Just like a Hollywood wedding ;)
Last week we mentioned part-time work that pays relatively well in a post. If you are experienced you can quite easily make more than 5,000 yen an hour teaching English in urban areas in Japan.
However, a few years ago I used to make up to 120,000 yen a day working part-time as a wedding celebrant.
This is not exactly an 'only in Japan' job (I've also met celebrants working in Hawaii and Thailand) but Japan is one of the few places you can fall into this line of work if you are male (sorry, female readers), foreign-looking (preferably white or black), speak conversational Japanese, and over 25 or so (it also helps to be tall and have a beard).
In today's post we are going to take a look at what working as a celebrant in Japan is like, how you can break into the industry, and why you might not want to. One quick caveat: I am a fairly militant atheist and not interested in having a discussion about whether the existence of this industry offends you on religious grounds ;)
WHAT AND WHY IS A WEDDING CELEBRANT
As far as I can tell, wedding celebrants in Japan exist because the wedding industry has found it profitable to create and promote 'western weddings' that look like the ones you can see in Hollywood movies. Traditional Japanese weddings are more formal, involve uncomfortable clothes and makeup, and tend to be less popular (they are also less profitable, go figure). Coincidentally, I had a traditional wedding in one of the oldest shrines in Tohoku, and it only cost us about 100,000 yen including renting clothes.
There are certainly some Japanese Christian priests in Japan, but generally speaking they are less popular than the foreign celebrants. They are also busy with their own churches and there probably aren't enough to cover the large number of weddings that happen in spring and autumn. There are also a number of missionaries in Japan, but both they and real priests can be less flexible than the celebrants, so wedding companies often prefer to work with the latter.
Japanese Christians will probably get married through their church, so it is rare to run into them at commercial weddings. I have done over 800 weddings, but don't remember ever meeting a practicing Christian bride or groom.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO YOU NEED?
Well, legally speaking, you need to have a valid visa. Only three visa types allow you to work as a celebrant legally: missionary, spouse, or permanent resident. I am not sure if it is possible to get special permission from the immigration office to do this as a student or other visa type.
If you do not hold one of these visas and do not have specific permission from immigration you could be working illegally as a celebrant and in a worst-case scenario could be deported from Japan and banned from returning.
Most companies would also like you to be ordained. This is easily done online by completing a short course and paying a fee. I was ordained by the Universal Life Church, so can conduct weddings in most of the US. I find this somewhat amusing.
You need to have at least conversational Japanese. Wedding scripts tend to be a mix of English and Japanese, and must be memorized or mostly memorized. The Japanese can be extremely formal. Doing weddings is actually an excellent way of learning keigo :)
In some venues you will also be expected to talk to the bridge and groom and their families before and after the ceremony. Sometimes you'll also be expected to join the party, or to do a 'counselling' session beforehand. I found these difficult!
In practice you will need to be male, and old enough to have some gravitas. For once, being bald or having a beard will be an advantage. If you are tall, blond, and good-looking you can write your own ticket.
Some companies will lend you a gown, often charging a 'cleaning fee'. It is usually better to buy your own (by mail order -something simple in black or white). This pays for itself after a dozen weddings or so.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL WEDDING SERVICE LIKE?
There are different types of venues. The most profitable ones will have several dining rooms around a main chapel, allowing multiple weddings to be performed in a short time. I have done up to eight weddings a day in season. Other places only do one or two weddings a day. The main season for weddings is spring and autumn. Auspicious days (taian in the traditional Japanese calendar) are very popular.
Almost all the weddings I did went something like this:
1. Arrive at the venue an hour or so before the first wedding. Check in with the team (celebrants normally work with a team of musicians and singers). Often one of them will be in charge of all staff at the venue, including the celebrant. Go over the schedule, the bride and groom names (so important!), and the style of the wedding.
2. Do the rehearsal with the bride and groom. This is to make sure they know where to stand, what to say, etc. Usually the celebrant will lead this. It is important to put the bride and groom at ease.
3. Do the wedding. Depending on the venue, each ceremony will last between fifteen and twenty-five minutes. There will normally be a couple of hymns, a couple of speeches and bible readings from the celebrant, a ring exchange, lifting the veil, kiss, etc. The celebrant will lead the whole thing.
4. Sometimes there is something after the wedding: ringing a bell or throwing flowers as the bride and groom pass by.
5. Repeat until you run out of weddings, then you can go home.
WHAT ARE THE PAY AND CONDITIONS LIKE?
When I was working I demanded and usually got 15,000 yen per wedding. That was the going rate at the time, although companies would love to pay less and sometimes were able to. At the best venues you can do tens of weddings per month in season, and a handful per month out of season. At less popular ones there will be fewer weddings.
Some companies send you on long trips out into the countryside to do single weddings. I usually avoided these jobs, or asked for double or even triple pay.
The team you work with can be lovely (I had a great time with some of my teams) or horrible (there are also some really messed-up people working in weddings).
The job is quite easy once you get used to it, but extremely stressful. You cannot make a single mistake, as the whole thing is recorded and mistakes result in complaints and financial penalties. Getting the names wrong, for example, is the worst thing you can do and is pretty much unforgivable. You have to get up in front of large crowds and perform multiple times a day. It's a bit like being a stage actor.
You also end up working most weekends and holidays. If you also have a day job (I did) this can get pretty tiring.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT?
Well, it's still one of the best ways I know of in Japan to make a lot of extra money fast. I think the pay has come down as there are generally more foreigners in Japan now so companies can get people working for less money. I hear that 8,000 yen a wedding is becoming more common.
I was a celebrant for about six years. It really saved my family finances and I am not sure what we would have done if I hadn't had this work. It was nice to work with the brides and grooms -generally they are happy and nervous, and it was cool to be part of their big day. I always felt good if I was able to make things a little bit special for them.
However, it was very much just work for money for me (level 1 on the work scale). It was also exhausting doing it month in and month out. I was happy to give it up once we didn't need the money anymore and haven't really been tempted to go back to it.
I have some good memories and some good stories, and it kept our rent paid and put the kids through school so I can't complain. I'm glad it was an option and glad I did it. I'm also glad I don't have to do it any more.
How about you? Any other wedding celebrants (past or present) out there?