What will Princess Ayako wear to her wedding?

Before Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, stepped out in a silk Givenchy wedding dress to marry Prince Harry, th...

Posted: Oct 29, 2018 12:57 AM
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 12:57 AM

Before Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, stepped out in a silk Givenchy wedding dress to marry Prince Harry, the public spent months guessing who would have the honor of designing the royal gown.

But ahead of Japan's Princess Ayako's wedding to fiancé Kei Moriya on Monday, the question isn't which designer will the bride wear, but what type of kimono will she choose and, perhaps more importantly, what will it symbolize?


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In accordance with Japan's imperial law, on marrying Moriya -- an employee of shipping company Nippon Yusen KK -- Ayako will renounce her royal status and take a lump sum of $950,000 from the Japanese government for living expenses. But that doesn't mean the wedding will be devoid of pomp.

Ceremony and symbolism

Myriad rituals mark the couple's engagement and wedding. On Friday, the princess visited a shrine inside the Imperial Palace and took part in a ceremony to bid farewell to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. In a rite known as Choken-no-gi, the imperial couple exchanged sake cups and chopsticks with the princess.

On Monday morning, Princess Ayako will arrive at the Meiji Shrine to meet her husband-to-be, wearing a uchiki outer robe and hakama, wide-legged pleated trousers that are tied at the waist and fall to the ankles. Shortly after they meet, the princess will change into the more formal kouchiki, a "small cloak" with long, wide sleeves, and a long divided skirt called a naga-bakama. (Both outfits have been worn since by Japanese nobility since the Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185.)

After the wedding, on Tuesday, the newlyweds will attend a reception banquet most likely at Tokyo's New Otani Hotel in the presence of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess, where Ayako will be toasted into the Moriya family. It's not yet clear what Ayako will choose to wear for the occasion, but previous royal brides have gone for Western-style white dresses.

While elaborate by conventional standards, Princess Ayako's wedding attire is expected to be relatively understated compared to the clothes worn by women marrying into or within the imperial family. In those instances, brides don the highly elaborate junihitoe, a 12-layered kimono that dates back centuries.

"The art of dressing (in the junihitoe) is to see all the edges that are beautifully displayed," explained Sheila Cliffe, author of "The Social Life of the Kimono: Japanese Fashion Past and Present."

But in spite of its simplicity, Ayako's dress will be loaded with symbolism, in keeping with Japanese tradition. Take colors, for instance: "(The colors) are all given names after plants or flowers, and traditionally they would be worn just before that flower bloomed," Cliffe said in a phone interview.

Many Japanese bridal dresses are also embellished with a range of celebratory motifs, such as pine trees, plums and bamboo, which are seen as fortuitous.

"The pine is evergreen, the bamboo bends but doesn't break, and the plum blooms in the coldest season," Cliffe explained. Symbols of longevity, like cranes and turtles are also popular.

Weddings for the masses

In Japan, it's common for brides to have multiple costume changes during the wedding ceremony and reception. In Shinto-style ceremonies, women usually wear an all-white shiromuku kimono (often made of silk) and an ornate white coat with a long train. The white symbolizes purity and the beginning of the bride's life with her new family.

This ensemble is traditionally worn with a large white hood, or a white hat called a tsunokakushi, which literally means "horn cover." The origin of the tsunokakushi isn't clear, but one folk theory suggests the wide hat is meant to hide the bride's jealousy and selfishness.

Other theories suggest the hat provides protection from evil and bad luck, and also symbolizes a bride's obedience to her husband.

After the ceremony, a bride will trade her white coat for a colorful one. This dress change is called iro-naoshi -- or, literally, "color change."

"Putting on color afterward is like her being received or accepted into the husband's house. It's like a kind of rebirth," Cliffe explained. "It's far more than a change of clothing."

However, while these traditional modes of dressing have been respected for years, wedding styles and trends in Japan are fluid. These days, many brides opt to wear a traditional kimono for the ceremony and change into a Western-style wedding dress (or two) for the reception.

And, just as the Duchess of Sussex reportedly inspired hordes of brides-to-be to buy dresses similar to her boat-neck Givenchy gown and the high-neck Stella McCartney dress she wore to the reception, imperial weddings can spark larger trends across the country.

Cliffe said that when Princess Masako wore the traditional multi-layered kimono to marry Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993, there was a rise in Japanese brides wearing junihitoe-style dresses.

Ayako is not the first princess in her generation who plans to leave the royal family. Last May, her second cousin and eldest grandchild to the Emperor, Princess Mako, announced plans to marry paralegal Kei Komoro. However, the couple postponed their marriage this February, stating that they were not yet ready for marriage.

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