Okinawa is a chain of islands forming Japan’s southernmost Prefecture. The islands were once an independent nation known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. Some traditions and cultural events seen in Okinawa would seem foreign, even to other citizens of Japan. The Okinawan Wedding is one of them.

This Photo Essay shows some of the events that take place during the typical Ryukyu Wedding. Not shown are the 300-500 guests filling the Wedding Hall. They are seated at tables drinking and dining.

The Typical Ryukyu Wedding

Imagine a formal marriage ceremony, in any western country, being conducted at the wedding reception. Then, add a dinner theater with floor shows, dancers and live bands and keep it lively for a few hours.

The performers, on stage, have rehearsed for months. They are all friends, family, classmates, neighbors or coworkers of the bride and groom. They are good. They could be part of a Las Vegas production.

Each photo in this essay includes the time it was taken. This should give you a sense of timing and what takes place, as the bride and groom go through more than a few changes of attire during the conduct of an Okinawan Wedding Ceremony.

Okinawan Wedding Attire

The first time you see the bride and groom they are dressed in traditional Japanese wedding kimonos. The groom’s kimono is black and the bride’s is white. Time: 6:31PM

A Quick Change (Bride)

The bride has changed into a red Japanese kimono and has trappings fit for royalty decorating her stacked-up pile of hair. Here, the bride and groom offer a “Kanpai” (cheers, toast) to those attending their wedding. Time: 6:54PM

Cousins of the Bride

Saya and Waka, cousins of the bride, perform a dance called “Kagiyadefu”. This is a dance for happiness that may be seen as the opening act at almost any official ceremony in Okinawa, not just weddings.

In the background of this scene, the stage curtain depicts the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shuri Castle. This castle was the center of the former Ryukyu Kingdom (the Okinawa islands prior to annexation by Japan). Shuri Castle is located in Naha City, the capitol of Okinawa, Japan and can be visited to this day. Time: 6:57PM

A Quick Change (Groom)

The groom is now wearing white under the lower half of his kimono. This article of clothing, similar to a pleated skirt, or kilt, is known as a “hakama”. Time: 7:03PM

Relatives of the Groom

Relatives from the groom’s side of the family perform an Okinawan dance which resembles karate in slow motion. They are wearing traditional Okinawan kimonos made from a hand woven material called kasuri. Time: 7:06PM

Nephews and Nieces (Bride’s)

Nephews and nieces of the bride perform a lively modern dance, supervised by their mothers. The bride’s sister and sister-in-law hold a banner congratulating the bride and groom at the conclusion of the dance. Time: 7:15PM

The Groom’s Friends

Okinawa Eisa Dance is performed by friends of the groom. They may be coworkers, classmates or relatives of the groom. In an Okinawan Wedding, everyone gets in on the act at some point during the ceremony. This number relied heavily upon drums and flag-twirling, the sound of the drums reverberated throughout the wedding hall. Time: 7:18PM

Bride, Groom, Smoke and Bubbles

Mr. and Mrs. are re-introduced, for the first time, wearing western style wedding wear. They have descended from a balcony and are greeted with a light show, loud music, bubbles and white smoke. Time: 7:32PM

The Wedding Cake

The lights in the Wedding Hall go out except for spotlights highlighting the bride, groom and wedding cake. Time: 7:40PM

Honeymoon Attire

After hours of ceremony, speeches, dances and spirits, the bride and groom have changed, one last time, into more comfortable “party clothes”. Time: 8:32PM

Everything Together

The wedding hall lights go dim, again, with only a dark blue light shining on the bride and groom. They pour everything from separate decanters into a large cup. This symbolizes “everything together” for the rest of their lives. Time: 8:35PM

Lifelong Commitment Speech

The groom makes his promises “Forever Love” and “Forever Faithful”. Time: 9:06PM

Traditions Combined

Okinawans have a word, “Chanpuru” which means “mixed”. The culture, influenced by trade and other interactions, between the Ryukyu Kingdom, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Western nations has evolved and incorporates those ingredients which suit a happy, peace-loving lifestyle.

The Okinawan Wedding combines some of the old with the new, and eastern with western traditions. Shuri Castle, traditional costumes and classical dances from the former Ryukyu Kingdom are ingredients that make an Okinawan Wedding different from one you’d find anywhere else in the world.

Note: All photos taken by Michael Lynch assisted by Paul Cassity. Copyright belongs to Michael Lynch

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About the author

Mike is a freelance photographer and writer who has been living in Okinawa, Japan for over 30 years.