appear too casual. If the wedding is taking place at a hotel you may be able to reserve a hair appointment at their salon. Be sure to tell them the start time of the wedding though so you don’t run late.

Men tend to wear a suit to weddings in Japan with a tie or bowtie however, be sure not to choose a black tie as this is reserved for funerals. For the suit color, many opt for black suits to contrast the bride’s white dress. 

what to give to bride and groom in japan

What to Give the Bride and Groom in a Japanese Wedding?

When it comes to giving the newlywed couple a gift it is customary to give money called goshuugi (御祝儀). The amount can vary depending on your relationship with the couple and whether you are a student, but it can get very expensive. Below are some examples.  

  • A student: 10,000 yen
  • A friend: 30,000 yen
  • A close relative or boss: 50,000 yen

Shuugibukuro (祝儀袋) is the name for the envelope in which to gift money. These can be purchased at stationery stores and even in convenience stores but for a wedding, you may want to look around for a particularly nice one to celebrate the occasion. Many will already have kanji on the front, for weddings kotobuki (寿) is often used as it means congratulations, but also oiwai (御祝い), congratulations and gokekkon oiwai (ご結婚御祝い), or congratulations of your marriage, is often used. If you purchase a plain envelope you may wish to add your own calligraphy on the front such as the kanji for kotobuki 寿.  

There are many different types of shuugibukuro and each type is reserved for a different occasion so it is important to pick out the right one. The knots on the envelope, called mizuhiki (水引), is an ancient Japanese art form of knot tying. For weddings, avoid grey, black or white and yellow knots as these are used for funerals. In particular, you may want to seek two types of knots called musubikiri and awajimusubi, these two knots cannot be undone and therefore are often used for marriage. Cho-musubi is a knot that looks similar to a bow or a shoelace knot, this kind can be done and undone and done again, and so it is used for celebrations that you would want to see happen multiple times but not for weddings. 

When you purchase shuugibukuro, you should receive an inner envelope where you put the money, with the portrait side of the bill facing the front, the other way around is for funerals. On the back of the inner envelope, write your name and address so they know who it is from and leave space to also write how much you are giving in the format: 金○○円.

You can write the amount in common Japanese numbers, or you can use kanji to make it more formal: one (壱), two (弐), three(参) and so on. For example, 金参萬円 is the kanji for giving 30,000 yen, as the kanji 萬 kanji represents the four zeros. To make it even more formal, you can write everything vertically so it reads top to bottom, right to left (for reference, this is a useful source of formal kanji for Japanese numbers).

Some people wrap their shuugibukuro in another layer, usually silk. You can do this if you wish, but it is becoming less and less common with many people now giving their shuugibukuro as is. When you arrive at the venue, there will be a welcome table where give your shuugibukuro with both hands and a bow to whoever is managing the table. 

What to Say to the Bridge and Groom: Saying Congratulations at a Japanese Wedding

1. Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu (ご結婚おめでとうございます): Congratulations on our wedding!

This is probably the most basic and foolproof way to congratulate a couple during their wedding. On its own, omedetou gozaimasu (おめでとうございます) can mean simply “congratulations” and can stand alone, but the word gokekkon (ご結婚) means marriage (ご is a prefix). 

 2. Suenagaku oshiawase ni (末永くお幸せに): May you be happy forever

You can use this both in written form — such as a celebratory letter to congratulate them — or in a speech. You can make things casual by adding a ね (ne).

末永くお幸せにね
Suenagaku oshiawase ni ne.
Be happy forever (okay?)

3. Other ways to congratulate Japanese people on a wedding

The two phrases above are basically good foundations to congratulate a Japanese couple, but depending on your relationship with them, you might want to bump the greetings up a notch. For example, you wouldn’t use the last example for your manager’s daughter’s wedding. You want to be careful about the language you use when sending messages to your superiors and seniors. Here are a few phrases you can use:

ご結婚おめでとうございます! 心よりお祝い申し上げます。 お二人の末永い健康とご多幸をお祈りいたします。
Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu! Kokoro yori oiwai moushi agemasu. Ofutari no suenagai kenkou to gotakou o oinori itashimasu.
Congratulations on your marriage! I wish you both good health and happiness for many years to come.

ご結婚, 心よりご祝福申しあげます 。笑顔の溢れる温かいご家庭をお築きになられますようお祈りいたします。
Go kekkon, kokoro yori go shukufuku moushiagemasu. Egao no afureru atatakai gokatei o okizuki ni nararemasu you oinori itashimasu.
I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations on your marriage. I pray that you will build a warm family filled with smiles.

お二人の人生最良の門出を 心からお喜び申し上げます。
Ofutari no jinsei sairyou no kadode o kokoro kara oyorokobi moushiagemasu.
I sincerely congratulate you on the best start to your life.

ご結婚おめでとうございます。 お二人で明るい家庭を築かれてください。 
Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu. Ofutari de akarui katei o kizukarete kudasai.
Congratulations on your wedding. Please build a bright family together.

What Not to Say During a Wedding in Japan: Taboo and Jinx

1. Avoid saying farewell-related Words

Words associated with parting and farewell are considered taboo in weddings because although you’re not directly wishing for a breakup, these words suggest the end of a marriage. Avoid using it in speeches, greetings, or even in conversations between guests in any context. The words include divorce (離婚; rikon), separate (別れる; wakareru), cut (切る; kireru) and leave (離れる;  hanare).You should also not use any words associated with death and sorrows. 

2. Avoid words related to “going home” or “returning”

According to Japanese superstitions, it’s also bad luck to say either going home (帰る; kaeru) or returning (戻る; modoru) because it will supposedly jinx the marriage, and cause the bride to leave the groom and return home to her parents.

3. Avoid repeated words

Similar to Japanese funerals, you want to avoid repeated words, otherwise known as kasane kotoba (重ね言葉), because it implies repeated marriages.

4. Avoid even numbers when giving out money

Previously, we talked about 御祝儀 (goshuugi), but did you know it’s frowned upon to give the bride and groom a certain number of money? That’s right: you should not give a number that can be divided by two, like 2,000 or 4,000. This implies “split” within the marriage and is therefore unlucky.  

However, there is an exception if you give 80,000 yen. The kanji for 8 (八) is open at the bottom, like an open gate for good luck. When putting together the bank notes make sure to get them fresh from the cash machine and do not fold them too!

How to Reply to a Wedding Invitation in Japan

When you receive the invitation be sure to look out for any small slips of paper and double-check the envelope to make sure you didn’t miss any (sometimes there’s more than one!). The invitation should tell you where the wedding is going to be held but usually, on a separate slip you’ll receive a notification of the time you are expected to arrive and a notification if you are invited to any after-parties taking place. Japanese weddings are punctual so regarding the start time be sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare. 

With your invitation, you should also receive a reply slip with two options goshuuseki (御出席), will attend, or gokesseki (御欠席), won’t attend, you will need to cross out whichever option does not apply to you. An unwritten rule is to also cross out the first kanji, the go (御), which is an honorific, making the sentence politer because you are referring to yourself and what you will do. If there is no indication of a plus one on your invitation, don’t assume you have one! In Japan, if the bride and groom don’t know your partner that well, it is normal for them to only invite you and you’ll find many guests attending the wedding by themselves.  

If you are able to attend the wedding then on the reply slip there may be a section to list any food allergies and if you have any dietary requirements here is the place to state so. If there is no place on the reply slip then notify the couple in advance so they can notify the venue. Wedding meals are a set menu so everybody gets the same thing and it will have already been decided well in advance so make sure you tell the couple with plenty of time to spare. If you will be attending with a child, you may want to contact the couple anyway to double-check the food, usually, the venues are very accommodating.   

What to Say in Japanese When You Can’t Attend a Wedding

If you can’t attend the wedding, you might still want to send a congratulatory card. Here, you can write:

ご結婚おめでとうございます。ご招待いただいたのに出席できずに申し訳ありません。お二人の未来が素晴らしいものでありますようお祈りいたします。
Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu. Go shoutai itadaita no ni shusseki dekizu ni moushiwake arimasen. Ofutari no mirai ga subarashii monodearimasu you oinori itashimasu.
Congratulations on your wedding. I am sorry that I was invited but could not attend. I wish you both a wonderful future.

You can also give a formal reply to inform them that you are not attending.

あいにく外せない用がございまして欠席させていただきます。お二人の挙式が素敵なものになりますようお祈り致しております。
Ainiku hazusenai you ga gozaimashite kesseki sasete itadakimasu ofutari no kyoshiki ga sutekina mono ni narimasu you oinori ita shite orimasu.
Unfortunately, I will be absent due to some unavoidable business. I pray that your wedding ceremony will be wonderful.

At the end of the reply, if there is space you can leave a message, we have provided some inspiration below:

おめでとう御座いますOmedetou gozaimasu Congratulations
どうぞお幸せにDouzo oshiawase niWishing you both happiness
末永くお幸せにSuenagaku oshiawase niWishing you will both be happy forever 

You will want to reply to the invitation as soon as possible as there will be many things the bride and groom need to confirm with the venue regarding numbers. If you cannot reply soon via mail, consider calling the couple to let them know well in advance. 

Even if you cannot attend the wedding it is customary to still send goshugi to the couple to say congratulations and thank them for the invitation. However, with advance notice, they should be able to cancel your food so you can send just 10,000 yen. You can do this at the post office using the service genkin kakitome, registered mail for cash.

If You Have to Suddenly Cancel Your Attendance

Sometimes life happens and we have to cancel at the last minute. If this happens to you, don’t call the bride and groom! They will be too busy to take your call, call the venue directly instead. You can follow up with an apology and congratulate the couple after the wedding and send your goshuugi, a monetary gift as your food and seat will have already been prepared.

Conclusion

When you’re living in Japan, you might be involved in a lot of events and community — weddings, Coming of Age ceremonies, funerals, New Year parties and graduations. In a lot of these cases, knowing basic greeting of omedetou gozaimasu may not be enough. What if you want to speak more than “congratulations” or “I’m sorry”?

Hopefully, this article helps calm down the nerves if you are moments away from attending a Japanese funeral. Don’t be disheartened by the fact that you didn’t know about the phrases we covered in the first place! They are rarely said in real life.

However, if you want to be more confident in speaking Japanese, we recommend taking courses at Coto Academy. Online, in Tokyo or Yokohama, our classes focus on practical conversations, allowing you to reach Japanese fluency in the pace, intensity and style you prefer. Check out our courses, or book a free consultation.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out our learning blog! We cover a variety of helpful content to help you learn about Japanese language, culture and all interesting things in between!


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