“You Will Have Eternal Life..” or, How Did I Become An Official “Pastor”?

I was a green 24-year old, been in Japan about a year and a half or so. ‘Teaching’ English at one of the chain-schools was not for me, I spent almost every night drunk and every morning doing lessons hungover. Anyone reading this blog is familiar with the type. I was looking for something different and also for a way to study Japanese full time. Randomly, I met ‘Austin Powers’, an English-man wedding pastor. He informed me it was the easiest gig in the country and would leave me free to go to school during the week..

Skip ahead a month or two. I was now a contracted employee of  ‘ABC Music’, an events company with an office way out on the Chuo Line. They said I was a bit young to be a pastor but they were desperate. A few rehearsals, a gown fitting, some video viewing of famous pastors..it all went smoothly. One final thing to resolve and then I would be on my way. I needed a license..

The wedding industry in Japan is an odd one. Because Japanese law states you are married from the moment you sign the papers at the city office, all wedding ceremonies are merely performance. There is no “Justice of the Peace” as in the US who has legal power to marry couples. This would seem to pave the way for anyone and everyone to perform at weddings, yet there has always been controversy. Some Japanese Christian churches find it odd but generally harmless to have a Christian themed wedding at a hotel or restaurant. Unfortunately, some of the Western missionaries were a bit more vocal about their objections.

There is a long-term missionary in Japan, let’s call him ‘Benny Koseph’. He’s been here since after the war and at the time I met him must have been already in his late-70s. At some point, Benny got in a huff about the popularity of Christian themed weddings. Whether this was because he found it blasphemous or because he was not getting a cut of the rather hefty profits, I do not know. But he’s a well known figure in Japan and had some influence here and there..all of a sudden guys working in the industry had to get a ‘license’ from him in order to work.

ABC Music sent me to his house way out in Nerima-Ku for the ‘interview’.  This was a long time ago but I can never forget walking into his living room, sitting down and looking up at a gigantic portrait of Jesus, the Mel Gibson “Passion of the Christ” version. I mean, this was a really bloody, garish painting, just terribly distracting and disturbing. I have no idea whether it was deliberate or not, put there to make people quake with fear.

Benny himself was fairly nice old guy and just asked me about my background as a Christian and what sort of charity work I had done.  I made up some very convincing BS which he bought completely. Then I had to read out the wedding script that ABC had provided me. Benny listened, gave me some pointers, then said it was all fine. He tried to sell me a copy of his book on Christians in Japan (I declined politely), then I forked over his ‘fee’. To be honest, I really have no recall of how much that was..I’m guessing it was about 20,000 yen (roughly US$200). As I departed he leaned out the door and said “Don’t forget: You Will Have Eternal Life!”

And that was it. I got my license (still on my shelf) and was on my way to being an “officially sanctioned” wedding pastor. To this day I have zero idea why the wedding companies made this deal with Benny but I’m guessing they wanted to avoid any possible ruckus with the churches here. Easier to spread the drachma a bit and keep everyone happy I would guess.

  1. Yep, I remember having to pay Benny a visit (and 30,000 yen) when I first started (probably with ABC Music, as well). The setting was very much like you describe.

    He claims (claimed? Is he even still alive?) that he was the driving force behind the Immigration Office’s change in visa regulations that made Humanities & International Specialist visas invalid for wedding work.

    He’d send out letters every few months asking people to buy supplies from him, and asking to send him the names and addresses of people who weren’t affiliated with his ministry so he could report them to Immigration. He’d then add, “and remember, without accreditation from this ministry, you’re not working validly, either.” Hint, hint. By that time I had my spousal visa and just tossed his letter in the trash.

  2. Nice Blog. Would like to do a link exchange but it looks like you don’t have a links menu.
    I just set up a site for PastorsinJapan and please feel free to share your stories via it linking back to here.

    • Jebediah
    • May 16th, 2012

    Josh: have a look at your site. It seems to be unattended and MORIBUND.


  3. That may appear so, but getting a few people signing up to the FriendFinder via that site and that’s making me money….so yes… as you say… ‘Omedetou gozaimasu!’


    Jebediah should try and be nicer in future.

    Please say 10 Our fathers and 10 Hail Marys.

  4. I can’t. I’m a Hellenic Traditionalist, so I shall sacrifice to the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus! Making money from a handful of desperate FriendFinder Geeks?

  5. Josh, why are you posting here now? Shouldn’t you be doing one of your infamous Wednesday afternoon weddings? Ha! Ha! That’s a joke, boy.

    Just kidding with the comments. You guys are allright, even if you are a little goofy!

  6. Josh, I need to get back in touch with you soon. Some ideas to run by you. Catch you offline?

  7. What ideas? Run them by me…..

  8. Isn’t that what Porky Pig says all the time?

    Jebediah, Jebediah, that’s all folks…

    Jebediah, here’s an idea…start up a website of your own that we can visit.

    • Jebediah
    • May 17th, 2012

    No, thanks. Websites are rather absurd. I’d rather do weddings and get the fringe benefits that are my DUE. Heh, heh!

    Now, Josh, tell us again about your week-day weddings.

    Seriously, I am posting the TRUTH about Bokushi. Why is this so hard to accept? Most of us are middle-aged, mild-mannered teachers with mortgages and paunches. I guess the TRUTH HURTS!


  9. I’m neither middle-aged nor a teacher. Sounds like you may have some issues with your position in Japan. Why not attempt some therapy to relieve the anger?

  10. I have only ever done weekend or public holiday weddings. Wouldn’t mind mid week ones if I can! I don’t think Japanese do mid week normal work day weddings do they? Must be rare.

  11. Here’s a chance for you to PROVE that you really are interested in sharing information. Most BOKUSHI are greedy and have no qualms about being considered mercenary opportunists. I dare you to NOT delete this post.

    Also, I particularly enjoy verbally accosting GAIJIN guys in suits at train stations on weekends because 9 times out of 10, they are fake priests. They act very uncomfortable and HATE to admit that they are indeed fake priests. Why the fear? What are they hiding? Try it and you’ll know what I mean.

    I am also very tired of the GAIJIN “Well, Since I do it, it must be O.K.” attitude. This applies to the very amateurish actors that you see on TV as well. Good Lord, I cringe when I see their thespian douchebaggery!

    Surely you people can SEE the NEGATIVE things about fake pastoring. Or is it all just wine and roses? Be honest for once!

    My beef with you is that you are NOT presenting the wedding business as it truly is. You identify with it too strongly to be OBJECTIVE.

    I have decided to give you people a chance. This post contains no insults.

    Have a good evening.


  12. I can only speak for myself. I never hesitate to ideintify myself as a weekend wedding pastor. What is there to be ashamed of?
    So, what are the negative things you are describing?

  13. They do if it is a 大安 (Lucky Day) or on mid-week holidays. But yes, they are rare.

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