Thatched church re-created in Osaka hotel

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — A pretty, thatched church has been re-created in an Osaka hotel to give Japanese couples a sense of English tradition for their wedding ceremonies.

Work has just been completed on the replica in Osaka’s Monterey Grasmere Hotel modeled on All Saints Church in Brockhampton, Herefordshire.

Some Christians are opposed to the practice of Japanese hotels replicating churches to hold weddings, arguing it devalues what should be a solemn occasion.

There are also concerns that those taking part are not necessarily Christians and may merely be attracted by the glamour of a traditional Western wedding.

The Rev. William Pridie, vicar of All Saints, said Japanese developers were scouring the British countryside last year for suitable churches to re-create when they came “by accident” upon his parish.

All Saints was built in 1902 by local craftsmen and is one of England’s few thatched churches. The walls of the Brockhampton church, which is nestled in a picturesque countryside, are made of limestone.

Staff from European Connections Ltd. asked officials for permission to re-create the church in Japan. Once approval was given, they used laser cameras to ensure the dimensions were correct.

They were taken with the church’s sense of intimacy, which stems from its early English A-frame arches, rather than the traditional vaulted ceiling.

“We realized they could have gone ahead without asking us, so we were happy to be a part of it,” Pridie said.

The church was given a “nominal” contribution in return.

The replica in Osaka sits inside a large glass atrium and is about three-quarters the size of the English original. It is on the 21st and 22nd floors in a large building.

There have been some minor adjustments to the replica, due to a shortage of space, but Pridie is satisfied with the images he has seen.

The Osaka replica advertises bridal packages for ¥850,000 for 40 people.

Several hotels across Japan have re-created British churches due to increasing demand from couples who want a Western-style wedding but do not want to leave the country.

While many Japanese opt for Christian-style weddings even though they aren’t Christians, the ceremonies often have a spiritual side to them and are presided over by retired priests, which is the situation at the Monterey Grasmere Hotel.

A spokeswoman for European Connections defended the construction of replica churches, saying they allow Japanese to “see” and get a “feel” for Christian ceremonies.

“They may come back to the church and start learning Christianity. If you do not sow a seed, you will never get a flower,” she added.

But David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society, which has the goal of upholding biblical teachings, says services in replica churches represent yet another blow to the sanctity of marriage.

“What people are looking for in a wedding is an exciting and memorable day, rather than seeing it as a solemn occasion when two people make a covenant for life,” he said.

Some Japanese couples also travel to Britain and other European countries to receive a blessing in a Christian church, although it would appear the numbers who do so are declining. Often these church visits are part of a package deal and are arranged by Japanese companies.

Several Church of England vicars have conducted Christian blessings for Japanese couples. The prescribed blessing for a civil marriage is the same as the one that is used for divorced couples who are not allowed to get married in churches but want to consecrate their new union.

However, the blessing of Japanese newlyweds in Britain has been criticized by some clergymen who claim it devalues their religion.

Pridie said he hopes that some of the Japanese couples using the replica church in Osaka might come and visit the real thing in England. However, he personally would not perform a blessing for a Japanese couple in his church on the basis that they merely liked the look of the building.

“We could only do a blessing if they wanted it because of a Christian attitude and not just because they want to use the church,” he said.

Phillips agrees with this sentiment.

He said that while Christians want to encourage marriage because it is good for society, he would want to interview any couple beforehand to ensure they were serious about the vows they were about to make.

The Rev. Martin Dudley, who has performed blessings for Japanese couples at his church in London, has a different take.

“I find the Japanese couples very, very devout and they constantly impress me,” he said. “St. Bartholomew’s the Great (his church) is a profoundly spiritual place and they clearly respond to it. Nothing is said, by them or by me, that could be construed as a mockery of the Church (of England).”