Several types of marriages existed during the Meiji period, and the formalities varied between regions, local customs and social classes. However, the custom of arranged marriages, borrowed from the samurai class which had strict rules concerning marriages, became a common practice that spread throughout the Meiji period. During the Edo period, members of the samurai class usually married at a young age. Marriages were not a question of love, the selection of the prospective bride and groom and the wedding preparations were often left to a go-between (nakodo), who acted on the parents’ behalf. The new Meiji society accepted marriages between people of different regions and social classes, and the demand for the services of a nakodo increased accordingly.
Several types of marriages existed during the Meiji period, and the formalities varied between regions, local customs and social classes. However, the custom of arranged marriages, borrowed from the samurai class which had strict rules concerning marriages, became a common practice that spread throughout the Meiji period. During the Edo period, members of the samurai class usually married at a young age. Marriages were not a question of love, the selection of the prospective bride and groom and the wedding preparations were often left to a go-between (nakodo), who acted on the parents’ behalf. The new Meiji society accepted marriages between people of different regions and social classes, and the demand for the services of a nakodo increased accordingly.

© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

In a common type of marriage, especially in the urban areas, the official ceremony would take place at the groom’s home where guests were invited to participate. The bride and groom would seal their union by drinking sake three times from three different cups, a Shinto wedding ritual called san-san kudo. Elaborate receptions where the spouses, their families and friends exchanged various gifts (fish, rice cakes, sake) would follow. In most arranged marriages, the wife would live at the house of her husband’s parents. A modern custom was for the bride to bring a rich bridal trousseau as a dowry along with her personal belongings. Prized (lacquer) objects such as this (to be chosen later) were typical additions to the trousseau of a bride from a wealthy family.
In a common type of marriage, especially in the urban areas, the official ceremony would take place at the groom’s home where guests were invited to participate. The bride and groom would seal their union by drinking sake three times from three different cups, a Shinto wedding ritual called san-san kudo. Elaborate receptions where the spouses, their families and friends exchanged various gifts (fish, rice cakes, sake) would follow. In most arranged marriages, the wife would live at the house of her husband’s parents. A modern custom was for the bride to bring a rich bridal trousseau as a dowry along with her personal belongings. Prized (lacquer) objects such as this (to be chosen later) were typical additions to the trousseau of a bride from a wealthy family.

© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

In some weddings, the fiancee’s procession was an important part of the wedding ceremony. On the day of the wedding, the bride-to-be would be escorted to the groom’s home in a rickshaw or a basket-chair palanquin. During the Edo Period, the nuptial procession in a richly decorated palanquin was mainly reserved to women belonging to the high ranking Samurai classes and the aristocracy.
In some weddings, the fiancee’s procession was an important part of the wedding ceremony. On the day of the wedding, the bride-to-be would be escorted to the groom’s home in a rickshaw or a basket-chair palanquin. During the Edo Period, the nuptial procession in a richly decorated palanquin was mainly reserved to women belonging to the high ranking Samurai classes and the aristocracy.

© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Edo period 18th century

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Gift from Mr S. Etienne Sigaut

h.: 150 cm; l.: 131 cm; d.: 86 cm
64.230
© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


On her wedding day, the bride would wear a traditional Japanese costume or a western style dress with a white veil. White, the colour of mourning, expressed the family's loss of their daughter. In some instances, following a Shinto tradition, the bride would wear an elaborate head-dress that was meant to hide the horns of jealousy.
On her wedding day, the bride would wear a traditional Japanese costume or a western style dress with a white veil. White, the colour of mourning, expressed the family's loss of their daughter. In some instances, following a Shinto tradition, the bride would wear an elaborate head-dress that was meant to hide the horns of jealousy.

© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Women's wedding kimono

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Embroidered silk
184 cm x 128 cm
© 1999, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Describe the changes to who got married and how in Japan during the Meiji period
  • Using examples, describe wedding ceremonies in the Meiji period
  • Discern Western and traditional influences on wedding practices during the Meiji period
  • Compare Meiji wedding ceremonial practices to wedding practices in their own culture

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