A Japanese bride arrives at the groom’s house. Photographer Teijiro Takagi published this scene in 1905 (Meiji 38) in a photo book about Japanese weddings. This article reproduces his book.
The Ceremonies of a Japanese Marriage features 19 collotype photos that introduce the steps that were involved in a Japanese marriage in the early 1900s in chronological order. They are accompanied by brief explanatory captions.
At the time that this book was published, the great majority of Japanese marriages were arranged through the practice of omiai (お見合い). This is generally translated as arranged marriage. The term, however, may give a mistaken impression of the practice in Japan.
Even at the time that these photographs were taken, omiai was more comparable to matchmaking by a modern online dating site. But instead of algorithms, an actual person with a wide network did the matching.
Omiai still plays a role in Japan. In 2015, in more than 6% of Japanese marriages the partners were introduced to each other through omiai. But, the steps shown in this book have long since vanished. These days, omiai are generally arranged by a professional match-making agency, and weddings take mostly place at commercial wedding halls or hotels.1
The book has been reproduced below with the original captions in italics. The titles, and non-italic explanatory notes, are mine.
One of the first things that you notice when going through the photographs and captions from the book is the absence of religious aspects. Japanese marriages used to be essentially secular celebrations.
Although Shinto-style weddings are generally called “traditional weddings,” such weddings only became common from the mid 20th century. Traditionally, ordinary Japanese rarely had any kind of ceremony. If a ceremony was held, it was simple and performed at home without any priests or officials. The ceremony was exclusively for close relatives, symbolizing the strengthening of the connections between the two families.
As late as the 1950s, Japanese living in the country generally married a partner from the same community, or from nearby communities. The great majority of marriage partners were separated by less than 14 kilometers before they got married.2 They could easily walk to their future partner’s home.
Until the start of the Meiji era (1868–1912) about 80 percent of Japan’s population lived in farming and fishing villages. So for most of Japan’s history, people married a partner they had at the very least seen since they were children. They would have known each other’s family members and even their family history.3
This close proximity and familiarity created a unique marriage culture amongst commoners. In the oldest form of matrimony, a young man would court a young woman and sleep at her home if accepted. After the families had agreed to a formal marriage, he would continue commuting to the woman’s house, often for several years, before the woman would move in with his family.4 This custom was known as yobai (夜這い).
In many regions, the woman would not move out until her husband became the head of the family, or his mother had died and a new female head of the family was required. As a result, it was not uncommon that when a bride moved in with her husband she did so with children at her side.
The custom of a bride immediately moving into her husband’s family home first started with the warrior class. By the start of the Meiji period it had widely spread amongst commoners as well. But in the country, traditional ways survived well into the Showa period (1926–1989).
Westerners who entered Japan after the country opened its borders in the 1850s were shocked by this—from their viewpoint—“immoral” practice. They claimed that Japan’s high divorce rates were a direct result of Japan’s relatively relaxed attitude towards marriage. The Japanese government—concerned that Japan would be seen as uncivilized and not accepted as an equal partner—introduced marriage laws into the civil code in response.
The first recorded case of a Shinto wedding took place on May 2, 1875 (Meiji 8), some sixteen years after Japan had opened its borders to foreigners.5 It took, however, until the 1880s before Shinto wedding ceremonies were recorded.6 And it wasn’t until the wedding of Crown Prince Yoshihito (1879–1926) and noblewoman Sadako Kujō (九条節子, 1884–1951) in 1900 (Meiji 33) that such wedding ceremonies became widely known.
Shortly after, Tokyo’s important Hibiya Daijingū shrine (日比谷大神宮, now known as Tokyo Daijingū) started officiating Shinto weddings. A little over a decade later Daijingū weddings were already immortalized in literature. In Natsume Sōseki’s 1913 novel Kōjin (行人, The Wayfarer) two characters marry at the shrine.
In 1918 (Taisho 7), less than two decades after starting the new custom, the number of Shinto wedding ceremonies held annually at the shrine reached 1,550.7 But participation was limited to the elite of society, such as military officers, bureaucrats, and university professors. Shinto weddings remained rare in Japan until after the end of the Second World War.
It is important to note that Shinto weddings were introduced at a time when the income of Shinto shrines was declining precipitously. So shrines gratefully and enthusiastically adopted the new ceremonies as a welcome new source of income.
In other words, “traditional” Shinto weddings are a recent invention and the result of Western and financial pressures.
The Ceremonies of a Japanese Marriage
The match-maker or matrimonial broker communicates the fact[s] to both sides and make[s] arrangements so that “Miai” (literally means seeing each other) shall taken [sic] place.
2. First Impressions
Both parties meet at the tea-house so that they may express an opinion on each others’ appearance.
3. Role of the Parents
The smiles of the daughter apparently pleased the mother.
Because marriages were seen as a union of families instead of individuals, the impression that parents had of the prospective partner played an important role. Notice how one of the two matchmakers, known as nakodo (仲人), hovers nearby. The role of nakodo carried much responsibility.
4. Exchanging Presents
Both parties having agreed that the match is a suitable one, an exchange of presents takes place.
5. Bride’s Trousseau
Next, the bride’s furniture is carried to the house of bridegroom the day before the wedding.
6. Getting Dressed
After making the bride’s toilet most carefully, she is attired in her wedding Kimono.
The rectangular headdress, generally made of white silk, is called a tsunokakushi (角隠し). The term literally means horn-hider and symbolizes the bride’s intention to control her jealousy, ego and selfishness, and be gentle in her interactions with her husband and his family.
The tsunokakushi is still worn at many Japanese weddings today.
7. Thanking the Parents
Next, the bride has to start for her new home and her parents give her the farewell instructions, the mother giving her a packet of ‘Omamori’( a paper charm supposed to be a protection of God.)
8. Traveling by Palanquin
The brides ‘Kago’ (chair) reaches the entrance of bridegroom’s house.
9. Arriving at the Groom’s Home
The bride gets out of the ‘Kago’ and is received by the bridegroom’s servants.
10. Entering the Groom’s Home
The bride is led into the house by her mother and the bridemaid [sic].
11. Drinking Sake
The actual ceremony between the parties is not so ceremonial as may be supposed and consists simply in drinking ‘Sake’ (three times three) nine times alternately by the bride and bridegroom before the match-maker and his wife.
By their side, are the usual decorations provided on such occasions and consist of various things celebrating the occasion and blessing the happiness and prosperity of the family. While, the match-maker sings an auspicious song.
13. Starting the Wedding
Next, the bride changes her dress. Then, taking the bridemaid [sic] with her, enter a room where the relations of both sides are assembled.
14. Drinking Ceremonial Sake
A ceremony of drinking ‘Sake’ from a cup by all the relations, is next gone through.
15. Wedding Dinner
Next, the wedding dinner follows.
The good dinner produces a certain amount of hilarity.
17. Finishing Up
The whole ceremony ends, by mother giving her son and the newly acquired daughter, a final cup of ‘Sake,’ with her blessing.
18. Bride Welcoming Friends and Family
The next day, the bride receives her friends and relations.
19. Visiting the Old Home
On the third day after the wedding, the bride returns to her old home and calls on her father and mother, friends and neighbours.
About the Photographer
[ This section was previously published in The Rice in Japan ]
Although Teijiro Takagi (高木庭次郎) was extremely productive and active for some two decades, surprisingly little is known about his life. So little that he has even been described as a phantom photographer (幻の写真家).8
Both his dates of birth and death are still unknown, although he was probably born some time between 1872 (Meiji 5) and 1877 (Meiji 10). His somewhat better known father Kichihei (高 木吉兵衛, ?–1882) was also a photographer.9
Takagi studied under Kozaburo Tamamura, and worked as the manager of Tamamura’s branch store in Kobe. He is first listed as the owner of this store in the Japan Directory of 1904 (Meiji 37), suggesting that he took the business over in the preceding year. He continued to use the Tamamura name until 1914 (Taisho 3).
According to research by Terry Bennett, the Takagi studio continued until at least 1929 (Showa 4), with locations in Kyoto and Kobe. An edition of The Tea in Japan, photographed by Takagi, shows 1927 (Showa 2) as the date of publication.
But research by Robert Oechsle has uncovered a notice published by Takagi successor Futaba Shokai that it took over Takagi’s business on March 4, 1924 (Taisho 13). The new owners were his former employees.10
Takagi published at least thirty photo books that introduced Japanese life and customs in English, all of them with hand-colored collotype prints like the ones featured in this article.
He also produced a very large number of glass lantern slides. These hand-colored slides are of extremely high quality, comparable to Nobukuni Enami’s work.
Below are some of the photo books published by Takagi, initially under the Tamamura brand name. The books marked with ✷ are in my collection.
|1904||Leaf From the Diary of a Young Lady|
|1905||The Ceremonies of a Japanese Marriage ✷|
|1905||From Peace to Strife, An Incident of the Bushido Spirit|
|1906||The New Year in Japan ✷|
|1906||The Festival of the Ages|
|1906||The Great Gion Matsuri|
|1906||The Fishermen's Life in Japan|
|1906||Views in the Land of the Rising Sun|
|1906||The Japanese Tea-House (The Social Restaurant)|
|1907||The School Life of Young Japan ✷|
|1907||The Rice in Japan ✷|
|1907||The Transformation of Mother Earth from Nature to Art (pottery making)|
|1907||The "Ceremonial Tea" Observance in Japan ✷|
|1907||The Chrysanthemums in Japan|
|1907||In and Out of Kobe|
|1908||Snap-shots of out-door life in Japan|
|1909||A Wintry Tour Around Fujiyama|
|ca. 1909||Artistic Japan|
|ca. 1909||Picturesque Japan|
|1910||Girls' Pastimes in Japan|
|ca. 1910||Japanese Views and Characters (three volume set)|
|ca. 1912||Three Mischievous Children|
|1913||The Building in Japan|
|1915||The Silk in Japan|
|1915||Hills of Kobe|
|1918||Military Accomplishments of Japan|
|ca. 1918||Views of Kioto|
|ca. 1919||Famous Scenes in Japan|
|1920||Characteristic Gardens in Japan|
1 The Fifteenth Japanese National Fertility Survey in 2015: Table III-2-3 The ways and/or places married couples met, by survey. National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. Retrieved on 2022-06-19.
2 Kobayashi, Tadamasa (2002). Marriage in Japan: Traditional and Current Forms of Japanese Marriage. Nihon Hogaku (Japanese Legal Studies), Vol. 68, No2, Association of Legal Studies of Nihon University, October 21, 2002, 20–21.
3 ibid, 42.
4 Yanagida, Kunio, Terry, Charles S. (1969) Japanese Culture in the Meiji Era Vol.4: Manners And Customs. Tokyo: The Tokyo Bunko, 161–162.
5 Kobayashi, Tadamasa (2002). Marriage in Japan: Traditional and Current Forms of Japanese Marriage. Nihon Hogaku (Japanese Legal Studies), Vol. 68, No2, Association of Legal Studies of Nihon University, October 21, 2002, 47.
6 Ambros, Barbara (2015). Women in Japanese Religions. New York: New York University Press, 127–128.
7 ibid, 129.
9 Bennett, Terry (2006). Photography in Japan 1853–1912. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 294–195.
Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). 1900s: "The Ceremonies of a Japanese Marriage", OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on December 3, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/901/omiai-wedding-japanese-marriage-ceremony-meiji-japan-vintage-photographs
I have a small favor to ask
Old Photos of Japan aims to be your personal museum for Japan's visual heritage to increase our understanding of Japanese culture and society.
Finding, acquiring, scanning, restoring, researching and conserving these vintage images, and making the imagery and research freely available online, takes serious time, money and effort.
I do this without charging for access, selling user data, or running ads.
Your support helps to make this possible, and ensures that this important visual heritage of Japan will not be lost and forgotten.
If you can, please consider supporting Old Photos of Japan with a regular amount each month. Or become a volunteer.