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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.

japan-wedding-chapel

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!

gaijin-priest

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!

  • 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.

  • http://shackra.bitbucket.org/ 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.