Shinto Shrine Weddings

A classic Japanese wedding at a Shinto shrine brings blessings to your celebration.



Prior to the start of the wedding the space is prepared for the couple and their guests.

Since shrine weddings are usually small and intimate, guest seating is provided – often with a set up for the sharing of ceremonial sake at the end of the ceremony.

Food items, including salt, water, rice, sake, fruit, and vegetables, are left at a ceremonial wedding altar, which also holds the wedding rings.

Setting the Stage for the Sacred

Solemn Procession to Blessings

Start of the Shinto Wedding Program

For the entrance procession, the couple is accompanied only by close family members in formal dress, often traditional. In addition to the priest, there may be musicians leading the party or shrine maidens in traditional clothing. The couple is usually feted by the colorful red umbrella held high above the bride’s head.

Priest call upon gods, and purifies the altar.  The priest will purify the shrine and call the attention of benevolent spirits, or kami

San san kudo sake ceremony

This ceremony is a ritualized drinking of sake by the couple, and sometimes their parents, and serves as a binding ceremony.  The ceremony starts with three sakazuiki (ceremonial sake cups) stacked one on top of the other in a tier.

San means “three,” ku means “nine,” and do means “to deliver.” This ritual dates back to a time when sharing sake created a strong formal bond. The bride and groom take three sips each from the cups. Then their parents also take sips (for a total of nine sips), which cements the bond between the families. Three cannot be divided in two, making it a particularly lucky number for a wedding in Japanese culture.

Cup Symbolism

There are many different ideas about the symbolism of the three sake cups. Some believe it represents heaven, earth, and mankind, others believe it represents the love, wisdom, and happiness which grow over time in a marriage. Another source says the three cups represents three human flaws of hatred, passion, and ignorance.

The ceremony is usually part of both a temple and a shrine wedding.

The Heart of the Ceremony

Vows, Prayers and Gratitude

End of the Shinto Wedding Program

After the san san kudo, the couple will exchange rings and vows.

The couple approaches the altar, where the groom reads his vows while the bride listens. Reflecting a history of arranged marriage in Japan, a nakodo, or “matchmaker,” may be thanked in the vows. If no matchmaker exists, a friend or family member will be appointed to fill the role, serving a role similar to the attendants at western-style weddings. Then, the wedding guests join in with the drinking of sake and a traditional cheer of “kampai.

A prayer is offered to the gods.  In the final portion of the ceremony, the priest offers Japanese evergreen to the altar, said to reflect gratitude to the spirits who blessed the union.

After a short message from Priest the couple exits.


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