Wednesday 06 March 2002

A Japanese wedding

A Japanese wedding One of my close Japanese friends has three nieces. In the last couple of years, the two younger girls married (their elder sister was already married with a child when I was welcomed into my friend’s family). I attended both weddings, which were held in a church in the grounds of a “wedding hotel.”

The bride wore a white wedding dress and veil, the groom white tie and black tails. Their respective fathers wore morning suits, and the mothers black kimono. The Scots Presbyterian church was consecrated in 1877 but, as the sign outside explains, “changes in society have meant that churches have combined, with the result that some buildings have required to find new uses.” The church was purchased by the hotel, dismantled stone by stone, shipped to a large city south of Tokyo, and reassembled next to the hotel. It is easily the most popular wedding venue in the city.

The ceremony was conducted by an American minister, who spoke alternately in English and excellent Japanese. The entire proceedings were videotaped—by a camera crew augmented by a number of cameras mounted on the walls of the church. Whenever the bride and groom had their backs to the congregation—for example, during the exchange of rings—the video signal from a camera at the back of the sanctuary was displayed on two large flat screens on either side of the altar, including a zoom and tight closeup as the ring slid onto the bride’s finger.

As I was leaving the church at the end of the more recent wedding, the minister recognized me from the year before and we had an opportunity to chat briefly. He was a Christian missionary who augmented his stipend by officiating at Japanese weddings on the weekends. He seemed a kind, gracious man, well aware that almost none of the young couples he married would embrace Christianity at any point in their lives. Rather he hoped that a “Christian wedding” would leave them favorably disposed to the Christian church so that, if at any point they found themselves in need of spiritual guidance, they might include the Christian god amongst the multiplicity of gods to whom the Japanese normally pray.

In the few minutes I spoke to him, while the wedding party was getting organized for photographs outside the church, I came to like and respect him: his frankness and, more particularly, his lack of doctrinal rigidity amazed me. Then I realized that he’d absorbed—as I have—the relativism towards God and belief that underpins Japanese religious behavior.

The bride’s aunt, my friend, saw it differently. “My family doesn’t really care what religion it is,” she told me during the reception, “as long as it looks pretty.”

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© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour