It’s usually a Saturday or a Sunday. Most of the chorus girls I work with are bitches. I dress up in the same old costume and do the same old routine every time. My act’s only 18 minutes long, but they pay me over USD150 for my troubles. Sometimes I do it up to four times in one day. It’s not for just the kids either, the whole family’s there – the whole extended family usually. Occasionally, without meaning to, I make them laugh. Occasionally, if I’m doing it right, I make them cry.
What the hell am I?
Actually, odd and slightly sleazy as all the above may sound, what I do has – in theory anyway – a lot more to do with heaven than the other place. I am a wedding minister. A shameless, godless, moneygrubbing wedding minister at a Japanese wedding chapel. I am very good at my job. I’ve never been late. I’ve never missed a line. (I did once miss out a whole hymn – but only one!) I’m civil to the three girls in the chorus and the organist – even though they’re usually kind of unpleasant (it’s not hard to fathom: I’m getting paid a whole three times more than they are ; ) – and, most important of all, I keep it REAL!
And fake as the whole white wedding thing is in Japan, there’s more than enough reality involved to keep the job interesting. Probably the biggest insight I have gained into the reality of Japanese society is its intricately layered socio-economic class structure. The ‘we Japanese’ catchcry that is echoed by the whole population here is a flimsy veneer over the inequalities of wealth, power and status that characterize Japan every bit as much as they characterize Britain – if not quite as conspicuously.
There are the somber, straight-as-a-ramrod, high-collar congregations that go through what must be the very foreign-feeling moves of the service with as much solemnity as if they were part of an ancient Japanese imperial rite. At the other extreme is the crowd with half-cut air-chewing dad in a scarecrow suit next to mum packed into a synthetic fiber kimono. The groom’s bad boy, orange-dyed mates lounging all over the seats down the back are ogling the bride’s posse of glam chicks across the aisle and shifting and guffawing about the whole adventure, and the service is a mash of flashlights from little cameras and mobile phones. And of course there’s every other kind of congregation in between, each as clearly identifiably distinct a section of the wide spectrum of Japanese society as the last.
I welcome the congregation, I pray, we sing, I read from the Bible about love: how it’s kind, how it’s gentle, how it doesn’t hurt anyone, how it isn’t proud or conceited, how it never gives up. People often sit up a bit and listen because I like those words and I mean them. I give them a little wedding message about their lives from now on, I administer the vows, the couple and I sign the wedding vow, we sing another hymn. The part I’ve memorized is the benediction right at the end. The kindly bespectacled minister now raises his arms over bowed heads of the couple, he summons all that is real, even the dyed heads feel it and drop a little, and in a voice of minor thunder he spells out in the vernacular the solemn promise of betrothal as from the throne of the Almighty. The words ‘for ever and ever’ ring forth over the rented monkey suits, frills, lace, designer trash and now silent photographic gadgets. The climax of ‘let no man put asunder’ arrives as the hush beyond the voice of the Lord’s servant holds its own awed mighty breath. I then lower my hands, look to the vow-bound couple, smile gently and say ‘Omedeto gozaimasu’ (‘Congratulations’). I bid the congregation stand and welcome the newly married couple, and to the strains of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (coming from a real live pipe organ too!) I follow slowly with firm grace at a respectful distance behind the couple as they make their way to the great doors of the chapel, the crowd doing anything from clapping politely to letting off a fresh flurry of little cameras right in their faces and shouting slightly off-color jokes at the groom.
I stand at the door as the congregation files out, bowing, smiling and saying lots more ‘omedeto gozaimasu’ s. My final moment is as a beneficent man of the cloth waving to the crowd watching from outside now as the doors slowly swing closed. I hurry up to the changing room, trying to avoid the girls, shed the cross-embroidered stole, the white collar, the purple shirt, the black robes, get back into my suit and tie (the crowd is still milling outside, so it’s still got to be real) and make as inconspicuous an exit around the happy folk as I can. They’re happier, I’ve shown and told them all about love, and I’m richer. Certainly nothing ain’t got no worse!
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Wednesday, September 07, 2005