Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Real Wedding, Fake Church

This past Friday evening I took off from Shanghai to go to my brother in law’s wedding in Nasu, Japan. I wasn’t particularly happy to be going as it would be a very short trip (I’m back in Shanghai writing this Sunday night), but it certainly did have an interesting aspect to it and one that I have been waiting to write about ever since I took a road trip with the family to scout wedding venues more than a year ago. I found out then that the happy couple wanted to have their wedding in a church. I found, and still find, this odd since neither of them are Christian nor have any inkling of Christianity, but there is an increasing number of couples in Japan seeking this style wedding.
I had heard of this before, namely because when I first moved to Aizu I saw a church, remarked on it, and then was told it wasn’t a real church. Not a real church? Why would anyone build a fake church? Well, because western weddings held in churches are atheistically pleasing to Japanese eyes. Every Japanese girl wants to wear a white dress and to marry in a church. They get the idea from movies and t.v. shows made in America, that these western weddings are much more appealing than their domestic weddings involving being married at a shrine wearing a kimono. While I understand the desire to have the type of wedding you want, I somehow find it shameful to be the main characters in a religious ceremony that you don’t believe in nor really have any idea of the cultural significance involved.
So last year I found myself standing in what really did appear to be a church and asking Aya all sorts of questions like, is there a real priest? Is this legal? What about all the church relics around the building? The answers are sometimes, yes, and they are mostly real.
The ceremony also included some Christian songs, like ‘I’ve got a friend in Jesus’, and a whole lot of amens along with a collared priest. I did not have a chance to ask the priest if he was real or not. However I can guarantee that the name of the place, St. Marries, is not.
I imagine that a lot of the rest of the ceremony was made up. There were parts that I recognized as part of a western style wedding. The father gave the bride away, rings were exchanged, there was a kiss, flowers and rice were also thrown. Everything was out of order though and very staged.
I am not a devout Christian, but it does bother me to see people disrespecting religion. Many of the objects I saw in the “church” were obviously objects which had been blessed. Transferring stain glass to your fake church is one thing, but chalices are another, I thought. Wondering on the state of this I emailed my mother to ask her about it and she confirmed for me that yes, in fact, these objects should not be sold to someone who will not use them in a religious way. She said, “…an object blessed for sacred use should not be used for other common use unless it is disassembled or such that it does not resemble the original use.” One particular item I noticed was a monstrance that was on the altar during the ceremony (pictured) which is used to hold a host, or blessed wafer. It does not appear, however, that they completed the farce by putting a fake host inside.
I have talked to a few people about this whole scenario trying to make sense, to come to a point of why I was so fascinated with this. Sure, it was a bit amusing, but why did this stick with me? I finally found the answer today while talking to another teacher. Why does a thing like this exist in Japan and not in America? Well, because we are a diverse society and in order not to disrespect our fellow citizens we wouldn’t go so far as to fake a religious ceremony. Japan, on the other hand, is not a diverse society. The Japanese wouldn’t begin to think of this as a heavy offense because in their society there is no one to offend.