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Popularity of Japan wedding chapels not seen as church growth


The popularity of chapel weddings in Japan does not translate into an actual commitment to faith and Christian affiliation, a sociologist of religion at a Tokyo university says.

"It would appear that brief encounters with religious professionals (and strangers) at wedding chapels – that is, anonymous individuals outside of such established relationships – are unlikely to have a long term impact," Professor Mark R. Mullins of Sophia University in Tokyo told Ecumenical News International.

A survey carried out in October by Recruit Co. Ltd, a large Japanese information company, found that 70 percent of newly-wed couples in Japan got married at "Christian style" weddings.

In 1975, Japan’s first temporary wedding chapel was built in Tokyo’s Keio Plaza Hotel, starting a trend in a society that is not considered particularly devoted to practising religion.

The number of Japanese wedding chapels has grown particularly since the late 1990s, according to Taro Igarashi, an associate professor of architecture at Tohoku University in the northern Japan city of Sendai, and author of a book, "The Birth of ‘Wedding Churches’", published in Japanese in August.

IN 2007 there were 1358 places in Japan for Christian-style weddings, including 699 "independent" wedding chapels detached from hotel buildings. The previous year there had been 1228, including 589 such chapels, according to the Recruit survey.

Often it is women in Japan who chose the wedding chapels for expensive "European-style" weddings, according to Igarashi.

Some wedding chapels at the end of 2007 also organized Christmas Eve services where there was the possibility of engaged couples being able to make reservations for their weddings.

There are many people who dress up as pastors and priests to officiate at weddings, although they are not ordained clerics. Still, the Christian Bridal Mission, a Tokyo-based company established in 1980 by the Rev. Sadao Honda, pastor of Sharon Gospel Church in Tokyo, has dispatched about 3000 experienced and knowledgeable ministers, musicians, and choirs to wedding chapels throughout Japan.

The mission aims to "share the love and the Gospel of Jesus Christ" to as many people as possible through Christian-style weddings.

Yet Mullins, a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Japan, citing the declining population in Japan, said, "In fact, we have probably already passed the peak of the so-called ‘Christian wedding’ boom." He noted, "With the declining population, it’s hard to imagine that all of these wedding chapels will be viable businesses for very long."

Mullins explained, "Established churches providing these wedding services, which usually require several weeks of classes about the Christian faith, marriage, and family life, probably have a better chance of establishing genuine relationships. If these encounters are positive, it could be that some Japanese will eventually be drawn back to the church as a helpful resource for family life."

He added, "Sociological studies of religious conversion usually indicate that individuals are guided into a new faith by a family member, relative, friend, or co-worker, that is, people with whom individuals already share relationships and bonds of trust." 

Christians are thought to make up less than one percent of Japan’s 127.4 million people.

Ecumenical News International