Japanese Church Weddings: Christian Only for a Moment

  • What do you think when you think of a Japanese wedding? Perhaps the bride’s white wedding kimonos and the red paper umbrellas and the wooden temples come to mind. However, the reality is that traditional Japanese weddings are expensive, and prohibitively so for many young couples struggling to start their new lives together. So instead of tradition, people nowadays turn to other options, one of which is the Japanese church wedding.

    The church wedding is styled after a Western chapel wedding, where people get married in churches, or chapel-like places, witnessed by a Christian priest. The venue is styled after a Western chapel, like those you may read about in whimsical English children books. Although there are exceptions, they are not actual churches home to a real Christian community.

    The ceremony also is similar to what people think of church weddings- the bride walking down the aisle with father, the lifting of the veil, the sermon by the priest, the singing of hymns and the exchanging of vows. While the priest (who is quite often a Westerner) may sprinkle in some English in the proceedings, the procession is mostly conducted in Japanese.

    So how did Japanese people come to adopt the church wedding into their lives? Far from it being an influence of missionaries who have visited Japanese shores over time, it was pop culture that brought the church wedding into the mainstream. The beautiful and fairytale-like wedding of Princess Diana is cited as one major influence (although the ending was far from fairytale-like, the idea of a church wedding still occupy the dreams of many a young Japanese girl).

    For an outsider, it can be jarring to witness Japanese people who are majority non-Christian get into the proceedings with solemnness (including the singing of hymns and chanting of Amen). Yet perhaps it is a great example of how Japanese people tend to be characterized as non-religious but yet quite spiritual, often able to find meaning in ritual itself, despite the foreign origins of such rituals. The church wedding is nothing but yet another ritual that completes the union of two people who are lucky enough to find love and companionship. And that, if nothing else, is so meaningful, for the couple and their loved ones.

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