A traditional Japanese wedding seating plan is complex and fundamentally hierarchical in its layout. ‘Kamiza’, the Japanese term referring to the top seat or place of honour within a room, is the warmest, most comfortable seat placed furthest from the door (this refers back to the Japanese feudal period where this position was warmest, and safest from attack). Historically, people’s status would be shown by the height of the mat that they sat on. However, as flat ‘tatami’ matting became more affordable, the actual seating position became the most important indicator of social hierarchy.
In line with this cultural formality, a Japanese ‘Kekkon Hiroen’ (wedding reception) sees much care and attention paid to guest’s seating arrangements, in order that no one be offended by the implied status of their seating position. The order of seating is organised corresponding to the guest’s age, social position and their relationship with the couple, with the people sitting closest to the bride and groom as the most important guests.
Who Gets The Best Seats?
Seemingly contradictory to the Western sense of status, the bride and groom’s family often occupy the least important positions within the seating plan, near the exit or kitchen door. By offering the best seats to guests, the family is seen to demonstrate humility and humbleness. The bride and groom’s boss and teachers are considered of high status. Although the tradition of arranged marriages is now dying out, also often sitting on the most important seats was the ‘nakudo’ – the couple who arranged the bride and groom’s marriage. Contemporary weddings see the guest who acted as matchmaker between the happy couple take this position at the reception.
In a Western or Buddhist style Japanese wedding, a sake ceremony is often performed at the wedding reception. ‘San-san-kudo’, or the sharing of sake, is one of the oldest Japanese wedding traditions. Demonstrating respect for parents and the creation of a new family bond, the groom takes three sips of sake from three different cups, followed by the bride. The sake is then offered to the family – first the groom’s father, then his mother, the bride’s father, then her mother.
Another beautiful tradition sees the bride and groom lighting a candle at each of the guest’s tables, signifying their wish to share warmth and light with their guests. Japanese weddings can involve tea ceremonies – although these are similar to the Chinese tea ceremony seen previously (as they both originate in Zen Buddhism), they have diverged over time and are now significantly different. The Japanese ceremony is quietly reflective, focussing more on the hospitality and Zen principles of harmony, respect and purity.
Among the plethora of tradition and protocol found in historical and contemporary Japanese weddings, the folding of 1000 cranes is a beautiful Japanese tradition which offers a thousand years of happiness and prosperity for the couple. The bride and groom also give ‘Hikidemono’ or wedding mementos, often dried sugar candy which signifies happiness. More recently, western traditions such as throwing the bouquet and cutting a cake have been incorporated.
Whether you choose to follow Japanese protocol to the last detail, or are simply inspired by the small ideas with big meanings, the beauty that lies within the ancient traditions renews existing family bonds and creates new ones, ensuring that everyone has a wedding experience of a lifetime.