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A Japanese notebook - some of it musical,
with composer ADRIAN WILLIAMS


 << Continued from page 1 

Our experience of St Mary's was a strange and cringe-making concoction of Hollywood and gentle, almost child-like Japanese grace. And in no way was it ever going to be a Mass! So many misunderstandings between Japanese and foreigners like me here in Japan stem from the 'I didn't know that they didn't know' routine. Maybe to the guy in the Bridal Office, 'wedding' and 'Mass' and 'candlelight service' are all the same thing.

As for the latter, if we had bought a ticket for Disneyland we mightn't have known the difference. For a start St Mary's turned out to be basically a wedding chapel, about two years old, of the type which spring up like fungus all the time here, usually funded by big business and linked to hotels, satisfying the money-guzzling wedding industry.

Furnished with carol sheets and candles, we were ushered first down into a plush basement, rather like the reception area of The Dorchester, before the fifty or so of us were invited (with impeccable politeness of course) into the garden, which was ablaze with thousands of tiny flashing lights. 'Is this Harrods?' I wondered. A rustling sound in the bushes behind us revealed the dark form of one of two hidden cameramen. Yep, this was religion US-style, on TV. Six singers hired for the occasion, (female of course, religious singing is considered far too feminine for men here) dressed and illuminated like angels drifted out of the main church door and stood facing us on ascending steps, the heavenly road, yes, sir. Cameramen danced around, carols heavy with reverb from a PA system bounced off the surrounding office blocks, and we, captive candle-bearing lambs, were led up into the chapel, into pews imported (we are told) from the UK. A young girl meekly played a pipe-organ (also a UK import, we are told) to one side of the apse. Ahead of us a camouflaged sound system. Just above line of sight, sinister, remote-control cameras squirmed around in the darkness like something from Alien. No escape from the pews, sealed at the aisle-ends by white wedding ribbons. Chinese torture, Japanese style. Not once invited to join the carols, sung concert-fashion by the amplified sextet. Hallelujah Chorus in C major well sung with fixed smiles. No passion, just professional sweetness. Bouncing cameramen pouring lasers of light across the congregation. Full of Christmas spirit and brotherly love, I failed to restrain myself from grimacing at the camera.

Then afterwards the repeated and repeated bowing and thanks, a perfect Japanese gesture of hospitality, a little gift each as we came from church, tastefully wrapped sweets in a colourful bag with strings, 'the sweet and silly Christmas things'.* This is the tradition after wedding ceremonies -- a nice tradition and one which I experienced myself. These gracious touches easily dupe one into accepting all that is most kitch and ghastly.

So as we left and the cameras continued to roll, the temptation to scream was calmed. The relief of escape helped too. And anyway, if I'd mentioned Disneyland they'd just have thanked me for the compliment.

Maybe I'll rewrite the famous poem by John Betjeman as 'The diary of a church Mickey Mouse'.

But then I remembered his masterly poem Christmas and all of this seemed irrelevant anyway.

Copyright © 3 January 2000, Adrian Williams, Tokyo, Japan


* from Christmas by John Betjeman


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