Financial trouble - the college where I taught had entered a steady decline with the decline in Japan’s population, which meant there simply weren’t enough students - led me to an eventful life in many areas of employment, many well outside my area of expertise. My response to a want ad from a language school called “English D School” for a full-time English teacher generated the highest paid occupation of my life. But not that of an English teacher. A few moments into my interview, the school’s owner, Mrs. Sagi, a woman in her late fifties in a loud designer outfit, put her Gucci bag on the coffee table between us, spilling my coffee, leaned forward, and began to whisper. Her breath blew fishy in my face. Mrs. Sagi told me my appearance was just what she needed, that in fact the position she was going to offer me was not that of an English teacher. I could earn up to two thousand dollars a day, she whispered shellfishly, spoiled oysterly, depending on how many weddings I could manage. “Weddings?” I wondered. “Yes!” she hissed sardines in a whispered laugh, “We need someone to be a priest for wedding ceremonies. You don’t even have to speak Japanese, and you are smart and good looking so I’m sure you could master the whole thing in one lessonhhhhhhh!” fermented Haddock, pickled herring. I really needed the money so I began right away. I would get twenty thousand yen per wedding, basically just for performing the twenty-minute wedding ceremony, and I could do up to ten on a good day.
My first wedding was in Yokohama. The “English D School” only assigned their priest to weddings many hours away because there could be trouble if anyone were to recognize him. My first and only rehearsal was Sunday morning at The Continental Yokohama, a Yokohama hotel specializing in wedding ceremonies and receptions. “English D School” had supplied my vestments: an alb, a stole, and a chasuble. I wore a T-shirt under the alb, closed the alb with a green cincture, over the alb a stole, and finally over that a chasuble. The chasuble was beautiful, with a lustrous panel of white and gold brocade bordered in magnificent bands of metallic gold, but underneath the alb and stole were old and smelled of fish. I arrived at the hotel rather late, the traffic was hellish and I had made a terrible decision to go by car instead of train, so I only had ten minutes to learn everything about how I was to conduct the ceremony. I chuckle at the recollection of how, in my haste, I wore the stole under the alb. There was very little to memorize for administering the marriage vows. I was to say “Jesus Christ” and “Amen” as often as possible. The guy who was instructing me - Clive Staples, a veteran of three years who was returning to his family business in Ireland - told me that I spoke Japanese too well, that I had to mispronounce the Japanese words and pronounce the English in as foreign an accent as I could manage, especially “Amen”. I clowned a moment, sing-songing “Amen” so the first syllable, strongly accented and drawn out, rose and the second fell. “Ah” rose pleased to the heavens, and then “men” was as in response to, “Is this the restroom for men or for women?” “That’s perfect!” cried Mr. Staples in earnest. He noticed my surprise and assured me that no one, not bride nor groom nor family nor guests, was Christian, so I had nothing to worry about. “Jesus Christ” I was to say in Japanese, so it sounded like “Yyyes Cristo”.
Now I was ready for my first wedding. My “team” for that day was six: an organ player, a flautist, two sopranos, a “Deacon” who served as my assistant, and I. The musicians were all students from the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts. My organist and flautist were very attractive, especially the organist, who reminded me... In fact she looked just like, like the little girl in pink dress and black velvet hat! Indeed she seemed to avoid me, in discomfort, or embarrassment, or disgust. When I asked her her name, she pretended not to hear me. The little girl in pink dress and black velvet hat had become as beautiful as I imagined she would. The sopranos were talented singers, but quite fat, and their choir robes and stoles made them look even fatter. My Deacon was fat and stumpy. An unsmiling man, he had oily hair that appeared to have been flattened with an iron above a squat pockmarked face that... “Professor Ankeito!” I shouted in surprise. But he just scowled, insisting on remaining in character. No, he told me, his name was Cromwell, Thomas Cromwell. No matter how hard I tried, Ankeito steadfastly remained Thomas Cromwell. The poor fellow found himself on my team a number of weddings. I suspect his resulting ill-temper was what lead him to always threaten the bride and groom with damnation to Hell if they broke their marriage vows, or had any mistakes with their marriage papers. I think Cromwell felt it unfair that he only got two thousand five hundred yen per service. He always seemed to be plotting against me. The hotel had its own lovely little “Chapel” on the fifth floor, the floor for wedding ceremonies, with banquet rooms, dressing rooms, everything necessary for a Christian wedding. The hotel also offered traditional Japanese ceremonies, but did not have its own shrine. Traditional Japanese-style wedding parties had to travel by microbus to one of two shrines that were affiliated with the hotel, or as the hotel called them, “Tie-Up Shrines”. My first couple were young and innocent, even though they had a one-year-old daughter. The bride had saved up to pay for this wedding, something she had always dreamed of, and she was overjoyed with this day. Not to tears, but I still recall how her radiant face shone with such innocence, with such love, in the stained-glass light. Her groom had been a rugby player in college and half of the guests were his teammates and coaches, gigantic fellows with great thick necks bulging in their collars and thighs bulging in their trousers. The groom was first stationed by the altar beside me. When the doors to the rear of the chapel opened to his bride and she walked down the aisle with her father, he hunched his huge shoulders and wept, remaining unable to cease weeping the entire ceremony. She looked straight into my eyes as I administered the vows, and he wept. The chapel ceremony ended as it did in most of my hotels after that, with the guests being asked to leave the chapel first. The guests all duly file out into the small foyer at the entrance to the chapel. Lining the foyer, they are given handfuls of rose petals to throw at the newlyweds as they leave the chapel. That marks the end of my gig. Twenty minutes for twenty thousand yen. The wedding party then proceeds down a long corridor to the banquet hall for a lunch or dinner party, but unfortunately the priest is never invited. Unfortunately, for the banquets are invariably lavish, with a multi-course gourmet meal, fountains of Champagne, wine, beer, sake, and raucous entertainment by the guests. But I always peel off in the corridor between chapel and banquet hall. The corridor in the Continental Yokohama was lined with garlanded alcoves, just deep enough to hold marble tablets or scrolls with such mottos as: “Follow the way on Heaben”, “God blessed all His Childrens”, “Love, Harmony, Happiness, and His Foot Steps”, or my favorite, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not toast, it is not proud. It is not lude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in devil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always toasts, always Popes, always strawberry preserves”. I cannot complain, however, because I could always anticipate a perfectly delicious meal waiting for me in my dressing room, a much better meal than that which Cromwell was served. vintage bridal dresses with long sleeves
(From "Charlatan", by Charles LaTan.)