HOW TO: Have a "cheap" wedding in Japan

On the topic of wedding etiquette the past two weeks, what about if you are the one getting married in Japan? Overseas weddings are so exotic... So romantic, unique, and…. expensive. And a wedding in Japan? Might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a viable option for current residents.

My husband and I (both Americans) got married in Japan. We wanted to have our wedding in Japan originally, though costs, the guest list, travel, honeymoon and time all played into our decision-making process. U.S.? Japan? Eventually, (after months of intense wedding planning from abroad), we realized plane tickets to the U.S. were far too expensive for us at that time. We chose Japan.

My husband’s family has connections to pastors and churches in Japan, which made it easy for us find a free venue. Our guest list reduced dramatically, cutting various costs and stress – (don’t have to worry about inviting second Aunt Edna or those “friends” who actually aren’t). No more bridesmaid drama. No more worrying about pleasing everyone. In all truth, the stress in my life reduced ten-fold. (I never understood why wedding planning is so stressful anyway. Isn’t it supposed to be a “happy” time?)

Breaking the news to our families was tough, as they weren’t able to attend, but the amount of money we were saving was a much smarter move in the long run. I know, I know, isn’t family more important than money? Well, of course! -But is charging up credit cards and spending money we didn’t have a "better" option? We told everyone we’d have a reception later that year when we visited over the winter holidays (and those tickets were a steal…).

So, is a wedding in Japan any more affordable than traveling abroad? I’m here to tell you I’ve done it, and without further ado, my suggestions for a cheap an inexpensive wedding in Japan:

1. The dress. You could go find a fancy, white/pink/rainbow-colored, ruffly, Disney princess-type dress... And spend your entire life savings. Or try a kimono, but those will run you even higher (unless you rent one). Thrift stores have kimonos, but don’t be surprised if they don’t fit or a Japanese woman tells you it’s too small on you. A yukata might work better (and so much cheaper). Or, a simple, white, knee-length, empire waist cotton dress like mine, for $60 US. No? There’s always stitched-together garbage bags, which I nearly resorted to after my many hours of agonizing dress shopping.

2. Flowers. Perhaps you go with one of those fantasy-like venues (see left - the guy in the background is the "lord of the castle") and forfeit your children’s college education in one go – the décor, at least, will be taken care of. The amount of flowers used may vary (unless you decide to murder a field of them by sprinkling petals all over every walkable surface, sending the old folks to the hospital and creating a mushy, dead petal mess – romantic). Why not hang up pictures of flowers? Or have your students fold origami decorations as a class assignment and use those instead? I forewent the flowers.

3. Cake. Perhaps you have a pastry chef friend, so you’re set. Or maybe an in with Costco. Ah, you don’t like cake? Me neither, so we skipped the cake. Before you accuse me of stiffing our guests, someone decided to bring a Costco cake and then left half of it behind because everyone ate minuscule pieces.

4. Photographer. Find a friend. I wanted to photograph our wedding myself; if it weren’t for the fact that I was the bride. I reluctantly went with editing guests’ photos to make them look a little less: “I just let the guests take pictures for me because I’m cheap.”

5. The meal. Tell them to eat beforehand. Or just say you’re having a potluck. Bring a dish or two; that helps soften the blow that they aren’t getting a completely free meal. (Though one could argue that wedding meals aren’t technically free in Japan.)

6. The venue. What’s your favorite place in Japan? Go there, no matter where it is! Have more than twenty/thirty guests? Stage a flash mob. Tell them all to dress casually, arrive early and act cool, until your “ceremony” starts. Worried you’ll get in trouble? Simply break into song and dance Glee-style so everyone else pulls out their cameras and leaves you with the most memorable wedding experience ever, which will then make you a YouTube phenomenon and probably famous in Japan. *Keep in mind this may be more difficult to facilitate if it rains and you are outdoors.

Our twenty-person wedding party went to a large grassy park in the greater Tokyo area, where we gathered in a circle on a small hill for our ceremony. It was free, and no one said anything or stopped us. Surprisingly, we didn’t even get many stares.

7. The rings. Nothing says love lasts forever better than a metal that endures through everything – titanium. Cheap (around $200 U.S.) and lightweight, this is an excellent option. (Not to sound judgy here, but don’t forget to look for conflict-free diamonds). Not sure your love will last forever? How about a hemp-woven ring?

8. Groom’s outfit. Do I really need to answer this? I’d be surprised you live in Japan without one decent button up shirt and some slacks. If not, well, there’s always Uniqlo.

9. Gifts/favors. Get a few packs of omiyage from somewhere other than your wedding location. Or, enlist your students again to make something. Nothing like free labor.

Ultimately, your wedding should reflect you and your partner – in this case a simple, strange, cheap (but meaningful) ceremony reflected us well. The money you spend on your wedding doesn’t make it more or less special, you determine that yourselves.

How about you? What are your savvy, money-saving wedding tips? Or perhaps you completely disagree with me and feel that a wedding isn't a wedding without spending at least 2,000,000 yen. Why so? For those who have gotten married in Japan, what was your wedding like?

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Anonymous said...

Nice article, but thought you might like to know the phrase is "without further ado", not "adieu". Sorry to be pedantic, but thought you'd rather know than not.

Ashley said...


Thanks for letting me know, I think Word changed it on me when I wrote "ado" the first time. Although I've seen it both ways quite commonly... Just a common mistake everyone makes perhaps?

Connie said...

Our daughter, Jamie, had a gorgeous wedding at Rengejike Park (Jamie's Park) under the falling cherry blossoms. Nothing more beautiful! It was very reasonable. The tv media was there to record it since it was a first for that park. Had a wonderful picnic style reception.
Our daughter, Kelly's wedding, will be held at Bara no Oka ( Rose Hill ) also for a very reasonable price where we hope roses will be in bloom.
You are correct that there are less expensive ways to have the wedding of your dreams.

Ashley said...

@Just Our Story,

Thanks for sharing! They both sound lovely. :D The flowers are certainly taken care of... ;)

James in Nara said...

Well, you certainly lucked out being that you're both Americans. There were a few things that my fiance would not budge on. They include having to have a nice sit-down individual dinner, gift bags for guests and paying transportation costs from out of town guests (on her side). She wants a Shinto ceremony (awesome) so we have to do a wedding kimono. She wants a color one (called irouchikake) and luckily her mother joined a program with a local wedding-specialty hotel 20 years ago that means for the 200,000yen she paid my fiance and I get clothes for very little. Normally a 1-day rental (and I checked everywhere) is about 500,000yen for the kimono alone. I also pushed back at the reception venue on the food, claiming that since my guests were all foreigners we don't need to have all the "lucky" seasonal foods and was able to talk the dinner down from $150 a plate to $70 a plate. That was the absolute minimum. Did the invitations, name cards, menus, etc. myself and we're still looking at 1,900,000 for the wedding. Half of that is just the reception, with the other have being the ceremony, clothing, pictures, transportation, misc costs. A full out "typical" wedding according to my friends and co-workers usually looks around 3-4,000,000.

Ashley said...

@James in Nara,

Thanks for sharing all that! Very informative (and fascinating). I was hoping you might mention something since you are going through this whole process! :D That's really cool you're having a Shinto ceremony!

Yeah, I know if it weren't that both of us were foreigners, the wedding probably would have been quite different. So, it's nice that we could do it our way. (Although I think it confused our Japanese guests a

I'm just amazed at how much things can cost... then again, if that is the average for Japan, I think that may also be quite similar in the US (although, it still varies much more widely). It's great that you get a "deal" for the clothes and did all the stationery stuff yourself (I did that as well for ours... forgot all about it!)

Sometimes we joke that my husband is lucky he married me, since I'm not the kind of girl who had a dream wedding planned my entire life or wanted to spend thousands on. (No offense to those that do - to each her own!)

James in Nara said...

What really blew my mind was the clothes. I mean, a $5000 rental? That that was normal! I've had friends who dresses hand-made in the US for $1000. So the program that the mother had joined really saved us. Otherwise my fiance was joking with her friends that I would have bought something used off the internet instead (I totally would have, $5000 was absolutely no way). I can not in any scenario justify that cost for a 3 hour rental (because you can't wear it around after the ceremony or reception, you have to give it back immediately.

James in Nara said...

Ugh, I need to preview my comments. Sorry for the horrible grammar on that one.

Ashley said...

@James in Nara,

That is insane! Especially if you can't even keep it. I couldn't justify it either (or the $1000 dress... lol, I am so cheap!) Yeah I really didn't realize they were that expensive, even though I knew they were pricey. Crazy. (Thanks for including this as well, for those who may be more curious about those particular costs.)

PS: No worries about the grammar. I wrote "adieu" by accident instead of "ado" in this post (now changed).

"Tani" said...

I can't even believe how much money it costs for a wedding -_- I'm not planning any time soon... but I'm going for purikura announcements and a dress I've made myself (and if I can convince my bf not to mind that I've already bought a ring I like for $20 then that's set too!). It's always been my personal feeling that all of that money that I could spend on a wedding could have a much more long-lasting and positive contribution to the very commitment I'm hoping to celebrate!

My sympathy goes out to anyone who doesn't want to spend so much money for a wedding but has to because of the partner they love :(

Ashley said...


I like the way you think. ;)

Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't feel comfortable about not having my family at my wedding, but I have a small family so I think it should be managable to get them to Japan. I'm a bit afraid about them meeting my (japanese) parents in law 'though... Everytime I think about it the whole thing ends up in a desaster ^^°
My boyfriend once said a Shinto wedding would be nice and I like the idea as well, but reading the comments about kimono rental I'm just amazed about the cost!! I'd prefer an inexpensive weeding definitely and I totally don't want one of those disney weddings... But going to a park is a nice idea. Maybe we'll find some compromise that keeps cost at a reasonable level :)

Ashley said...


Hey! Thanks for sharing! :D So you are planning to get married in Japan? I'm sure whatever you figure out will be nice. And, as @Just Our Story mentioned, there are definitely reasonable ways to have a nice, inexpensive wedding. I think we went on the extreme cheap end, but I know that's not for everyone!

lol, I laughed about the part of your family meeting your parents-in-law... I really hope it goes over well! I'm sure you aren't the only one out there who worries or has worried about the very same thing. :)

Whatever you do end up doing, let me know! It'd be great to hear ideas from folks.

2cats said...

We decided NOT to get married in Japan, precisely because of all the circus that would have been necessary to satisfy my MIL.
Took a flight to Antigua and Barbuda instead, got married on the beach there, wearing whatever we happened to have on at that moment.

Ashley said...

@A and Y Ikeda,

LOL - I can only imagine.....

Antigua and Barbuda sound amazing... Seems like a nice wedding to me!

Chris_D said...

I'm also looking at around the 2 million mark for my upcoming wedding. James is right, there are some expectations from the Japanese side that need to be met unfortunately. And, one thing I'll give those Japanese wedding planners credit for, they seem to be very organised. Once you see how many different "experts" are getting involved then you start to realise where your money is going.

Ashley said...


Wow, yeah - that is quite steep! It's understandable though, for those marrying a woman who may have an idea of exactly what she wants, or even a guy with parents who have expectations for his wedding.

I'm sure those wedding planners have to be! Yes, they rush around constantly and make sure everything is perfect at every moment. It was actually quite amazing (and exhausting) to watch them.

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