TOKYO, Japan — On a recent Saturday afternoon at a fake European village in Tokyo, a group of Japanese women with fake eyelashes sipped cappuccinos at a fake French cafe and watched a real wedding.
A Japanese couple in Western wedding clothes was getting married in a fake, vaguely European-looking chapel by a Caucasian priest. A fake one, of course.
Venues with European themes have exploded across Japan. There's the Country Farm Tokyo German Village, a Nagasaki Holland Village or Shima Spain Village. This particular hot spot, the Partire Bay Wedding Village, lies in the midst of Odaiba, the artificially created island in Tokyo Bay. It sits just past the replica of the Statue of Liberty and near the Venus Fort, a Venice-theme shopping mall built in the Las Vegas architectural style.
The surroundings here — a somewhat quaint village square with a Romanesque fountain, complete with a live mime — are supposed to recreate an authentic European street scene. Many young Japanese consider it an ideal and cosmopolitan setting for what they call a Western-style wedding.
It's working. The Partire Bay Wedding Village hosted eight weddings on this single Saturday.
Partire Bay Wedding Village. (Iva Skoch/GlobalPost)
“It's beautiful and feels like Europe,” said Momoko Yamazaki, one of the young women who are considering getting married here next year. “It's very perfect.”
And perfect it is. The cobblestones are perfectly symmetrical. The building facades are clean. The flowers in the windows always look fresh and don't need watering. The waiters at the French cafe are shockingly pleasant. It's like Europe, but a lot more perfect.
In current marketing lingo, it's simply “faketastic.”
And if there's one country that takes faketastic — a term for things and experiences that are both fake and fantastic at the same time — to a new level, it would be Japan.
Toilets in Japan have a fake “courtesy flush” sound button.
Fake plastic food samples, molded shrimp by shrimp in gnarly detail, rest behind restaurant windows.
The Honey Doll, one of the most intriguing inventions in the faketastic category, is a sexbot that has touch sensors, real moans and fake orgasms.
The Japan Ocean Dome, an indoor beach with artificial fish and marble sand, is home to a fake volcano that spits out flames every hour.
A coffee shop in Kyoto imitates the effect of cherry blossoms falling so well indoors, one hardly needs to see the real thing.
In the book “Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan,” author Alex Karr argues that Japan's idea of modernity is rooted in the 1960s, in concepts long discarded by other developed societies. For example, the notion that man-made, artificial objects are always better than those authentic and natural ones because man can make things neater, cleaner and, well, more perfect.
The wedding industry, one that thrives on the illusion of perfection, has been able to capitalize on the Japanese psyche perhaps better than any other. Office Agents, a company in Tokyo, offers friends and wedding guests for rent to those who fear they might not have enough of their own. Such hired friends can pretend to be anything from executive assistants or ex-lovers to important clients, for about $200 per event.
Agencies that rent out Caucasian men to dress as priests have popped up all over the country to feed increasing demand. Droves of gaijin (foreigner) English teachers have welcomed the trend and are subsidizing their tutoring stipend by performing as priests in wedding ceremonies.
Adam is one such fake priest. Adam, who requested his last name not be used because it's a sensitive issue with the local Christian community, is an American who lives outside of Tokyo. He marries about four couples each weekend. He doesn't know exactly how his agency markets him to his clients, but he suspects many of the couples don't know he's not an actual priest. He believes they wouldn't mind, even if they knew. What matters is that he plays into the “Western facade” concept.
“My theory is that it's the Disneyland effect,” said Adam, in a cafe in Yokohama, with his priest robe in a suit bag next to him. “[The] majority of people in Japan love going to Disneyland.”
Both Disneyland Tokyo and Western-style weddings, he says, tap into the same romantic fantasy.
According to Yu Moriyama, a marketing specialist from Osaka, Japanese people love to fantasize and dream of living in a perfectly romantic world. “They see nicely photoshopped images of Europe in magazines and online and create their own fantasy world looking at the photos,” said Moriyama. “And it sometimes disappoints them when they actually visit the country and see the real thing.”
This acute state of disillusion, or “Paris Syndrome” — coined by professor Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France — affects many Japanese tourists who visit France every year, but about a dozen each year have to be hospitalized with severe symptoms such as hallucinations and anxiety coming from delusions of being a victim of prejudice and hostility.
Moriyama said his countrymen like to take the best parts of Europe and recreate them in Japan partly for that reason. “If it's artificial, everything's clean and beautiful,” he said. “It doesn't ruin the fantasy world and one can keep dreaming.”