Women in the Snow at Fujisawa by Hiroshige

Tales of Old Japan by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford

Sparrow by Hiroshige

Tales of Old Japan
by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford


The Forty-Seven Ronins

The Loves of Gompachi and Komurasaki

Kazuma's Revenge

A Story of the Otokodate of Yedo

The Wonderful Adventures of Funakoshi Jiuyemon

The Eta Maiden and the Hatamoto

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow

The Accomplished and Lucky Tea-Kettle

The Crackling Mountain

The Story of the Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Blossom

The Battle of the Ape and the Crab

The Adventures of Little Peachling

The Foxes' Wedding

The History of Sakata Kintoki

The Elves and the Envious Neighbour

The Ghost of Sakura

How Tajima Shume Was Tormented By a Devil of His Own Creation

Concerning Certain Superstitions

The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima

The Story of the Faithful Cat

How a Man Was Bewitched and Had His Head Shaved By the Foxes

The Grateful Foxes

The Badger's Money

The Prince and the Badger

Sermon I

Sermon II

Sermon III

An Account of the Hara-Kiri on the Ceremonies Observed at the Hara-Kiri of a Person Given in Charge To a Daimo

The Marriage Ceremony

On the Birth and Bearing of Children

Funeral Rites

SurLaLune Fairy Tales Main Page

The Marriage Ceremony


The ceremonies observed at marriages are various, and it is not right for a man, exceeding the bounds of his condition in life, to transgress against the rules which are laid down. When the middle-man has arranged the preliminaries of the marriage between the two parties, he carries the complimentary present, which is made at the time of betrothal, from the future bridegroom to his destined bride; and if this present is accepted, the lady's family can no longer retract their promise. This is the beginning of the contract. The usual betrothal presents are as follows. Persons of the higher classes send a robe of white silk; a piece of gold embroidery for a girdle; a piece of silk stuff; a piece of white silk, with a lozenge pattern, and other silk stuffs (these are made up into a pile of three layers); fourteen barrels of wine, and seven sorts of condiments. Persons of the middle class send a piece of white silk stuff; a piece of gold embroidery for a girdle; a piece of white silk, with a lozenge pattern, and other silk stuffs (these are made up into a pile of two layers); ten barrels of wine, and five sorts of condiments. The lower classes send a robe of white silk, a robe of coloured silk, in a pile of one layer, together with six barrels of wine and three sorts of condiments. To the future father-in-law is sent a sword, with a scabbard for slinging, such as is worn in war-time, together with a list of the presents; to the mother-in-law, a silk robe, with wine and condiments. Although all these presents are right and proper for the occasion, still they must be regulated according to the means of the persons concerned. The future father-in-law sends a present of equal value in return to his son-in-law, but the bride elect sends no return present to her future husband; the present from the father-in-law must by no means be omitted, but according to his position, if he be poor, he need only send wine and condiments.

In sending the presents care must be taken not to fold the silk robe. The two silk robes that are sent on the marriage night must be placed with the collars stitched together in a peculiar fashion.

The ceremonies of sending the litter to fetch the bride on the wedding night are as follows. In families of good position, one of the principal retainers on either side is deputed to accompany the bride and to receive her. Matting is spread before the entrance-door, upon which the bride's litter is placed, while the two principal retainers congratulate one another, and the officers of the bridegroom receive the litter. If a bucket containing clams, to make the wedding broth, has been sent with the bride, it is carried and received by a person of distinction. Close by the entrance-door a fire is lighted on the right hand and on the left. These fires are called garden-torches. In front of the corridor along which the litter passes, on the right hand and on the left, two men and two women, in pairs, place two mortars, right and left, in which they pound rice; as the litter passes, the pounded rice from the left-hand side is moved across to the right, and the two are mixed together into one. This is called the blending of the rice-meal.113 Two candles are lighted, the one on the right hand and the other on the left of the corridor; and after the litter has passed, the candle on the left is passed over to the right, and, the two wicks being brought together, the candles are extinguished. These last three ceremonies are only performed at the weddings of persons of high rank; they are not observed at the weddings of ordinary persons. The bride takes with her to her husband's house, as presents, two silken robes sewed together in a peculiar manner, a dress of ceremony with wings of hempen cloth, an upper girdle and an under girdle, a fan, either five or seven pocket-books, and a sword: these seven presents are placed on a long tray, and their value must depend upon the means of the family.

The dress of the bride is a white silk robe with a lozenge pattern, over an under-robe, also of white silk. Over her head she wears a veil of white silk, which, when she sits down, she allows to fall about her as a mantle.

The bride's furniture and effects are all arranged for her by female attendants from her own house on a day previous to the wedding; and the bridegroom's effects are in like manner arranged by the women of his own house.

When the bride meets her husband in the room where the relations are assembled, she takes her seat for this once in the place of honour, her husband sitting in a lower place, not directly opposite to her, but diagonally, and discreetly avoiding her glance.

On the raised part of the floor are laid out beforehand two trays, the preparations for a feast, a table on which are two wagtails,114 a second table with a representation of Elysium, fowls, fish, two wine-bottles, three wine-cups, and two sorts of kettles for warming wine. The ladies go out to meet the bride, and invite her into a dressing-room, and, when she has smoothed her dress, bring her into the room, and she and the bridegroom take their seats in the places appointed for them. The two trays are then brought out, and the ladies-in-waiting, with complimentary speeches, hand dried fish and seaweed, such as accompany presents, and dried chestnuts to the couple. Two married ladies then each take one of the wine-bottles which have been prepared, and place them in the lower part of the room. Then two handmaids, who act as wine-pourers, bring the kettles and place them in the lower part of the room. The two wine-bottles have respectively a male and female butterfly, made of paper, attached to them. The female butterfly is laid on its back, and the wine is poured from the bottle into the kettle. The male butterfly is then taken and laid on the female butterfly, and the wine from the bottle is poured into the same kettle, and the whole is transferred with due ceremony to another kettle of different shape, which the wine-pourers place in front of themselves. Little low dining-tables are laid, one for each person, before the bride and bridegroom, and before the bride's ladies-in-waiting; the woman deputed to pour the wine takes the three wine-cups and places them one on the top of the other before the bridegroom, who drinks two cups115 from the upper cup, and pours a little wine from the full kettle into the empty kettle. The pouring together of the wine on the wedding night is symbolical of the union that is being contracted. The bridegroom next pours out a third cup of wine and drinks it, and the cup is carried by the ladies to the bride, who drinks three cups, and pours a little wine from one kettle into the other, as the bridegroom did. A cup is then set down and put on the other two, and they are carried back to the raised floor and arranged as before. After this, condiments are set out on the right-hand side of a little table, and the wine-pourers place the three cups before the bride, who drinks three cups from the second cup, which is passed to the bridegroom; he also drinks three cups as before, and the cups are piled up and arranged in their original place, by the wine-pourers. A different sort of condiment is next served on the left-hand side; and the three cups are again placed before the bridegroom, who drinks three cups from the third cup, and the bride does the same. When the cups and tables have been put back in their places, the bridegroom, rising from his seat, rests himself for a while. During this time soup of fishes' fins and wine are served to the bride's ladies-in-waiting and to the serving-women. They are served with a single wine-cup of earthenware, placed upon a small square tray, and this again is set upon a long tray, and a wine-kettle with all sorts of condiments is brought from the kitchen. When this part of the feast is over, the room is put in order, and the bride and bridegroom take their seats again. Soups and a preparation of rice are now served, and two earthenware cups, gilt and silvered, are placed on a tray, on which there is a representation of the island of Takasago.116 This time butterflies of gold and silver paper are attached to the wine-kettles. The bridegroom drinks a cup or two, and the ladies-in-waiting offer more condiments to the couple. Rice, with hot water poured over it, according to custom, and carp soup are brought in, and, the wine having been heated, cups of lacquer ware are produced; and it is at this time that the feast commences. (Up to now the eating and drinking has been merely a form.) Twelve plates of sweetmeats and tea are served; and the dinner consists of three courses, one course of seven dishes, one of five dishes, and one of three dishes, or else two courses of five dishes and one of three dishes, according to the means of the family. The above ceremonies are those which are proper only in families of the highest rank, and are by no means fitting for the lower classes, who must not step out of the proper bounds of their position.

There is a popular tradition that, in the ceremony of drinking wine on the wedding night, the bride should drink first, and then hand the cup to the bridegroom; but although there are some authorities upon ceremonies who are in favour of this course, it is undoubtedly a very great mistake. In the "Record of Rites," by Confucius, it is written, "The man stands in importance before the woman: it is the right of the strong over the weak. Heaven ranks before earth; the prince ranks before his minister. This law of honour is one." Again, in the "Book of History," by Confucius, it is written, "The hen that crows in the morning brings misfortune." In our own literature in the Jusho (Book of the Gods), "When the goddesses saw the gods for the first time, they were the first to cry cut, 'Oh! what beautiful males!' But the gods were greatly displeased, and said, 'We, who are so strong and powerful, should by rights have been the first to speak; how is it that, on the contrary, these females speak first? This is indeed vulgar.'" Again it is written, "When the gods brought forth the cripple Hiruko, the Lord of Heaven, answering, said that his misfortune was a punishment upon the goddesses who had presumed to speak first." The same rule therefore exists in China and in Japan, and it is held to be unlucky that the wife should take precedence: with this warning people should be careful how they commit a breach of etiquette, although it may be sanctioned by the vulgar.

At the wedding of the lower classes, the bride and her ladies and friends have a feast, but the bridegroom has no feast; and when the bride's feast is over, the bridegroom is called in and is presented with the bride's wine-cup; but as the forms observed are very vulgar, it is not worth while to point out the rules which guide them. As this night is essentially of importance to the married couple only, there are some writers on ceremonies who have laid down that no feast need be prepared for the bride's ladies, and in my opinion they are right: for the husband and wife at the beginning of their intercourse to be separated, and for the bride alone to be feasted like an ordinary guest, appears to be an inauspicious opening. I have thus pointed out two ill-omened customs which are to be avoided.

The ceremonies observed at the weddings of persons of ordinary rank are as follows:—The feast which is prepared is in proportion to the means of the individuals. There must be three wine-cups set out upon a tray. The ceremony of drinking wine three times is gone through, as described above, after which the bride changes her dress, and a feast of three courses is produced—two courses of five dishes and one of three dishes, or one course of five dishes, one of three, and one of two, according to the means of the family. A tray, with a representation of the island of Takasago, is brought out, and the wine is heated; sweetmeats of five or seven sorts are also served in boxes or trays; and when the tea comes in, the bridegroom gets up, and goes to rest himself. If the wine kettles are of tin, they must not be set out in the room: they must be brought in from the kitchen; and in that case the paper butterflies are not attached to them.

In old times the bride and bridegroom used to change their dress three or five times during the ceremony; but at the present time, after the nine cups of wine have been drunk, in the manner recorded above, the change of dress takes place once. The bride puts on the silk robe which she has received from the bridegroom, while he dons the dress of ceremony which has been brought by the bride.

When these ceremonies have been observed, the bride's ladies conduct her to the apartments of her parents-in-law. The bride carries with her silk robes, as presents for her parents and brothers and sister-in-law. A tray is brought out, with three wine-cups, which are set before the parents-in-law and the bride. The father-in-law drinks three cups and hands the cup to the bride, who, after she has drunk two cups, receives a present from her father-in-law; she then drinks a third cup, and returns the cup to her father-in-law, who again drinks three cups. Fish is then brought in, and, in the houses of ordinary persons, a preparation of rice. Upon this the mother-in-law, taking the second cup, drinks three cups and passes the cup to the bride, who drinks two cups and receives a present from her mother-in-law: she then drinks a third cup and gives back the cup to the mother-in-law, who drinks three cups again. Condiments are served, and, in ordinary houses, soup; after which the bride drinks once from the third cup and hands it to her father-in-law, who drinks thrice from it; the bride again drinks twice from it, and after her the mother-in-law drinks thrice. The parents-in-law and the bride thus have drunk in all nine times. If there are any brothers or sisters-in-law, soup and condiments are served, and a single porcelain wine-cup is placed before them on a tray, and they drink at the word of command of the father-in-law. It is not indispensable that soup should be served upon this occasion. If the parents of the bridegroom are dead, instead of the above ceremony, he leads his bride to make her obeisances before the tablets on which their names are inscribed.

In old days, after the ceremonies recorded above had been gone through, the bridegroom used to pay a visit of ceremony to the bride's parents; but at the present time the visit is paid before the wedding, and although the forms observed on the occasion resemble those of the ancient times, still they are different, and it would be well that we should resume the old fashion. The two trays which had been used at the wedding feast, loaded with fowl and fish and condiments neatly arranged, used to be put into a long box and sent to the father-in-law's house. Five hundred and eighty cakes of rice in lacquer boxes were also sent. The modern practice of sending the rice cakes in a bucket is quite contrary to etiquette: no matter how many lacquer boxes may be required for the purpose, they are the proper utensils for sending the cakes in. Three, five, seven, or ten men's loads of presents, according to the means of the family, are also offered. The son-in-law gives a sword and a silk robe to his father-in-law, and a silk robe to his mother-in-law, and also gives presents to his brothers and sisters-in-law. (The ceremony of drinking wine is the same as that which takes place between the bride and her parents-in-law, with a very slight deviation: the bridegroom receives no presents from his mother-in-law, and when the third cup is drunk the son-in-law drinks before the father-in-law). A return visit is paid by the bride's parents to the bridegroom, at which similar forms are observed.

At the weddings of the great, the bridal chamber is composed of three rooms thrown into one,117 and newly decorated. If there are only two rooms available, a third room is built for the occasion. The presents, which have been mentioned above, are set out on two trays. Besides these, the bridegroom's clothes are hung up upon clothes-racks. The mattress and bedclothes are placed in a closet. The bride's effects must all be arranged by the women who are sent on a previous day for the purpose, or it may be done whilst the bride is changing her clothes. The shrine for the image of the family god is placed on a shelf adjoining the sleeping-place. There is a proper place for the various articles of furniture. The kaioké118 is placed on the raised floor; but if there be no raised floor, it is placed in a closet with the door open, so that it may be conspicuously seen. The books are arranged on a book-shelf or on a cabinet; if there be neither shelf nor cabinet, they are placed on the raised floor. The bride's clothes are set out on a clothes-rack; in families of high rank, seven robes are hung up on the rack; five of these are taken away and replaced by others, and again three are taken away and replaced by others; and there are either two or three clothes-racks: the towel-rack is set up in a place of more honour than the clothes-racks. If there is no dressing-room, the bride's bedclothes and dressing furniture are placed in the sleeping-room. No screens are put up on the bridal night, but a fitting place is chosen for them on the following day. All these ceremonies must be in proportion to the means of the family.


The author of the "Sho-rei Hikki" makes no allusion to the custom of shaving the eyebrows and blackening the teeth of married women, in token of fidelity to their lords. In the upper classes, young ladies usually blacken their teeth before leaving their father's house to enter that of their husbands, and complete the ceremony by shaving their eyebrows immediately after the wedding, or, at any rate, not later than upon the occasion of their first pregnancy.

The origin of the fashion is lost in antiquity. As a proof that it existed before the eleventh century, A.D., a curious book called "Teijô Zakki," or the Miscellaneous Writings of Teijô, cites the diary of Murasaki Shikibu, the daughter of one Tamésoki, a retainer of the house of Echizen, a lady of the court and famous poetess, the authoress of a book called "Genji-mono-gatari," and other works. In her diary it is written that on the last night of the fifth year of the period Kankô (A.D. 1008), in order that she might appear to advantage on New Year's Day, she retired to the privacy of her own apartment, and repaired the deficiencies of her personal appearance by re-blackening her teeth, and otherwise adorning herself. Allusion is also made to the custom in the "Yeiga-mono-gatari," an ancient book by the same authoress.

The Emperor and nobles of his court are also in the habit of blackening their teeth; but the custom is gradually dying out in their case. It is said to have originated with one Hanazono Arishito, who held the high rank of Sa-Daijin, or "minister of the left," at the commencement of the twelfth century, in the reign of the Emperor Toba. Being a, man of refined and sensual tastes, this minister plucked out his eyebrows, shaved his beard, blackened his teeth, powdered his face white, and rouged his lips in order to render himself as like a woman as possible. In the middle of the twelfth century, the nobles of the court, who went to the wars, all blackened their teeth; and from this time forth the practice became a fashion of the court. The followers of the chiefs of the Hôjô dynasty also blackened their teeth, as an emblem of their fidelity; and this was called the Odawara fashion, after the castle town of the family. Thus a custom, which had its origin in a love of sensuality and pleasure, became mistaken for the sign of a good and faithful spirit.

The fashion of blackening the teeth entails no little trouble upon its followers, for the colour must be renewed every day, or at least every other day. Strange and repelling as the custom appears at first, the eye soon learns to look without aversion upon a well-blacked and polished set of teeth; but when the colour begins to wear away, and turns to a dullish grey, streaked with black, the mouth certainly becomes most hideous. Although no one who reads this is likely to put a recipe for blackening the teeth to a practical test, I append one furnished to me by a fashionable chemist and druggist in Yedo:—

"Take three pints of water, and, having warmed it, add half a teacupful of wine. Put into this mixture a quantity of red-hot iron; allow it to stand for five or six days, when there will be a scum on the top of the mixture, which should then be poured into a small teacup and placed near a fire. When it is warm, powdered gallnuts and iron filings should be added to it, and the whole should be warmed again. The liquid is then painted on to the teeth by means of a soft feather brush, with more powdered gallnuts and iron, and, after several applications, the desired colour will be obtained."

The process is said to be a preservative of the teeth, and I have known men who were habitual sufferers from toothache to prefer the martyrdom of ugliness to that of pain, and apply the black colouring when the paroxysms were severe. One man told me that he experienced immediate relief by the application, and that so long as he blackened his teeth he was quite free from pain.

The text came from:

Freeman-Mitford, A. B. Tales of Old Japan. London: Macmillan, 1871, 1890.
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Footnote 113:

Cf. Gibbon on Roman Marriages, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. iv. p. 345: "The contracting parties were seated on the same sheepskin; they tasted a salt cake of far, or rice; and this confarreation, which denoted the ancient food of Italy, served as an emblem of their mystic union of mind and body."
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Footnote 114:

The god who created Japan is called Kunitokodachi no Mikoto. Seven generations of gods after his time existed Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto—the first a god, the second a goddess. As these two divine beings were standing upon the floating bridge of heaven, two wagtails came; and the gods, watching the amorous dalliance of the two birds, invented the art of love. From their union thus inaugurated sprang the mountains, the rivers, the grass, the trees, the remainder of the gods, and mankind. Another fable is, that as the two gods were standing on the floating bridge of heaven, Izanagi no Mikoto, taking the heavenly jewelled spear, stirred up the sea, and the drops which fell from the point of it congealed and became an island, which was called Onokoro-jima, on which the two gods, descending from heaven, took up their abode.
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Footnote 115:

Each cup contains but a sip.
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Footnote 116:

In the island of Takasago, in the province of Harima, stands a pine-tree, called the "pine of mutual old age." At the root the tree is single, but towards the centre it springs into two stems—an old, old pine, models of which are used at weddings as a symbol that the happy pair shall reach old age together. Its evergreen leaves are an emblem of the unchanging constancy of the heart. Figures of an old man and woman under the tree are the spirits of the old pine.
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Footnote 117:

The partitions of a Japanese suite of apartments being merely composed of paper sliding-screens, any number of rooms, according to the size of the house, can be thrown into one at a moment's notice.
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Footnote 118:

A kaioké is a kind of lacquer basin for washing the hands and face.
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