How to organise your Japanese wedding ceremony

This August my partner and I had the most romantic Japanese wedding ceremony in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. The two of us (expats living in Melbourne) eloped and we did it without paying large sums to a Japanese wedding agency. After enjoying this amazing experience, I would like to share the information I gathered to help you organise your Japanese wedding ceremony. Everything I mention in this post is the result of my own research and experience. I have not received any form of fee or other benefits from the organisations I mention in this post. Prices might have changed since writing this post.

Why Japan

After we decided to elope, we also decided not to spend a ridiculous amount of money on the wedding itself. So, after going through some of the most luxurious and expensive hotels on Fiji (a few of them will give you a free ceremony if you stay more than 5 nights) that required the same budget as a small wedding in Australia, the universe intervened. During my lunch break at work, I found deals on flights to Japan, giving us the return flights for free. My partner and I had always been interested in Japan and with this deal on flights it was settled. Besides, it was only too easy to drift away and start dreaming about a wedding in this magical land with its beautiful temples and shrines.

Organising a Japanese wedding ceremony

Soon after deciding Japan was the place for our romantic adventure, I discovered two challenges. The first, getting legally married in Japan is a lot more work than it would be in Australia – with us being permanent residents. The second was that it was hard to organize a Japanese wedding ceremony, without paying up to 1000 USD in fees to an agency.

Because of the first challenge we decided to take care of the legal part in Australia and have our wedding ceremony in Japan. In the hopes of overcoming the second challenge, we decided to attempt a DIY Japanese wedding ceremony in Kyoto. After all, in a city that is said to have more than 1600 temples surely something could be arranged.

When you start your research, you notice there are two types of traditional wedding ceremonies. You have the Buddhist wedding ceremony that takes place in a temple, and the Shinto ceremony that takes place in a Shrine. They are different and it’s worth looking into both before you decide. The biggest difference relevant to our needs was that the Buddhist temples generally have fewer rules regarding clothing, photography and adding changes to the ceremony (exchanging rings during the ceremony).

In the first month, I contacted over 50 places (both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as well as wedding agencies) through websites, email and Facebook. I followed up with them/stalked them, just to get an idea of what was out there in terms of price and availability. I was surprised to find how few of these shrines and temples have an English website and how long it took before people responded, which was probably due to the lack of English-speaking employees. But, aided by Google translate, even the Japanese websites didn’t stop me from sending out enquiries and translating emails as they responded – Google Translate was also an incredibly useful tool during our trip in Japan.

As a result, three agencies responded to me, but only Kyoto weddings (http://kyoto-weddings.jp/) gave me an initial breakdown of their price:

  • A producing fee of approx.100,000 JPY yen(+tax) in total, including consultation before the wedding ceremony, accompaniment and interpretation on the wedding day.
  • A location fee of approx. 100,000 JPY yen(+tax).

Kyoto Weddings also charges a fee if you don’t use their wedding clothes, make-up and photographer, which amounts to 30000 JPY yen. As I mentioned before, prices might have changed since I contacted this agency, so consider the above as an indication of the fees involved. In contacting these and other potential wedding locations, I clearly mentioned it was just the two of us and the photographer – the prices might vary when you have attending guests.

Other Japanese wedding agencies that wrote back to me were:

  • Create Wedding – info@create-wedding.com
  • Kotohogi Wedding- contact@kotohogi-wedding.com

By the time they got back to me, I had already found the temple where my Japanese wedding ceremony would take place, so I didn’t get to discussing a price with them. However, if you want to use an agency, the three I mention here speak English and respond to your enquiry.

The location fee of a 100000 JPY seemed to be the standard in a lot of places. The Heian-Jingu Shrine, for instance, said that a ceremony at their shrine would cost 120000 JPY, but that they would not perform a ceremony between foreigners – something else to be mindful of, but nothing you can’t overcome since there are so many temples and shrines to choose from.

In the end, we decided on the Buddhist ceremony and temple, because of their price and flexibility. As I mentioned earlier we discovered them to be a bit more relaxed when it came to wearing your choice of clothing and adding the exchanging of the rings to the ceremony. These are two temples that stood out to me because of their price and their English-speaking ceremony, which meant we didn’t need an interpreter.

We had our ceremony at the gorgeous Taizo-in temple.

The other temple we found was the Shunkoin Temple.

  • The Shunkoin Temple – http://www.shunkoin.com
    Ceremony fee: From memory approx. 700 USD
    Also marries same-sex couples

What goes on in a Japanese Buddhist wedding ceremony

For us, the magic started when my partner and I, together with our photographer, entered the gorgeous temple grounds. The Taizo-in temple is not a very touristy place, which is a big plus for the authentic feel of the experience. Starting at the gate it was a beautiful 2-minute walk to the main hall where the ceremony took place. We were required to take off our shoes upon entrance and were taken to a waiting room, where we received a lovely tea together with some Japanese cookies. After we enjoyed and finished our teas the Head Monk (who spoke perfect English) welcomed us and invited us into the beautiful ceremonial area. He explained what the ceremony would involve and that it would last about 30 minutes. All of this was communicated beforehand, but it made for a lovely introduction to such a romantic and exciting day.

This is what our ceremony contained:

  • Welcoming of the Bride and Groom
  • Addressing the congregation (if you have one)
  • Chanting of the Heart Sutra (for us this was a really beautiful and intimate experience)
  • Recitation of marriage vows to the Officiant
  • Exchange of Buddhist prayer beads and rings
  • Exchange of marriage vows (these are your vows to Buddha, which are sealed with a bit of fragrant wood you offer on a small piece of burning coal)
  • Meditation on gratitude and joy
  • Conclusion of service

This type of service really fitted in well with our lives and personalities and we loved every minute of it, feeling present and loved. On top of the beautiful prayer beads, we received a beautiful calligraphy done by the temple’s calligraphy master with a beautiful frame. After a lovely conversation with our Celebrant (Head Monk), he explained to us how to walk around the beautiful grounds and gave us all coupons to enjoy a delicious cup of matcha tea to use in the temple’s own teahouse. If you visit their website, you will get a good idea of the beautiful grounds and gardens we enjoyed.

Hair and make-up, hotel, photographer and a sweet ride

This part is very personal and it really all depends on your preference. We brought our wedding clothes from Australia, which I combined with a Japanese hairstyle and Western wedding make-up.

I had a really lovely time in the capable hands of the women in this salon who created the most beautiful hair and make-up.

Price hair: 4000JPY (does not include those beautiful flowers, which they have available in different price ranges)
Price make-up: 5000JPY

*They also rent out kimonos if that is something you are interested in.

For our first night as a married couple, I was originally in search of a luxurious ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. I discovered that either the prices were too high for my taste or the level of comfort was not what we were looking for (i.e. shared bathrooms and paper-thin walls). I ended up with the perfect place that combined tradition with comfort. We checked in the day before to get a relaxed head-start and checked out two days after, to avoid getting up early the next day. Breakfast was a real treat, waking up to an amazing vegetarian Kaiseki (local fine dining cuisine, typically served in ryokans) breakfast, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Hotel Ethnographyhttps://www.hotel-ethnography.com/
Three nights there cost us: 690 AUD (about 500 USD)

The lovely staff gave us a few typical Kyoto gifts in celebration of our marriage, as well as a warm send-off – we saw them waving and bowing to us right up to the moment our taxi took a turn and left the street of the hotel.

The photographer we hired was an exceptionally nice guy. I first discovered his beautiful work on Facebook and wrote to him because I thought he lived in Kyoto. Turned out he lives in the Philippines and is hired all over the globe by Philippine people that like and know his work. He really liked our plan of eloping in Kyoto with a Buddhist ceremony and was glad to be a part of it. He was great company on our day, very respectful and easy to talk to.

His name is Randolf Evanhttp://www.randolfevan.com/
Normal Price: 1300 AUD (he gave of us different price because he saw it as a special project)

The sweet ride mentioned above is a bit of a joke. The hotel staff pointed out on our day of arrival that the best taxi service in Kyoto is the one with the heart symbol on top. It was only fitting that this would be our sweet ride to the temple!