Japan-aholic

A blog about culture and love in Japan

“Fake” Churches in Japan

28 Comments

One of the first things my boyfriend Hitomi wanted to see when he visited my hometown in Canada was a real church.

Wait, a real church?

Yes. Because, ladies and gentlemen, the churches are (mostly) fake in Japan.

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They usually look like that on the outside from the front, but the back is just like a normal building.

What do I mean by “fake”?

In Canada, churches are a place of meditation, mass and prayers; it is, as everyone probably already knows, usually linked to the Christian religion.

In Japan, however, Christianity is not a popular religion. Actually, Japanese generally avoid choosing a main religion consciously, but they do have many holidays and customs related to Buddhism and Shinto.

So, why is there churches in Japan, if those places are not related to Buddhism nor Shinto, and are not a community center where you can seek help and pray?

Those churches have one purpose and one only: to add a Western feel to a Japanese wedding ceremony.

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If you look closely on the left, there is a store that sells bridal dresses. How convenient!

I can actually understand that purpose. It’s true that the inside of a church is very beautiful, with the stained glasses and the high ceiling. But for a Japanese native, it also adds a bit of an exotic feel.

I myself would gladly have a traditional Shinto ceremony in Japan if I get married here, partly because I love that culture, and also because it is still exotic to me. However, I’ve never heard of fake Shinto temples and Shinto wedding ceremony going on in Canada.

Is that culture appreciation, or culture appropriation? The line is fine between those two words, but I personally don’t mind if there are “fake” churches in Japan. A soon-to-be married couple wants a Western feel for their wedding? Then go ahead. I don’t see the wrongness in that.

It is, however, very surprising at first (and kind of funny, I must admit).

And anyway, there is also many things in Canada that are taken from the Asian influence, just to give an exotic feel to us Canadians. Hitomi was very surprised and amused when he saw a policeman in Toronto with the kanji 悪, which means “bad”, tattooed on his upperarm.

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Hitomi posing in front of the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec city. Now THAT’S what I call a church! 

But the funniest and weirdest thing about the Western weddings in Japan is when there’s a foreigner hired only for playing the role of the priest (even if he’s not really a priest, and not Christian).

This job is, as I heard, very well-paid. It is, afterall, a very serious thing to join two people together (by the law) until death to them apart.

If you want to know more about “fake” priests, you can read this post by the popular blog “Tofugu”. It’s very interesting, so I highly recommend it!

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Because those churches are for wedding ceremonies only, they are very beautifully decorated and made easier for that purpose.

I wonder if the fact that I find all this pretty harmless is because I’m not Christian. I guess that for a Christian it might stroke a nerve to take this religion and transform its sacred ritual into something only aesthetic.

What do you guys think? Is that culture appreciation or culture appropriation?

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Author: Jasmine

Jasmine is a 20-something years old French-Canadian student and part-time blogger who loves traveling, drawing, listening to (all kind of) music and eating (everything). To achieve one of her biggest dream, she went in Japan for two months and a half as a tourist in 2013. She was an exchange student at Daito Bunka University in Saitama (near Tokyo) during the year 2014 - 2015. She is now studying to eventually become a nurse back in Canada, so she lacks time to write about Japan. You can still read all her posts on her blog, since she'll let them there for you to enjoy :)

28 thoughts on ““Fake” Churches in Japan

  1. What religion u follow then?

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    • I don’t follow any particular religion. I have spirituality, though. I think every main religion is all in all pretty similar, and every one of them has something nice to offer. I would say my personal beliefs are closer to the ones of Buddhism, by I’m not Buddhist.

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  2. Well, this is amusing! I’ve heard about the fake priests hired for weddings in Japan before but nothing on the fake churches. My university here in Canada has a special program for Japanese students to come and learn English intensively, and I’ve actually met quite a few girls through the program who are Christian. One of my conversation partners came here from an all girl Christian college in Japan. My exchange friends always get excited about real churches and when they go to Montreal they take so many pictures of the churches there. lol

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  3. The priest doesn’t matter because it’s not an official marriage. It’s the same at a Shinto ceremony and presumably a Buddhist wedding. The only recognized marriage is the paperwork done at city hall, a ward office or the like. Some couples get the city hall marriage done far ahead of the ceremony with guests. We did ours about three weeks before.
    I don’t quite get the Christian style wedding. I’m not sure when it became trendy. I’ll have to ask hubby!

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    • I think the priest usually matters because of religion. You need a representative of God (or something like that). So if there’s no religion involved, I wondered why they hire a (fake) priest at all? But yeah, I understand, because if I ever get married and have a Shinto ceremony (even if I don’t believe in that religion), I guess there WILL be a priest.
      Yes please, ask your husband and let us know 😀

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      • Hi Jasmine! I agree that from a religious perspective, a priest is a symbol. But if the people involved in the process don’t subscribe to the symbol, then I don’t feel it has much meaning. I wonder too about the whole set-up. I don’t really get how you can participate in something if you don’t believe in it, but when I found out that the priest was an actor, that changed my perspective. Maybe it’s all for show since the real marriage is at city hall?? I’m still thinking this through.

        Hubby thinks that a celebrity may have had a church-style wedding and this prompted the idea for others. He’s going to look into it.

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  4. I think it is kind of silly really, especially the fake priests, haha! it doesn’t connect with anything else in Japanese culture. But Western-style chapel weddings became popular with Princess Di as hers was the first royal wedding to be broadcast on international TV. Have you seen Japanese wedding dresses? So many frills, ribbons, flounce and lace! In all kinds of colors. I guess it’s like in the West, a girl’s one chance to wear a ridiculous dress (or two!).

    Real Japanese churches are generally in very plain buildings, recycled office buildings, etc. (mine used to be a gym) so even Christian couples sometimes have the wedding in a fake church because the space is prettier or more accommodating of guests.

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  5. Lol interesting!
    There are churches here in India too, but the Christian religion is present in them. I’ve seen Indian nuns too!
    I love your blog, by the way. I found it through Grace’s blog. I’ll be following along, eagerly! ♥

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  6. I’m not a Christian, so I am having a good laugh. I imagine some Christians will feel offended though. If these fake churches happen in Malaysia, there would probably be mass protest.

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  7. I guess it does strike a bit of a nerve but for the most part I’m ok with it because I understand why they do it. But I was wondering, are there also real churches where Christians can actually go to pray?

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    • Yes, there are some real churches, but it’s rare! Some Japanese are Christian too, but it’s not common, so I guess that’s why there’s not a lot of “real” churches. In my hometown in Canada, there are churches in every town/villages, so it was a bit of a shock to me when I came to Japan!

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  8. These fake churches are suuuuper entertaining.
    My husband and I are Christian – so I told him we either needed to find a REAL church in Japan for the ceremony (which is looking more and more impossible), or we’re having it at a Shinto Shrine (because, awesome).

    It’s looking more and more like we’re going to have our Japanese as a shrine.

    The fake churches in Japan don’t offend me, per say, but they do seem a bit… off?

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    • Oh, Ryosuke is Christian too? Are they all Christian in his family? I’m kinda surprised since I feel like it’s a bit rare in Japan! But I think it’s really nice that you can share the same religion!
      I would totally go for a Shinto ceremony, too. I mean, the shiromuku just looks amazing. And well, Hitomi and I are not Christian, so it would be a bit weird to get married in a church (especially if it’s a fake one to get that Western feeling, haha). But I’ve always consider a quiet ceremony outside surrounded by nature, too. I don’t know! I’ve never seriously thought about getting married before I met Hitomi, haha!

      I totally hope you will have a Shinto ceremony, since you already did the “Western style” this year. The pictures would be AWESOME. Can’t wait! 😀

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  9. That is interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘fake’ church here, but I have gone to real ones. I can understand the boom in Western weddings, but it’s certainly strange to think they hire ‘priests’ because they are foreign… maybe they just want to live out their fantasy from Hollywood movies.

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  10. Wow I would have never even guessed. I think it is a little sad and also inappropriate. It is all very well making a replica of an old Victorian street or replicated architecture in that respect but when religion is called into it, it touches a nerve of many people. Surely there should just be a western style church that could also be a community hall or meditation hall? But a church just to have a wedding in kind of belittles the symbolic value of a church.

    Really interesting article though – thank you! Glad to see you are having fun! 🙂

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    • There are “real” churches in Japan too, but they are pretty rare! It’s because not a lot of people are Christian in Japan. But I believe that the Western style churches that were mainly created for weddings don’t really hold mass or prayers sessions. They’re really just well-decorated place where people get married!

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  11. oh wow I didn’t know that!! very interesting article 🙂 I have to check it out next time I am in Japan 🙂

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