Spring and autumn are popular seasons for 結婚式 (kekkonshiki, wedding ceremonies) in Japan, thanks to relatively comfortable temperatures and sunny weather that comes around.
Another reason spring weddings are popular is Golden Week, which includes a series of 連休 (renkyū, consecutive holidays) that makes it easy for friends and family to get together — even if a pandemic means you need to keep numbers down.
Weddings are one of the best ways to experience any culture, and Japanese weddings are no exception. If you get an invitation to one, there are a few linguistic terms that are good to know before you attend — in person or via video chat.
First of all, what are your obligations as a guest? The 御祝儀 (go-shūgi) is a monetary gift each guest is expected to bring to the ceremony. The amount is usually set at ¥30,000. Why that amount? Well, first of all you need to give the bride and groom an odd number of bills. If you gift them a number of bills that can be divided evenly (¥20,000 or ¥40,000), this implies separation. Furthermore, a single ¥10,000 note is too little to help pay for the ceremony, and ¥50,000 is too much to expect from a guest (but won’t be turned down).
Not only should the 御祝儀 be three bills, they must be crisp — fresh from the bank. I can remember a Canadian coworker telling me that his Japanese friend got a look at his ¥30,000 and, deciding they weren’t crisp enough, actually ironed them for him.
After ironing (ha!), put the 御祝儀 in a 御祝儀袋 (go-shūgi-bukuro, special wedding envelope), write your name and address on it and hand it in at the 受付 (uketsuke, reception) when you arrive at the 結婚式場 (kekkonshikijō, wedding venue).
Once you arrive, it’s best to know what to say to the 新郎新婦 (shinrō shinpu, the groom and bride) or their parents if you happen to meet them. Your opening line should be ご結婚おめでとうございます (go-kekkon omedetō gozaimasu, congratulations on your marriage), which is a piece of cake (not ウェディングケーキ [uedingu kēki, wedding cake], that comes later).
More difficult would be the phrases you need if you’re going to make a speech, which are delivered during the 披露宴 (hirōen, wedding reception). These speeches are usually planned in advance and one of them is known as the 主賓挨拶 (shuhin aisatsu, greetings from the guest of honor). If you’re tagged to do one of these, then your Japanese is likely pretty good already.
More common are the 乾杯の音頭 (kanpai no ondo, [a speech before] proposing a toast) or 友人代表の挨拶 (yūjin daihyō no aisatsu, greetings from someone representing a group of friends). What you say is up to you, but keeping a basic structure in mind might help. Start with the 挨拶 (aisatsu, greeting), follow it with a 自己紹介 (jikoshōkai, self-introduction), mention some 新郎新婦とのエピソード (shinrō shinpu to no episōdo, “episodes” or anecdotes involving the bride and groom) and close off with 結びの言葉 (musubi no kotoba, words to wrap things up).
Here’s an example from the 結婚式 of my friends 弘美 (Hiromi) and 哲也 (Tetsuya), see if you can pick it apart before looking at the translation:
(“Tetsuya-san, Hiromi-san, go-kekkon omedetō gozaimasu. Narabini go-ryōke no minasama, honjitsu wa makoto ni omedetō gozaimasu. Honjitsu wa konoyōna subarashii seki ni o-maneki itadaki, kokoro yori kansha mōshiagemasu.”)
In English, these greetings show an appreciation for being invited to the wedding: “Tetsuya, Hiromi, congratulations on your marriage. Also, I’d like to express my sincere congratulations to both families today. From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to sincerely convey my appreciation for your invitation to such a wonderful party today.”
The Japanese passage is filled with 敬語 (keigo, honorific expressions). For example, the 御 (go) prefix is put in front of 結婚 (kekkon, marriage) and 両家 (ryōke, both families) — but note that the kanji doesn’t need to be used — and words such as 本当に (hontō ni, really) and 今日 (kyō, today) are replaced with the more polite 誠に (makoto ni, sincerely) and 本日 (honjitsu, this day).
After you’re done with the 挨拶, next comes the 自己紹介:
(“Tadaima go-shōkai ni azukarimashita, shinrō shinpu no daigaku jidai no yūjin ni atarimasu, Murayama Haruka to mōshimasu. Makoto ni sen’etsu de wa gozaimasu ga, go-shimei itadakimashita node, o-iwai no kotoba o nobesasete itadakimasu.”)
During the 自己紹介, it’s helpful to mention your relationship to the groom and bride so the guests understand why you’re speaking: “As the host just introduced, I’m Haruka Murayama, a friend of the bride and groom from university. Since I have been nominated, please allow me to say a few words of congratulations.”
僭越 (Sen’etsu) isn’t used in everyday conversation, but it’s often used for wedding speeches or work 忘年会 (bōnenkai, year-end parties). 僭 (Sen) means arrogance while 越 (etsu) suggests the idea of surpassing or exceeding, as indicated by its use in 超越 (chōetsu, transcendence) or 優越 (yūetsu, superiority). (On a side note, it’s also used to represent 越南 [Etsunan, Vietnam].)
The phrase used above is 僭越ではございますが (sen’etsu de wa gozaimasu ga), but 僭越ながら (sen’etsu nagara) is a shorter version that is still formal but wouldn’t be used at a wedding, for example. Both are phrases to convey humility, similar to the English phrases, “It may be presumptuous of me, but…,” “With all due respect,” “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” and “Please allow me to….”
The third section of a wedding speech will need to be personalized with anecdotes from your relationship with the bride and/or groom. Keep it somewhat brief, you don’t want to be one of those people that drones on and on, and end things off with 結びの言葉:
(“Dōka o-futari de, egao afureru atatakai katei o kizuite-itte kudasai. Kore o mochimashite o-futari e no hanamuke no kotoba to sasete itadakimasu.”)
The 結びの言葉 should express your hope for the couple’s (お二人, o-futari) happiness: “To the happy couple, please build a warm household overflowing with smiles. I would like to send you off with these words of hope.”
A lot of these set phrases in Japanese don’t work if you translate them word for word into English. For example, はなむけ (hanamuke) literally means “directing the nose” and comes from a time when people used to point someone’s horse in the right direction before sending them off on a journey.
A good deal of Japanese consists of set phrases that are expected on formal occasions. When going off script, just be sure to avoid any 忌み言葉 (imi kotoba, taboo words). 別れる (Wakareru, break up), 離れる (hanareru, leave), 冷める (sameru, to fall out of love), 重ね重ね (kasane-gasane, once again), 繰り返し (kurikaeshi, repetition) and もう一度 (mō ichido, once more) tend to be avoided as they conjure up images of breakups, divorce and second marriages.
Above all, when you’re at a Japanese wedding, don’t forget to save some energy for the 二次会 (nijikai, afterparty), where you can drop the formalities and just have fun.
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