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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Rituals in Daily Life
Shinzenkekkon (lit. "Marital Rites in the Presence of the Gods")
The term broadly includes all nuptial rites conducted "before a kami," but in common usage today refers to wedding ceremonies performed at shrines or wedding halls by Shinto priests (shinshoku). Already in the late sixteenth century, there was a conscious association between marital observances and the gods; both the Ise and Ogasawara schools of manners for the warrior class maintained set procedures for such rites, and these, in popularized form, came to influence the customs of the common people in the towns and cities. In his notebook (Sadatake no Zakki), the scholar Ise Sadatake (1717-1784) of the former school refers to the celebration as a form of worship honoring Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto, although Shinto priests did not officiate in that age. The contemporary style of shinzen-kekkon first appeared in the Meiji Period, influenced by the Christian wedding ceremonies that were introduced to Japan during that age, but this type of marriage ceremony was still far from common and was perceived as something new in that day. These rites lacked uniformity; competing schools established different programs and ritual etiquette for the ceremony, and the principal deity (saijin) honored in them also often varied by tradition.
       The marriage of the then Crown Prince (later the Emperor Taishō) in 1900 prompted the spread of shinzen-kekkon style marriage ceremony. For that event, the Investigative Bureau of the Imperial Household System (Teishitsu seido chōsakyoku) set about researching and establishing a formal liturgy in August of 1899. That liturgy was codified in the April 1900 Imperial Household Marriage Edict and executed at the Crown Prince's wedding ceremony that May. On March 3, 1901, the Section for the Correct Practice of National Rituals of the Lay Support Association of the Grand Shrines of Ise (Jingūhōsaikai kokureishugyōbu) conducted a mock shinzen-kekkon ceremony at the Tokyo Grand Shrine (Tōkyō Daijingū, more commonly known as the Hibiya Grand Shrine) as a workshop on the liturgy of the Crown Prince's wedding rites. After undergoing further revision at that shrine, the emergent liturgy spread and became the norm. During that period, there was also another movement attempting to formalize the order of events in the rite, and as ceremonies were performed according to that order, that too began to spread. Some have also emphasized the role that the style of wedding ceremony being performed at the Izumo Shrine (Izumo-taisha) during the final years of the Edo period played in the formation of today's shinzen-kekkon, but its influence was limited to that region and does not have direct bearing on today's customs.
       Whether the ceremony is performed at a shrine, at a wedding hall, or at home, it proceeds in the following order: (1) a purification rite; (2) a bow from the officiate; (3) the raising of food and sake as offerings to the deity; (4) a norito litany performed by the officiate and addressed to the gods; (5) the lowering of the now-blessed sake (miki) and the pouring of it for the bride and groom who drink it in one of two ritualized patterns (the first, known as sankon no gi, dictates that the first cup is drunk first by the groom then bride, the second cup by the bride then groom, and the third cup by the groom then bride; the second, the so-called san-san-ku-do or "three by three, nine times" ritual, dictates that the groom drinks the first cup in three sips, the bride drinks the second cup in three sips, and the groom drinks the third cup in three sips); if the couple exchanges rings, the exchange typically occurs thereafter; (6) the marriage partners read their marriage vows; (7) the performance of music; (8) an sacred offering of evergreen branches (tamagushi) from the officiate and the couple (and the matchmaker, if applicable) in turn; (9) the mutual pledge between families and their partaking of the sacred wine; (10) the lowering of food offerings; and (11) a bow from the priest to conclude the ceremony.

— Endō Jun
Marital Rites in the Presence of the Gods

Tokyo, 2005

©Fujii Hiroaki

Footage of a Shintō wedding ceremony. As part of the ceremony, an oharai is performed, norito are recited, bride and groom ritually share rice wine (sansankudo), and worship in front of the kami.

Saitama Prefecture, 2006

©Tan Kazunobu

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