'Christian' Weddings all the Rage in Japan

Jan 27, 2003 10:38 AM EST

Though Christians account for less than 1 percent of Japan's population, a Christian-style wedding is the ceremony of choice for a majority of Japanese couples.

"It is of course not a religious experience that people seek in a Christian-style wedding, but to make a fashion statement," said a spokeswoman for a Tokyo-based wedding service company, the Japan Times reported.

Though Japanese pastors are available, the trend has created a high demand for Caucasian males – Christian or not – who are willing to perform the services, the national paper said.

"Many young couples think a foreigner performing the rites can add a more sophisticated or even solemn atmosphere to their weddings," said the wedding company spokeswoman.

Just over 61 percent of couples who married in 2001 had Christian-style rites, according to a poll by the wedding service magazine Xeksi. About 20 percent of the rites were Shinto, the majority religion, and 0.9 percent were in Buddhist temples.

No experience necessary

The Times told of a 32-year-old Australian who responded to a job ad for a position performing Christian-style nuptials placed by a Tokyo wedding company. The payment for a 20-minute service was 16,000 yen, about $136.

The Australian had never studied theology, but his Caucasian looks apparently qualified him for the job, the Times said, which required standing before Japanese couples as they took their vows and reciting Bible passages.

"I've never been a devout Christian or anything, and thought it was no more than an acting job," the man said.

The Australian noted that the "company said they actually had qualified Japanese pastors, but they said their clients often prefer to have a Caucasian perform the service, regardless of their religious background."

He turned down the job, he said, because it required him to have lessons on the basics of Christian rites and acquire a minimum Japanese-language ability at his own expense.

Opposition from pastors

A Tokyo-based group of 126 Japanese and foreign pastors who opposes the use of the part-time non-clerics, the Kanto Christian Bridal Association, said there are about 100 wedding service companies in Tokyo employing about 500 unordained foreigners and 200 noncleric Japanese for wedding rites, the Japan Times reported. The group said many of the firms have no legitimate pastors registered.

"The situation symbolizes the Japanese people's lack of respect for religion or spirituality," said Masato Innami, a Presbyterian pastor and head of the group's secretariat.

The weddings companies say ordained priests, whether Japanese or foreign, usually are not available on weekends because they have services of their own. One company said it requires that people who perform weddings have at least written permission from the firm's affiliate churches, she added.

The foreigners usually receive minimum training on Christian principles and rites and the Japanese language.

Innami said it takes at least nine years to be ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in Japan. He noted that the trend of nonclerical foreigners handling the ceremonies has surged in the past five years, the Times said.

"It is not an exaggeration to say the presence of bogus priests casts shame on the country," commented Innami.

The pastor said that in many cases the companies don't inform the wedding participants that the person performing the service is not a minister.

The arrangers argue, however, that while the Christian-style weddings follow a traditional form, neither the participants nor venues – hotels and wedding halls – actually want the ceremony to have religious meaning.

"The celebrations are no more than a white wedding dress, bouquet, the 'virgin road' [aisle] and all the other fashionable elements of a Western-style wedding," the spokeswoman of the wedding service company said, according to the Times.

By Albert H. Lee
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