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.
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!