Religion in Japan sometimes seems like a big spiritual buffet. At different times in your life, you get your choice of different religions; a bit of Shinto here, a dash of Buddhism there. More and more, you’ll see a pinch of Christianity at weddings.

While couples still get married in traditional Shinto ceremonies, it’s the majority of Japanese weddings are done in the Christian tradition, complete with the chapel, the white dress, a priest; the whole nine yards.


Photo by ajari

This growth in Christian weddings isn’t because there are a lot more Christians in Japan; the country’s Christians have been pretty steady at a tiny 1% of the total population for years now.

The parts of Western-style weddings that appeal to the Japanese are purely aesthetic; the religious aspects are more or less non-existent.

It’s not surprising that the Japanese celebrate Christian-style weddings without any actual Christianity; Japanese adaptation of Western traditions usually completely misses the point. That’s why Christmas is widely celebrated in Japan on a non-religious basis with Kentucky Fried Chicken and strawberry shortcake.

What’s particularly interesting about Christian-style Western weddings is that it’s generated a market for fake priests.

Fake Priests At Real Weddings

Japanese Western-style wedding ceremonies need something to lend an air of authenticity, but hiring a real, bonafide priest is tricky. Since there are so few Christians in Japan, priests are in already short supply. Not only that, but they can be expensive to hire, and might frown upon a Christian-style wedding without any actual Christianity involved.

So the companies that arrange wedding ceremonies resort to hiring people who look foreign enough to actually be Christian. You don’t need to be certified as a priest or anything, and you don’t even need to be a Christian.

For all intents and purposes, being a priest in Japan is an acting gig for Westerners, a way to earn a few extra bucks on the weekend. There’s even a script!


If you’re hired on as a fake priest, you dress the part, recite some lines from the Bible and a few other ceremonial words and tell the couple to kiss. That’s about it. You can earn hundreds of dollars for half an hour of work.

Admittedly, being a fake priest can be a lot more work than it sounds like. Your Japanese has to be decent enough to read through the ceremony, and you have to be able to stand the immense pressures of officiating somebody’s wedding, one of the most important days of a person’s life.

To top it all off, there are event spaces all over Japan designed to look like chapels, churches, or cathedrals that are only built and used for these types of weddings.

It might seem a little sacrilegious to have a fake priest marrying couples in a fake chapel, but it all seems pretty harmless to me.

Have you ever been to a Western-style wedding in Japan? Have you ever been hired as a fake priest? Let me know in the comments!

  • John Stevens

    As a Christian moving to Japan next year, I find this intriguing, hilarious and a bit sad.

  • Jon

    This doesn’t surprise me all that much, actually. I just heard something on the news this morning about fake prom dresses of all things (which actually sounds quite ingenious). I also saw something online about a guy getting fake transistors from China, which I consider the most disturbing due to the extremely low cost of transistors in the first place (Seriously, they’re less than a dollar a pop for the more expensive ones, unless you’re one of those people who are obsessed with the perfect transistor in audio equipment).

  • Ben Nichols

    I think Christians are missing an opportunity here. Yes, there are not a lot of pastors/priests in Japan, but I think the ones that are there aren’t making themselves available for wedding services. If people want a Christian wedding service, why not give them the full, real experience? And from someone who’s actually a Christian.

    I’ve heard about this before, and thought it was hilarious because many of the foreigner priests who do this speak with a horrible accent, and that’s actually part of the experience for many people.

  • Alexa

    Fascinating, though not particularly surprising.
    I wonder if this isn’t the right time or place to mention this, but I’m really okay with the idea of Japanese people doing Western, Christian-style weddings without the religion. To be honest, I really admire that a country sticks to its religion rather than just adapting a foreign one because they were encouraged to do so.

  • Hamyo

    what an irony for the religious side of Japan, i hope it isn’t a fact, but it is. :(


    Considering that any one can get certified to marry some one in five minutes on the Internet, this is no surprise. As long as they are respectful, it does not matter to me.

  • Ginter

    As is mentioned in the article, a priest definintely won’t marry two people who aren’t Catholic and a lot of pastors won’t marry two non-Christians either.

  • Indi135

    Bwahahaha. That is awesome. Actually I have a friend whose brother did this. He was frustrated because “we are not eve Christian.” But I think they did it for the reasons you said, the dress was pretty, the chapel was pretty. Everything was beautiful. I think that for some people in the US it isn’t all that different. They are not religious, but they have a priest marry them because it is much more romantic than having a Judge to it.

  • Ginger

    This reminds me of something a tour guide in Tokyo said. “The Japanese are Shinto when they get married, Christians at Christmas, and Buddist when they die.”
    I am Christian and I don’t have any issue with this.

  • zoomingjapan

    I’ve been to a few weddings here in Japan of my Japanese friends and co-workers and I find those pseudo-priests quite horrible. Some of them pronounce things in a horrible way in Japanese on purpose, others just can’t do it any better. ^^; ….

  • alexandre j seguin

    Humm all I see is job opportunities for me :p

  • zoomingjapan

    It has nothing to do with religion at all. It’s really just the idea of marrying in a beautiful white dress in a church. Japanese Western-style weddings are crazy! The bride will change dresses quite a few times! I’ve been to a few of those weddings and I find them …… strange! To say the least! ^^

  • Hashi

    I’ve heard a lot of variants on that, but it’s very true.

  • Hashi

    People don’t exactly want a full Christian wedding service; they want the LOOK of a Christian wedding service, and basically couldn’t care less about the religious aspects of it.

  • Alexa

    Oh yes, I know. :) It’s “romantic”! That’s part of why I love it, it’s just this huge mix of culture because they like it! I love that.

  • derioderio

    Considering that *legal* marriage in Japan can only be done by filling
    out a marriage registration form and taking it to a city hall together,
    these weddings at chapels and such are just a nice social ceremony. It
    isn’t like the U.S. or Europe where clergy can perform legal marriages.
    I myself was married in a church in Tokyo, but beforehand we went to
    the local municipal office and filled out our marriage license. At that
    point we were legally married as far as the government was concerned,
    whether we had gone to the church and had the ceremony or not. Of
    course the ceremony was very important to my wife and myself.

  • derioderio

    Not in Japan. In Japan only the state has authority to authorize any marriage. Any other ceremony at any chapel, church, or temple has no legal merit. The only way to be *legally* married in Japan is to fill out a marriage license form and take it to the local city or municipal office.

  • Vague

    Oh god, that’s pretty funny. But I guess I’m not that surprised. I can imagine it’s the same for a lot of European and American couples as well, where they just get married in churches, because it’s more atmospheric than the local town hall.


    Actually that is the same in The United States. You can go through a drive through in Las Vegas and get married, but unless you file with the State, it’s just for show.

  • Lila

    Well, doesn’t this happen elsewhere, too? Yoga comes from religion (doesn’t it?) but now it’s just a sport/relaxation in the western world. And I’m sure there are lots of other cases. (Not to forget that religions themselves are modified by other religions.)

  • koichi

    “And now by the power vested in me by the great Spaghetti Monster, I pronounce you man and wife…”

    ↑ Most Japanese people wouldn’t know the difference.

  • Paul

    Hey do any of the writers here have a goal of fluency in Japanese ? I know it’s a big deal going for fluency as opposed to conversational or intermediate or advanced with the amount of time and integration of japanese into ones daily life.

  • Jimmy

    I would like to argue that Japanese don’t know religion as we do in the west. Japanese go to a Buddhist temple, but they won’t call themselves Buddhist. Terms like “Religion” and “Believing” are western ways of thinking, which don’t apply to Japan.

  • Kyah

    This is twice in a row that something has been posted that is exactly a topic I talked about in class. It’s getting creepy lol

  • Hashi


  • Henro 88

    People always forget that yoga is a religious exercise. Good call, there.

  • Henro 88

    Yeah, this is a good point. I think in my home state in the US, you cannot get married without a certified, religious ceremony.

    Japan has no such requirement (as you know, having done it). The religious aspect is 100% optional and free for the person doing it – another point where, ironically, I am more free in Japan than I am in my home country.

  • Henro 88

    Christianity, to put it as politely as possible, is absolutely incompatible with Japanese culture.

    Honestly, I won’t claim to understand this phenomenon more than Tofugu does, but I’ll tell you this: in Japan, everyone celebrates Christmas – why? Because Christmas originated as a pagan mid-winter festival to maintain social ties in the dark and deadness of winter. Japan has few winter festivals, so a celebration of togetherness in winter is useful to them. They rarely, if ever, care about which god a festival celebrates (seriously, go to a Japanese festival and ask which god it’s for – no one will know).

    Easter, though – I asked my students last week if they knew Easter. No one knew it. I explained that it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead and “absorbed” everyone’s sin. They shrugged their shoulders and said, “No reason for us to care about that.” And they were right: in Japan, sin is not an issue – Japan has sakura and hanami in spring, so they don’t need a new spring festival. Easter contributes nothing to Japanese culture, so they never picked it up.

    So, with weddings, the Western style wedding ceremony fills a social need that Japan has – it is social, relaxed, fun, and you get to wear pants (instead of a kimono). The ceremony serves a purpose for them – Christianity doesn’t.

  • Henro 88

    It’s worth pointing out, though, that this is part of Japan’s fetishization of foreigners and of having authentic foreigners doing authentic foreigner things (JET Program and English education in general being the biggest example).

    Most of these fake priests are probably on short-term contracts and are fired in less than 5 years to keep a constant rotation of fresh foreigner faces. :-/

  • koichi

    I do love my foreigner faces fresh

  • Henro 88

    It’s not something to joke about. The JET Program is an obvious example, but other government agencies also fire foreign workers every five years. I bet these chapels do, too. They purposefully take skilled and experienced workers and replace them with new, inexperienced ones. And then they sit around and go, “Gee, why are we lagging behind other countries in English education?” Because they FIRE the experienced people every five years!

    Oh, and it has racist undertones because, as soon as you figure out Japanese culture and become fluent in the language, they fire you and send you home – and then they bring a new foreigner in and tell him, “See, people like you just don’t UNDERSTAND Japanese culture.” No, actually, they just sent the guy home who did. Maybe if they didn’t fire foreigners every five years here, we might get a better handle on the culture and, you know, be able to participate and integrate into their society – and people would stop insisting that foreigners don’t “get” Japan.

    It’s really not funny at all.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I’ll take that bet.

  • Steven Morris

    I had a purely non-religious wedding in Japan. I borrowed some DVD’s of some of my wife’s friends’ weddings to get an idea of the kinds of things to expect and the “priests” were always the funniest part. I’m pretty sure they were reading Japanese written in romaji– it was some of the best butchery of spoken Japanese I’ve ever heard. I think Japanese people like it that way, though. I mean, they’d probably be more surprised and put off by a “priest” being all fluent and all… At any rate, I had actually met one of the “priests” prior to finding out what his side gig was. Man I would have loved to ask him about infinity questions.

    A movie about all of the weird side gigs you can get in Japan as a foreigner has a lot of potential.

  • Henro 88

    Well, that 5 year window is definitely a great chance to get your foot in the door, I’m not saying it isn’t. It’s just a sword that hangs over almost every foreigner’s head in this country. Sure, you’ve got this money train coming your way at the local chapel for a few years, but after that…?

    I know a few lifers, and those of us who aren’t doing English are either entrepreneurs or working with small, local companies. I don’t know anyone with an office job, or long-term “salaryman” position.

  • Jay Sanders

    My cousin was married by a fake priest, but this was in Texas. A buddy of his got some online certificate that was good enough for Texas law. We figured something was up when he was stumbling through some pretty basic scriptures.

    Hmm, wonder how many fake Shinto priests are around in the West doing weddings. Seems like a possible business idea for Las Vegas. Better yet, Fake Elvis Shinto priest!

  • Shollum

    Personally, I don’t see the point in styling your wedding after something you don’t even believe in, but then again, I don’t really see the point in getting married anymore.
    It’s just a matter of choice, I guess. I just hope they realize they have no idea what they’re doing when they style celebrations after Western traditions. There’s a difference between doing something because you like it that way and thinking that’s actually how it works.

    Anyway, I’m not religious, so I’m not bothered by it as long as they either educate themselves about it or admit that they have no clue what any of it actually means and just like the pretty architecture and dresses (I may not be Christian, but man, you gotta love that architecture. And the music too).

  • shuirin

    I like the japanese way with religions, you don’t have to believe what you don’t want to and can choose freely form any religion and costumize it to your personalty, lifestyle and beliefs. Much more refreshing for me than what I grew up with!

  • seiteta

    I would love to be married by a Fake Elvis, shintoist way ! Sounds awesome !

  • Lessa

    If i was to be married by a fake shinto priest just because i found it beautiful, it doesn’t sound so bad. And when we went to Japan two years ago my Dad thought i was nuts because i wanted to visit all sorts of temples, light prayers and hang offerings.

    I suppose most girls do find the allure of poofy white gowns, flowers, ribbons and handsome/dapper prince-grooms irresistable.

  • Andrew Glosson

    I was a “legit” priest in Japan for a year back in 2011. It was an interesting experience, really helped my Japanese abilities and met some great people but I had to get out of the industry due to personal and biblical convictions.

  • Andrew Glosson

    Here’s proof

  • Socksmusicalcat

    They can become ordained priests without being a part of any specific religion. They just need to go to this site:, enter some basic personal info, and KABLAM! they can choose whatever title they want! Mine’s Reverend Pope Jedi Master.

  • Jon Walmsley

    If I’m ever given the opporunity, once I eventually get to Japan, to preside over a wedding as a fake priest I’d give it a go for sure. More for the novelty then anything else.

  • julious

    this is hilarious and awesome; i’m a Christian and this just cool, plus most of the religious holiday here in the USA are not religious any more, like Christmas and Easter ( if you ask any teenager what is Easter about they wouldn’t know, just ask them in what day is Easter and they would guess)

  • Ben Nichols

    I understand your point, and think it’s an important one. But as a Christian myself, I disagree with the claim that Japan doesn’t need Christianity. There are several reasons, but I’ll just give the most apparent one–hope. In a recent Gallup survey, a large majority of Japanese people said they don’t believe their life has any purpose. Other questions related to emotional well-being and general happiness had similar answers. Many people in Japan have little hope for the future, and are not very happy in their day-to-day lives. At least that’s what the survey (which was pretty large-scale) said. Whether the solution comes from religion or elsewhere I won’t argue with you about, but from my (obviously biased) perspective, Christianity has a lot to offer.

    On a side note, the celebration of Easter has been kept in connection with not just the resurrection of Jesus, but also the renewal of life that comes with spring as well. That’s why there are eggs (potential of new life) and rabbits (a sign of fertility), which have nothing to do with Christianity, in Easter celebrations. It’s similar to some spring festivals in Japan, such as Sakura blossoms coming out after a long winter. Resurrection -> New life -> Spring.

  • Henro 88

    You’re going to have to provide a link, because that survey sounds very, very, very suspect.

  • Elizabeth T

    I’m starting to think my cousin’s wedding in Osaka last week was officiated by a fake priest. Thing is, how do you tell?

  • JapanDan

    While I understand your frustration regarding the constant “oh, when are you leaving?” mentality of many, MANY Japanese, I think in the interest of fairness that I’d point out that the JET Program (your “obvious example”) primarily exists to “promote grass-roots international exchange” between Japan and other countries, not to teach English. It just so happens that a very benri way to get a bunch of foreigners into the country is to have us dancing around in front of a class trying to get them to pronounce their R’s and L’s. I’ll be the first to admit that my Japanese co-workers are way better and way more qualified to teach English than me, and that’s why I’m here primarily to represent my country, not drill grammar and up Japan’s international English test rankings.

    With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that they cut participants off after 5 years. They’re very clear on their website and during the interview process that participants are expected to come to Japan, learn about Japanese culture, share their own culture, and then return home and repeat the process in their home country. Before I came to Japan, I had a TON of misinformation given to me about this country (“make sure you eat a LOT of beef before you go – beef is really rare over there, so you won’t get to eat it very often!” “You’re going to be a teacher? They still use corporal punishment there!”) I’ll be glad to return home in a few years and begin dispelling some of these notions. If I wanted to stay for a longer time, I wouldn’t apply to be a fake priest or an English teacher – I’d look into another business.

    And finally, I’ll point out that they do not “fire” you at the end of five years – they release you from your contract. Words DO matter here, because you can absolutely use the JET Program as a springboard into a “lifer” career in Japan and acquire many references for life after JET. You can hardly do that if a company fires you.

  • Ben Nichols

    The best I can do is show you the online article which reported some of the findings. I wish I had a way to access more of the results, raw data, and questions asked, but I couldn’t track down anything at all. Gallup sells their data sets at an extremely steep price. Anyway, here’s the article.
    The data about hope/purpose specifically was about young people (teens), not all Japanese people as I mistakenly said before. That’s in the last paragraph. Sorry if anything else was inaccurate, I was pulling from memory.

  • Henro 88

    I may not have been clear in my original comment, but I’m NOT referring to the JET program. I will admit, though, that I am working from a friend’s anecdote. I knew a HIGHLY qualified individual who went from being head CIR of the prefecture to having a position at MEXT.

    Now, I wasn’t trying to be objective; I was trying to make a point. You are correct that my friend was “released from his contract,” but that contract was designed FROM THE BEGINNING to expire after a set period of time. They never had any intention of renewing it after that period, solely because my friend is not Japanese. What do you call that? I call it “firing” someone. I call it “discriminatory.” I call it “throwing away a talented and skilled staff member for no reason whatsoever.”

    Now, I admit that this is anecdotal, and I can’t confirm that the five year limit exists at the governmental level. My friend may be mistaken, or I may have misheard him.

    But it is widely known that Japanese government, companies, schools and universities PURPOSEFULLY fire their foreign staff after a limited period of time. It’s not just ALT’s. Japanese companies and government purposefully throw away their qualified foreign workers for one reason and one reason only: they are not Japanese.

  • Henro 88

    I’m going to apologize for being a pedant again, but can you give me a better link? I’ll try to Google all this myself, but WND is not a reliable source, and Gallup was having credibility problems a few years ago, too.

    I want to say I wasn’t trying to be confrontational with what my stepson said about the survey. Surveys are NOT the best way to do anthropology, though, and you need to do interviews to back up your data. A lot of the time, a simple survey will get one answer, while an actual conversation with the people you’re studying will get a different answer. My stepson demonstrated that pretty well. I’m sorry if it came off as rude.

  • Henro 88

    My friend wasn’t with JET. He was with the government. He was “let go from his contract” because he wasn’t Japanese.

    I use the word “fired” because it’s easier than getting into the underlying issues of Japanese attitudes towards foreigners as “gaijin,” or “others,” who can’t participate in their society – so, because “gaijin” can’t be expected to participate in their culture, they “let us go” after five years, thereby ENSURING that we don’t participate in their culture.

    I’m sorry, but when you take a talented, intelligent, qualified individual and “let him go” simply because of his race? That’s dumb.

    Oh, and the JET Program wants to “diversify” Japan, but it kicks you out after five years. So…actually, there’s no diversity, is there? Just a few guests. Outsiders. Gaijin. Just visiting. And that’s all the children see. A string of visitors. The JET Program confirms all their prejudices – we are outsiders just here for a visit. Five years, max, and we’re gone.

  • Ben Nichols

    The same article was posted to some other websites, but I’m guessing not many news organizations would care to cover the story. The documentary mentioned in the article is called “Japan: Searching for the Dream”. A quick google search will get you some links for it, but the full-length one was not available for me (in the US). You may be right, I have no way to prove the information is correct without paying Gallup for their data (even then, you’ve left yourself a way out by saying Gallup is not credible). And yes, it’s ten years old, but how often do you think they do polls like this? Nobody cares enough to pay for this kind of research.

    I’m not sure why you think the very specific data that “while 76 percent of U.S. teens always see a reason for their being on Earth, only 13 percent of Japanese teens agreed with the statement” is just conjecture, but it seems pretty specific to me. Maybe you’ll argue that this isn’t the same thing as being hopeless, but to me the connection between a reason for living and hope for the future is clear.

    So basically, you don’t want to believe what I’ve suggested. That’s fine, but even if a lack of hope isn’t as widespread as the article states, the fact remains that suicide is a huge problem in Japan, and that says, to me, that people lack hope. Wikipedia (if you can believe them) says, “Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, and the Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world.[3] 71% of suicides in Japan were male,[2] and it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44.[4][5]”

    So again, from my perspective, Christianity has something to offer Japan. But that’s just my opinion.

  • Henro 88

    “So basically, you don’t want to believe what I’ve suggested.”

    Please, please do not try to play that game – you linked me to World Net F-ing Daily, a known bastion of bias and bigotry. Please do not act like I’M the unreasonable one for asking for another link. You posted a bogus link with no other corroboration – to a survey done by a currently discredited organization. You may not understand journalism or social science, but I have some basic understanding of it, and that article is full of vaguely presented data with no context, no discussion of methods, weasel words; and the leader of the survey, Gallup Jr., giving obviously biased conjecture on things he clearly knows nothing about. The man obviously doesn’t know the first thing about Japan, and the article itself said that Japanese scientists did not think the survey was good.

    As for “13 percent of Japanese teens agreed with the statement;” that’s not what I was referring to. I was referring to the quotes from Gallup Jr., which, as presented on the WND article, are pure conjecture.

    Even so, only 13% of teens ALWAYS agreeing that they have a purpose on Earth is not the same as them being “hopeless” unless we know what the other options in the survey were. How many kids felt they were “sometimes” without meaning? Or how many felt they DID always have meaning? We don’t know. So the 13% number is pretty much meaningless. On top of that, did the survey make sure that the concept of “meaning in life” was properly conveyed to the children? Did the researchers make sure that this concept would translate properly? You may not know this but Japan has a DIFFERENT CULTURE from America, and even if your translation is perfect, cultural conceptions of “meaning” and “purpose” are different. I see nothing in the WND article to indicate that Gallup has any understanding of these cultural differences. Again, the article quotes Japanese scientists as saying they did not like the survey’s design.

    What I DIDN’T mention in my last comment was that my Google searches brought up NO credible commentary on this survey and, in fact, I found Gallup’s data being used on Christian blogs to spread bigoted and ignorant ideas about Japanese culture.

    I didn’t ask for another link because I don’t want to believe the data – I asked for another link because all I was able to find was bigotry and stupidity surrounding this article. I didn’t mention that because I was trying to be polite.

    “So again, from my perspective, Christianity has something to offer Japan. But that’s just my opinion.” Yes, it is just your opinion because, as of now, I’m not seeing any evidence to suggest that Christianity has a single thing to offer Japan. You have a vague bit of data on “hope” and “meaning,” but, again, the data is vaguely presented in the WND article and Gallup Jr. is CLEARLY projecting his own bias on the issue. Furthermore, to put it simply, you present Japan with a false dilemma – hopelessness or Christianity. News flash – there is MORE THAN ONE WAY to have hope in life. That’s not even getting into the inherent evil present in Christianity that would no doubt have a negative impact on Japan.

  • Henro 88

    Oh, and I looked at the Wikipedia article you mentioned. It says SOUTH KOREA is the country with the second highest suicide rate.

    You know, South Korea with the rapidly growing CHRISTIAN POPULATION?

    Gee. Sure fixed their “hope problem”, didn’t it?

  • madbeanman

    I feel that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an of itself. I am totally non-Christian but I feel its kinda systemic of the idea that Japanese people don’t try to get Western culture. It can lead to a lot of casual very very damaging ignorance. Like when they used to sell golliwog dolls (totally inexcusable). I know from talking to exactly all of my Japanese friends that there lack of knowledge on politics (and Im not talking ins and outs or indepth stuff here), different cultures, homosexuality, civil rights issues etc is kinda terrifying. A little bit of PC ness wouldnt be the worst thing for Japan

  • Rikard Swahn

    But there isn’t much difference really.

  • shackra sislock

    This is very upsetting :-/

  • Alilyana

    While to some non-religious people and some people that are religious this is fine, but to me as a Christian…. wait as a religious person in general, this is insulting. If someone died in Japan, do they find fake priest to send them off, probably not as there are traditions that must be kept regarding someones death so they don’t come back and haunt you, so why would you allow someone to tie you to someone else for a “lifetime” who wasn’t even trained or ordained to do so? Marriage is an important step in life and yes its nice to have a nice wedding, but your married life continues after the ceremony and you should want someone official to place a blessing upon it. There is nothing cool about Japan’s bad habit of disregarding and disrespecting other culture’s religion, traditions, and customs just for their own entertainment.