Friday 27 July 2018

Christianity and Religion in Japan: Churches in Karuizawa as the Ideal Wedding Venue

How many Christians are there in Japan today? The latest data from the Agency for Cultural Affairs (bunkachō =文化庁) gives a figure of 1.9 million "believers" (shinja =信者) for 2017, roughly 1.5% of the population. The data needs treating with care though: the total number of "believers" for all religions is given as 182 million, which at first glance may seem a little surprising given that Japan's total population is only 127 million! The reason is that many Japanese believe in multiple "religions", particularly Shintoism (for weddings) and Buddhism (for funerals). In this way, most Japanese embrace and enjoy diverse "religious" practices and rituals, including Christian ones, which are treated more like customs. The fact that the majority of Japanese claim that they are "non-religious" (mushūkyō =無宗教) - meaning they do not belong to any religious organisation - backs this up.
Japanese couple getting married in the Stone Church, Karuizawa

As mentioned in the previous post, Karuizawa, which is today a rich man's escape from the fierce Tokyo summer, was discovered - some even say "established" or "created" - and developed by Christian missionaries. The first of these was Alexander Croft Shaw, a Canadian missionary of the Anglican Communion, who, in 1888, took a liking to the cool climate of the area and built a cottage to spend summers in with his family. Today, every August there is a Shaw Festival when people lay flowers under Shaw's bust in front of Shaw Memorial Church.
Britishprof and students in front of the Kogen Church, Karuizawa

Shaw Memorial Church is just one of many churches and chapels dotted around Karuizawa which has made the town the place of choice for many couples to exchange their vows. Indeed, in recent years Christian-style weddings seem to have become increasingly popular as an alternative or even in addition to the traditional Shinto-style wedding - regardless of whether the couple are Christian or not. The Karuizawa Wedding Association was established in 2009 under the slogan of "Making Karuizawa the town of weddings" and the homepage currently lists 10 churches and chapels including two I visited: Kogen Church (高原教会) and Stone Church (石の教会) both in the forest in the Hoshino area of Karuizawa, a 10-minute walk from Harunire Terrace.
Outside and inside the Kogen Church, Karuizawa

The Kogen Church, a wooden building with a distinctive pointy triangular roof was built in 1921 and like many churches in Karuizawa is open to all people and boasts gospel worship on Sundays. The church holds a summer candle night throughout August from 6:30 to 9:00pm, with special events, such as a choir, from 13th to 17th, when hundreds of candles and lanterns are lit in the forest around the church - a quite spectacular sight.
Outside and inside the Stone Church, Karuizawa

Nearby is the Stone Church, or the Uchimura Kanzo Memorial Stone Church  (石の教会 内村鑑三記念堂) in full, constructed in 1988 by "organic" architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg (Uchimura was a Japanese author and Christian evangelist who ironically promoted "churchless Christianity"!). The stone arches are inter spaced with glass panels which generate a soft light inside the building. The chapel has rows of wooden pews and running water on the stone wall. Some parts were closed off when I visited due to a wedding: there is apparently a year-long waiting list to get married here!
Various shots of St. Paul's Catholic Church, Karuizawa (thank you to L for these!)

A final honourable mention must go to a church not on the Wedding Association list, St. Paul's Catholic Church (聖パウロカトリック教会). This is a Catholic wooden church, near the centre of old Karuizawa, designed and built in 1935 by Antonin Raymond, the Czech architect acclaimed as introducing modern architecture to Japan. It has beautiful stained glass crosses on the doors and a bell tower outside. The church also appears in the novel The Wooden Cross (木の十字架) written by Tatsuo Hori (堀 辰雄) and available here.

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To finish with an historical footnote, it is worth remembering that Christianity was banned nationwide in 1614 - earlier in many localities - and the prohibition was only lifted in 1873, the year Shaw arrived in Japan. During the ban, many Christians were persecuted and killed, the most famous being the 26 "Martyrs of Japan" (Nihon no junkyōsha =日本の殉教者) who were tortured and crucified in 1597 outside Nagasaki. This period was the topic of Shusaku Endo's book Silence (Chinmoku =沈黙) which was recently turned into a film by Martin Scorsese (both pictured). The sites in the Nagasaki region associated with the "hidden Christians" (kakure kirishitan =隠れキリシタン) portrayed in the book and movie were recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of Cultural Assets.