(See page 2 for the German Version)
People here in Japan seem to maintain a very harmonious relationship with religion. Other religious viewpoints are not questioned, some aspects are even incorporated into the Japanese culture, and different religions don`t seem to exclude each other. In general, you could even say that in Japan you go to a Shinto shrine on New Year`s day to pray for a good year, funerals are held at Buddhist temples, whereas marrying in a church or chapel (including the original (fake) foreign-looking Priest) is really popular. But of course there are also those Japanese people who have a more personal relation to religion, and who actually know more about for example the many Buddhist customs, which have found their way into daily life here.
One of these persons for sure is my longtime friend Yumi. We got to know each other in Germany, where she was studying as an exchange student many years ago, at a time when we both had to communicate more with gestures than with words, due to the lack of German, respectively Japanese language ability. Yumi`s father is a Buddhist priest, and thus her family`s house has a temple and cemetery attached. So, a while ago I was pleasantly surprised when I received an invitation to her wedding. The first Japanese wedding that I would attend! When I told my work colleagues about it, they were surprised that the wedding would take place in a Buddhist temple, which apparently doesn`t happen often at all.
That is why I was more than excited, when on one morning in November I got off the privately rented little bus that took me and some other guests to the family temple. As we arrived there about one and a half hours before the wedding, there was more than enough time to get used to the surroundings and to get to know Yumi`s friends from university (which by the way also all said that they attended a Buddhist wedding for the first time). When the wedding began we were all equally excited. First of all I must say that Yumis kimono looked stunning, and her groom also wore traditionally white wedding clothes (Haori and Hakama). Most of the other women who were invited to the wedding, by the way, wore a kimono,too, which made me feel even more out of place in my normal dress.
At first, priests of the various neighboring temples came into the temple hall, while playing an unmelodious melody on traditional instruments. This was followed by the wedding couple and the priest who would marry the two, entering the temple. After everyone had sat down, he read out loud some sutras, to which the other priests would join in sometimes. Then the couple exchanged their wedding vows and put on Buddhist prayer beads. They exchanged rings and both bride and groom as well as their parents lit a kind of incense. Afterwards we all got a tiny bowl with a small sip of sake to toast to the married couple together. Still being quite awestruck we silently watched as the couple left the temple again at the end.
Since I don`t know a whole lot about Buddhism, I could not understand everything that happened during the ceremony (although it certainly had some similarities to a Christian wedding), but regardless I could feel the solemnity of the moment and the importance of being aware of the meaning of `being married`. Here too, marriage is seen as something sacred, and something that shouldn`t be started or ended without much consideration.
With this, all the best for the future, you two 🙂