Since returning to Japan, I have been involved in many projects to earn a living for myself and my family, and as a seminary graduate I sometimes work part-time in Japan’s bridal industry.
The bridal industry in Japan has a bad reputation because most of the people getting Christian weddings are unbelievers, as are in fact some of the so-called ministers. Indeed, the largest provider of bridal ministers in Japan has lately been stipulating in its job ads that the only real requirements for a foreign bridal minister are to be able to read a prepared script in Japanese and to look good at the front of a chapel. No Bible training is necessary, and presumably they do not even care if the minister believes in God.
All of this has led many people (ministers included) to believe that the weddings are just a show, and are not taken seriously by anyone. However, while I do not necessarily feel all that comfortable doing these weddings because in many ways they are a show, and pageantry is always given a much higher priority than spirituality, it is truly striking to me how most of the couples treat the wedding ceremonies as very real, and consequently take them much more seriously than many of the ministers or staff members involved.
This can lead to some interesting experiences.
For example, the other day the groom was perfectly relaxed before the ceremony. However, as soon as the ceremony began, he suffered a nervous meltdown. His hands shook so badly that he could barely manage to slip the ring on his bride’s finger. As a part of the ring exchange, the script went like this:
Me: Kono yubiwa wa … (Groom repeats)
Me: watashi no ai no akashi desu. (Groom repeats)
The English translation is, “This ring … is a testimony of my love.” When we practiced this in the rehearsal, the groom had no problem at all. However, during the wedding, after I said, “Kono yubiwa wa …“, instead of repeating after me, the groom said in a very loud voice for all to hear, “watashi no ai no katachi desu!” The translation? “This ring … is the shape of my love!”
Prior to this, the bride was so full of emotion that she was almost about to cry. After this, it all went downhill, and if there were any tears at all, it was from laughing so hard. And the more everyone laughed, the more mistakes the poor groom made. He was very much relieved when the ordeal was finally over. Yet, the couple looked very happy and all appeared to be forgiven and forgotten by the time they left the wedding chapel to ring the wedding bell.
This was but a minor hiccup compared to what transpired a few days later at another wedding, when the bride fainted at the altar. Apparently, she was too nervous, too overstressed, too tired, and too hot wearing her elaborate wedding gown in the chapel. Fortunately, her father was sitting within a few steps of her, and he noticed that she was going down. Thinking quickly, he shoved a chair under her before she could hit the floor. Crouching nearby was the hotel staff member in charge of the wedding. I looked to her and asked quietly what I should do. She looked to the groom and the father, and they both motioned that we should continue as planned, so I soldiered on with the bride passed out in a chair in front of the altar, and the videographer catching everything on tape for posterity.
We came to the vows, and she was now somewhat conscious, but was still unable to hold up her head. Her father nudged her, and whispered “Hai! Chakaimasu!” (“Yes, I swear!”). She uttered a very feeble “Hai! Chikaimasu!” and we continued. Then came the ring exchange. The groom slipped her ring on, and then his own. The next part was trickier, as they were both supposed to sign their names to the wedding certificate. I brought the wedding certificate out and the groom signed it. Then I put it in front of the bride. “Sign it!” her father whispered. Somehow, without really having her eyes open, she managed to scrawl her name.
Next, came to pastoral prayer. I had the groom take her by the hand, and I prayed over them. I gave the longest prayer I could, praying in English that God would give her strength and that she would be able to complete the ceremony so that her wedding day would be a blessed and joyous occasion for her. I continued praying long after the harpist had finished the musical accompaniment.
I do not know if the prayer itself helped, or just if the length of the prayer gave her some much needed time to rest, but when I moved back behind the altar, she suddenly sprang to her feet and stood next to the groom. I made the wedding pronouncement as quickly as I could, and then reminded her in a whisper that there was one more hymn on the program before the exit, asking her if she really wanted it. She nodded her head “yes”, and so we started the hymn. The hymn was one of those that I have only ever heard at a Japanese wedding, and which very few people–even Christians–really know the words to, but she sang both verses without looking at the wedding program. Then, somehow, she was able to stumble out of the wedding chapel to the applause of the guests.
When I was on my way to the dressing room after the service, I saw her and the groom sitting alone in the hotel photography studio trying to catch their breaths. I went in and asked her how she felt, and she explained that she was feeling better by the moment, and that the wedding chapel had been too hot.
She was positively beaming with joy. I have never seen a happier bride.