Western-Style Weddings in Japan

Are they Christian?

Why does this wedsite usually refer to them as 'Western-style weddings', and not 'Christian-style weddings'?

Christianity in Japan

Christianity in Japan

Christianity is seen as a foreign religion in Japan and churches perpetuate this image by having:

  • Western-style Christmas 
  • Western-style architecture 
  • Western-style hymns 
  • Western-style music 
  • Western-style attire 

History can be tedious, but it's worth reading this...

5th century Christianity probably first arrived in Japan around 400 AD with a bunch of Nestorian missionaries.
16th century There was no Twitter or Facebook in those days so we don't really know how popular Christianity was. But on 15 August 1549, the Spanish Jesuit priest Francis Xavier is reported to have arrived in Kagoshima and set the ball rolling. He only stayed in Japan for a couple of years but it seems one of his maxims was 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do', and the church took on quite a Japanese flavour by incorporating several Buddhist and Shinto elements into the Christian worship.

The shoguns of the time were pretty peeved about this and understandably saw Christianity as a threatening 'foot in the door' by Iberians for future colonisation; just as Europeans were doing to other countries.

Japanese tend to be quite tolerant of other religions and the government's persecution of Christians was sociopolitical rather than purely on religious grounds. The Christian teaching that an individual's conscience and ethic should dictate their belief was hard to swallow by the Shogunate who demanded unconditional obedience.

Consequently around 280,000 Christians were reportedly tortured and 3,000 to 6,000 martyred. We don't know how this persecution (fumi-e) took place, and early modern hagiographers were inclined to exaggerate the number of martyrs. However, the crucifixion in 1597 of six missionaries and 20 Japanese converts is recorded in Nagasaki, executed on the orders of Japan's supreme ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and a further 51 in 1622.

17th century Brass crucifixes were cast at Nagasaki and used with religious pictures to trap Christians. Any suspect who hesitated or refused to trample on these images was presumed to be Christian and punished accordingly. Nagasaki was certainly a dodgy place for Christians, and elsewhere in Japan they didn't have much freedom. In 1624, fifty were burned alive in Edo.

In 1626 Christianity was completely banned, forcing any remaining adherents to hide from inquisitors.

18th-19th century
Commodore Perry's black ships
For the next 250 years Japan shut its door to the rest of the world until the North Americans pushed their way in with the arrival of Commodore Perry's four black ships at Shimoda on 8 July 1853. Six years later, the Westernisation continued with the arrival of seven Protestant missionaries.

But life was not so easy for them either and the persecutions continued as the Tokugawa anti-Christian edicts were still in force. In 1859, ten or more were tortured to death. A few years later 64 Christians were arrested in Urakami, and in Omura 110 were imprisoned. Sixty of them died of exposure.

Things didn't improve much from the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Over 4,000 Christians were shipped to other provinces. Six hundred of them died in exile and it wasn't until 14 March 1873 that international pressure forced the Meiji government to issue a decree withdrawing religious sanctions, allowing the remaining exiles to return home. This was a good start, although complete religious freedom was conspicuously absent from the charter.

20th century In 1908 there were an estimated 960 Protestant missionaries in Japan and they helped establish schools and colleges. Along with trade unions.  Western-style medicine, hospitals, sanatoriums and orphanages, were founded on Western ideas. The association of Christianity with these institutions retained its perception as a foreign religion.

As mentioned above, the Japanese are remarkably tolerant to other religions. Even so, they're an island race and it's natural for islanders to perceive anything foreign as a threat. As recently as October 1941, Dr Roy Byram, his wife and another missionary were arrested for promoting a religion opposed to the state's official religion of Shintoism.

The next year, 42 Pentecostal ministers were arrested for teaching the sovereignty of Christ. Was this religious fervour on behalf of the Shintoist? Unlikely, since Shintoism is all about respect. Was it nationalism? Probably. The Japanese authorities no doubt welcomed the apparent 'progress' from adopting Western ways, such as the colleges, trade unions, medicine, etc. But they would also have realised the threat of Western economic domination.

Although the Meiji constitution allowed freedom of religion, Christianity was still technically a crime with a maximum punishment of death. In the Second World War, Shinto was the official religion and all others were illegal. Christians were seen as sympathetic to the Allies and therefore traitors, so persecution increased.

(Ironically, when the US dropped their atomic bomb on Nagasaki Cathedral in 1945, it killed more Christians than had ever been killed in Japan during centuries of persecution.)

Tokyo is firebombed, Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombed, Japan is forced to surrender

At the end of the war in 1945, as part of the surrender Japan was forced to adopt our God Bless America's one-size-fits-all constitution. After all, if American culture is good for the US then it must be good for every country.

This egocentric arrogance, under the guise of a moral crusade, continues today. Ignoring the Japanese Constitution that prohibits any form of overseas military engagement, Japan was forced to send its troops to support Bush's war in Iraq and Japan is forced to pay for the US military to remain on Japanese soil to safeguard the economic interest of the US in Asia.

Today Understandably, they are not welcome – especially when the servicemen commit heinous crimes against local people. We cannot be surprised if there is resistance to adopt the same religion as that of the occupying forces.

In all its history, Christianity in Japan has been a foreign religion and remains so to this day. Scholars doubt that Christianity can localise itself in Japan as much as Buddhism has done, until the sad day when Japan has completely lost its culture to internationalisation.

Western? Or Christian?

Western? Or Christian?

According to the annual survey by Recruit Co., 15% of all new marriages in Japan in 2007 had no religious wedding ceremony, 12% had Shinto-style weddings (down from 80% in the 1960's), leaving a massive 73% majority who chose Western-style weddings. But since most of these couples and their families are presumed not to be believers, these ceremonies are not directed at a Christian congregation.

The trappings are there; the Bible reading, prayers, hymns, but it is not a time for preaching. The couple, their families and friends are there to celebrate the marriage and would be pretty annoyed if they were bombarded with evangelism. The ceremonies are based on Christian teachings but perceived by the couple and guests primarily as a Western experience, rather than an exposure to Christianity.

And it is that perception which labels them 'Western-Style Weddings' and not 'Christian-Style Weddings'.

Related discussions:

Old Victorian or modern European; none of them have much oriental style.

Usually old English; Japanese words but Western music.

The keyboard is international now, but evolved from the European organ, the Italian 18th century piano and the earlier 16th century Italian harpsichord. Often other Western musical instruments are used, like the guitar, violin, flute, etc., and not the Japanese koto.

White dress for the bride, tux for the groom, and the pastor wears a gown. They do not wear Japanese kimono, hakama, kariginu, eboshi, tabi, kesa, etc.

A Western idea introduced by missionaries to help with some of the problems Japan faced during its early industrialisation.


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