Kyoto develops new niche, hosting wedding ceremonies for international couples who cherish traditional Japan

JIJI

More and more couples from overseas are holding wedding ceremonies in Kyoto, attracted by the ancient capital’s reputation as symbolizing traditional Japanese culture.

In 2015 the city government started to issue marriage certificates for foreign couples who held weddings in the city, following information from businesses that more and more overseas visitors were hoping to tie the knot in Japan.

Since the foundation of the certification system the city has given certificates to about 70 foreign couples, including those from Hong Kong, Germany and China. Wedding ceremonies are held mainly in the spring and autumn, city officials said.

Kamigamo shrine in the city’s Kita Ward, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, has been holding wedding ceremonies for foreign couples in response to an increase in requests since around 2009.

“Some couples held weddings as part of their honeymoon, just as some Japanese hold weddings abroad,” an official at the shrine said, adding that many of the ceremonies are small in scale.

Some foreigners who married in Kyoto cited their good impressions of the city during previous visits, while others lived in Japan in their early childhood, the official said. Many of them believe Kyoto symbolizes Japanese culture, the official added.

Last month, an Australian gay couple, 31-year-old teacher Richard Delange and 33-year-old Matt Molony who works at a human resource company, held a wedding at Shunkoin, a Buddhist temple affiliated with Myoshinji Temple, in the city’s Ukyo Ward. For the ceremony they wore formal Japanese attire of montsuki kimono bearing family crests and hakama pleated skirts.

“In Australia, wedding ceremonies are big and expensive,” Delange said. “We always have to think about family.”

The couple decided to hold a small and relaxed wedding in Kyoto. They had visited the city before.

The wedding was “totally special,” Delange said, adding that he wants to recommend the “great experience” to his friends.

“I tried to be as casual and friendly as possible, so as not to make them feel nervous,” said Zenryu Kawakami, deputy head priest of Shunkoin, who presided over the whole ceremony, including a sermon, in English.

Toshiaki Kimura, chief representative of Kyoto-based TNC Bridal Service who organized the Australian couple’s wedding, started arranging weddings for foreign couples around 2008.

The company receives 10 to 20 inquiries about such programs each year, Kimura said.

Foreign couples “want spirituality that can be found only in Kyoto,” he said.