Christians make up only 1.4% of Japan’s 127 million population, but Western “white weddings” now account for around three quarters of all bridal ceremonies, which means Christian priests are in high demand. To meet their clients’ expectations bridal companies have given up on trying to find ordained ministers and have kept requirements to a minimal – men looking foreign-enough to pass as Christians who can speak a little Japanese and perform the ceremony in 20 minutes.
Japan’s love affair with Christian wedding is believed to have started in the 1980s with the televised weddings of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and was fueled by the nuptials of Japanese pop star Momoe Yamaguchi. People, women especially, were attracted by the idea of celebrating their marriage through a ritual that revolved around love and that elevates the bride to the status of princess even for a short while. Traditional Shinto weddings, on the other hand, encase women in a wig and kimono, and are focused more on the merger of two families. The Japanese simply fell in love with the sharp dress code, the kiss and the overall image of Western weddings over their centuries-old traditions. But in order to have a genuine-looking ceremony, they wanted Christian priests, which were pretty hard to find. That started the now famous “foreign fake pastors” trend that saw companies and hotels hiring average foreign gentlemen with minimal knowledge of the Japanese language to perform Christian weddings.
Photo: Asian Offbeat
One doesn’t even need to be Christian in order to carry out the task. In fact, the less religious the pastor, the better. The words spoken during a Western-style wedding are important, but companies are just looking for nonreligious guys who can stick to a script, because they realize for the average Japanese this kind of ceremony is more about the image rather than the essence. You can find real Japanese Christian priests to perform the nuptial ritual, but a Western man just fits much better into the picture than an Asian ever would. Playing Christian priests has become a well-paid acting gig for many foreigners, but the practice is obviously frowned upon by genuine pastors. “It is a real problem for us. They are not genuine and they give us a bad name,” one of them told the BBC. “It is important for the bride and groom to have a proper wedding, and they are not getting it from these foreign priests. I have even heard of hotels using staff when they can’t find anyone else.”
Fake priests try to put on a genuine performance, and some even use wedding scripts complete with all the necessary lines to make sure everything goes according to plan. Some of the most popular actors are flown all around Japan to do weddings, while others are hired long-term to perform in spaces designed to look like churches, chapels or cathedrals and built especially for fake weddings. They can earn hundreds of dollars for 20-minute ceremonies for which they have to put on the ceremonious robes, recite a few lines in English or decent Japanese and tell the couples to kiss. It may sound a little sacrilegious, but since it’s all about the image and not the religious aspect, most of the priests are fine with it. “If people are crying by the end of the wedding, I think I have done a good job,” one of them says.
Hiring foreign-looking stand-ins seems to be really popular in some Asian countries. A while ago we reported about a trend in China that involves companies hiring white men to pose as business partners in order to make them look more international to their real partners. Over there it’s called White Guy Window Dressing.