How I planned my overseas wedding in Kyoto

Planning a wedding can be stressful, especially when it’s overseas, and with only 3 months to plan. But it is possible, and here’s how I did it. 

First, I found out I was pregnant. Oops. 

A surprise, but a welcomed one, so we had to scramble things together. The truth is, we were already planning to go to Kyoto, and that was going to be the engagement. But the kid helped us fast-track everything, including the impossible mission of planning an overseas wedding in 3 months. 

Why Kyoto?
We knew we wanted a destination wedding, and with guests flying in from the US, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China, we needed to make sure that as many people could fly without having to transfer flights. At the same time, our wedding date was set for mid-November which is the start of autumn, and Kyoto set the perfect scene for that. 

Looking for the venue 
There are several options: hotels, restaurants, temples, churches and so on. Hotels were the first we looked at, since we were going to cover accommodation for guests, it made sense to have the hotel arrange everything. 

We also need to consider the fact that we wanted a Western Ceremony and a Japanese reception. 

Ritz Carlton Kyoto was an absolute train wreck, they replied slow, were very overpriced and snobby, and didn’t provide much in terms of service. When asked if they could do ceremony only and no reception they also refused. (Well we didn’t want to do a reception with them because they wouldn’t accommodate on doing a Japanese reception). 

At the end I e-mailed 8 locations, a combination of hotels, churches, restaurants, gardens etc for the ceremony. A lot of them were booked out on the date since Japanese people generally reserve 1 year in advance. The pricing ranged from ¥60,000 ~ ¥600,000+. Most of them could communicate in simple English, but I e-mailed in Japanese to get a quicker response. That is one tricky part about planning an overseas wedding, if there’s a language barrier it could be tough. 

The Ceremony (Western) – St. Andrews Church
We ended up contacting Kyoto St. Andrews church, which partners up with an Overseas Wedding planning agency. Their staff spoke Mandarin and English, which was perfect for my guests. 

For ¥450,000, it included a church ceremony (pastor, 2 church singers, 1 pipe organ player, 1 violinist), 50 candles, ceremony program itinerary, ring pillow, wedding certificate), wedding wear (bridal gown and accessories, groom’s tuxedo and accessories, alteration), makeup/styling, bride’s personal assistance, fresh bouquet, flower pedals for guests to toss, waiting room for guests which includes drinks, and interpreter for guests and parents. Oh not to mention, loads of pictures and a video of behind the scenes & ceremony. 

You can see the full plan details here:

Since I had my gown custom made (to fit and hide my pregnant belly) and my husband brought his own tux, they brought the cost down, which was really nice! They also gave lunch recommendations afterwards around the area. All in all I barely had to do much preparation.

I had several e-mail exchanges with their representative who happened to be Taiwanese. She sorted out the preferences include bouquet type, makeup and hair preference, interpreters needed etc. We had a rundown on the evening before (just myself and the groom). 

On the day of, all the staff were very nice and attentive. They offered drinks and slippers, they chatted with the parents and guests. The makeup artist/hair stylist was a legend, she really did magic with my hair. The ceremony itself went as smoothly as any could be. The music with the choir, organ, and violin was done really well. I honestly did not have to worry about a thing (maybe except stepping on my dress and falling face flat on the red carpet). 

As a part of the package, they also prepare a wedding certificate from the City of Kyoto, and the one you sign on the day of with the Pastor as the witness. (Both of these are not legal officially, it's another process if you want to get recognized as married in Japan. We did our Solemnization in Singapore.)

The Dinner Reception (Japanese) – Aoiden at Kyoto Westin Miyako Hotel

The reception was a tricky one. Because we had 20 people in total, if it were to be in a restaurant, it needed to either be booked out by us or have a large enough private room. If we look at hotels or gardens, which had Japanese style rooms, most likely they fit something like 50 to 100 pax. That can go way over budget really quickly. 

I e-mailed 11 places in total, most were booked on the day we requested, and they ranged from ¥300,000 to ¥950,000 (divide by 20pax for per person cost… so pretty pricey)

Funnily enough, we made a big round circle back to the Westin Miyako Hotel. This is where we stayed at the first time we went to Kyoto together, and it is also where we were planning to put all of our guests in. They had a beautiful Japanese style reception hall called Aoi-den with once side facing the beautiful mountains of Kyoto and the other a private Japanese garden of their own. Though the room was a bit big for us, the moment I saw the photo I was sold. 

For around ¥600,000 yen, it included room rental (beautiful maple plant on stage, autumn themed center pieces on the table, traditional paper umbrellas for décor) , a 9 course Japanese meal, a Sake Barrel (which 20 people couldn’t finish) + sake breaking ceremony + personalized Masu or sake cups for all guests, free flow bar with beer/sake/wine/spirits for 3 hours, 2 photographers, traditional Japanese music, a really gorgeous 3-tier cake and the planner who arranged this made it, yet again, as smooth as a reception could be.

What was the cost?
We were just over $10,000 USD (Ceremony + Reception + Kimono Rental for all guests)

But if you factor in the flights for ourselves, room for all guests, other incidentals, it came out to around the average for international destination weddings calculated by the Knot. 

  • Average Wedding cost (International Destination wedding) US $27,227
  • Average Wedding cost (Domestic wedding) US $28,372, due to larger guest list 
Yes it was expensive. But was it worth it? Abso-fucking-lutely. We always knew we wanted a small intimate wedding. It was hard to narrow down the guests (the list once blew up to almost 40 people mid planning, followed by a painful process of removing people from the list). But not only did we celebrate our important day, it was also with a group of people that loved us, cared for us, and couldn’t be happier for us. It also felt like a big reunion party since we had friends and family joining from around the world. Plus, on top of that, it was first time in Kyoto for most of the guests, and in maple leaves season! 

One thing that took me completely off guard is post-wedding blues. I was not even aware this existed. Apparently, before the wedding there was all this busy planning and anticipation of the big day and all of a sudden it’s over in a day. The big day was such a blast, and all of a sudden a normal day just comparatively seem so boring. But don’t worry, this doesn’t last that long. After a week or so I was right back on track, doing the things I normal did before the wedding.

Bonus – Autumn Season in Kyoto

I’ve already written about this previously in my blog post here

But this time I was able to visit Daigoji, which is a beautiful temple Southeast of Kyoto. Generally the maple leaves bloom slightly earlier than Kyoto city center. Daigoji also had a beautiful pond and red wooden bridge, making it perfect for photos. 

You don’t have to be in a Kimono for a great shot, however if you can find a traditional paper umbrella, that’s a huge bonus.

Follow me on instagram for more photos 

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