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Ask Udder Smith: Religion in Japan

October 11, 2010

Dear Udder:

I just attended a wedding in Japan, at a hotel chapel, and as a devote Catholic myself, I was confused and insulted by some of the practices. When I tried to question the English speaking ‘priest’ afterwards, he confessed he was just an actor hired to imitate a priest!  Can you please explain Christianity in Japan?

Praying for understanding in Kansai.

Dear Kansai:

Japan is famous for borrowing from elsewhere and enacting a unique, Japanese transformation — with everything from culture to language, technology to art.  Religion is the same, as is more obvious with Buddhism, but the same transformations can be witnessed in Christianity.   First, please do not be insulted, and please realize the kind of wedding you attended has little to do with Christianity in Japan.  Such weddings are common at hotels, and the participants are not trying to ‘fake’ a Christian service, but rather create something meaningful and beautiful in a stylized, superficial way  — nothing to do with religion, really.  There is also a ‘Little Prince’ Wedding Chapel in Hakone, from the popular French novel, as well as hundreds of such gimmicky weddings all over Japan and the world, actually. In America you can get married under the sea, while skydiving, and everywhere in between.

Christianity in Japan, on the other hand, stretches back in history to 1542, and includes persecution, determination, and ultimately, perseverance.

If you are living in Japan, your best option is to find a local church you are comfortable with — although statistics claim only 1% of Japanese people are Christians, there is a beautiful melding of religion in Japan that can teach much about tolerance and compassion, for any faith.  Please check your local listings or take a walk around your neighborhood — most churches write their names in both English and Japanese.  Best wishes.

Yours,

Udder

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