Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Christian Wedding Ceremonies: "Nonreligiousness" in Contemporary Japan

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

Christian Wedding Ceremonies: "Nonreligiousness" in Contemporary Japan

Article excerpt

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Nobuko, a single Japanese woman in her twenties, dreamed of getting married and, although she was not seeing anyone at the time, that did nothing to hinder her ambitions. When I interviewed her she was actively involved in a search for a possible partner, a practice frequently described as konkatsu ?? or "marriage activities." Not only did Nobuko have a fairly precise image of the kind of person that she wanted to marry, she had already imagined many of the details of her marriage to a level that was remarkable. Curiously, although Nobuko did not consider herself Christian or even religious, she already knew she wanted a Christian wedding ceremony. During the interview, Nobuko expressed an avowed disinterest in the traditional Shinto marriage ceremony (shinzenshiki ???) which, at first, seemed to confirm her dispositions toward religion. However, she expressed a similar disinterest in secular options for marriage (jinzenshiki ???) that exist widely throughout Japan despite the fact that a secular wedding would give her an opportunity to don the white wedding dress that seemed to be a crucial part of her marriage day plans. In Nobuko's mind there was only one form of marriage ceremony for her-a Christian wedding. For Nobuko, secular weddings were "just made up" (tsukurimono ???) and "not authentic" (honkakuteki ja nai ???????) marriages.

Nobuko dreamed of appearing, along with her future husband, before a Christian minister in a church to make their vows before God and witnesses who would respond by blessing their union with the sincerity of their prayers. To Nobuko, such a wedding was the perfect embodiment of happiness, it would set her marriage off properly, and propel her happiness and the happiness of her husband into the future. A Christian marriage ceremony meant a happy, prosperous, and above all, successful marriage in a future that might be fraught with troubles and uncertainties but also filled with hope and promise. Furthermore, it was backed by the guarantee of authenticity afforded to it as part of the Christian tradition. According to Nobuko, in these respects the secular wedding could not compare. Moreover, in contrast to her statements regarding her personal identity in which she described herself as "nonreligious" or mushukyo ???, Nobuko felt that Christian weddings were religious and that they should be because no marrying couple would expect anything less.

Nobuko and her dreams of a Christian wedding are not a rarity in contemporary Japan where, for at least the last decade, the majority of individuals wed in a Christian ceremony. Although widely popular, the Christian wedding ceremo- nies of contemporary Japan are frequently discussed as unequivocally secular,1 mere scenery,2 or evidence of the Japanese obsession with fashion and conspicuous consumption.3 Moreover, Christian weddings are frequently treated as religiously inauthentic based upon the fact that those participating (particularly the bride and groom) claim to be "nonreligious." Undoubtedly, the widely televised celebrity weddings of actor Miura Tomokazu and vocalist Yamaguchi Momoe in 1980 and that of the superstars Kanda Masaki and Matsuda Seiko in 1985 did much to inspire consumer trends and generate interest in Christian weddings. The church used in Kanda Masaki and Matsuda Seiko's wedding ceremony even became the setting of the 1991 Japanese television series Itsu ka, sarejio kyokai de ? ? ? ,? ? ? ? ? ? ? and one of the more popular venues in the early years of the rise of Christian weddings. In the following, I hope to restore some balance to the argument surrounding the religiosity of Christian weddings by further exploring statements of "nonreligiousness."

In 1991, one particularly striking example of the debate over authentic religion and the role of faith claims appeared in two articles in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies entitled, "What Constitutes Religious Activity? …

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