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
<< Music &
Vision homepage Safely grazing >>