An increasing number of couples in Japan are asking Christian pastors to lead them through their marriage vows, says Lawrence Spalink, Japan field director for Christian Reformed World Missions.
Even though many Japanese see these weddings mostly as a ritual, the phenomenon reflects a growing level of acceptance of Christianity in Japan, Spalink says. Of the non-civil marriage ceremonies in Japan, more than 50 percent are officiated by Christian clergy or laypersons playing the role of clergy.
“Although this wedding phenomenon is more an indication of style and romantic cultural trappings imported from Hollywood movies than it is a move toward faith in Jesus Christ, it is still significant,” Spalink said in a recent letter.
Christianity has been slow to take hold in Japan. For many years people were punished if they joined a Christian church. It is estimated that up to 200,000 Japanese have given their lives over the years “rather than renounce their loyalty to Christ,” Spalink writes.
Christians still make up less than 1 percent of the Japanese population. Even so, after many years of persistent effort on the part of pastors, educators, medical personnel, and others, the climate seems to be changing, he says.
Spalink traces the start of this new tolerance for Christianity to the outpouring of charitable largesse toward Japan after the Second World War.
In the past 60 years “Christian workers have . . . brought to Japan, as they have to so many places in the world, good medical care and educational institutions,” says Spalink. “Many ministries to the less fortunate still continue to break new ground in modern-day Japan, all slowly contributing to this new, more favorable attitude.”