To people who might question Adam Altar's credentials as an "ordained Christian minister" licensed to perform weddings in Japan, Altar would respond by turning the other cheek.

But from the perspective of young Japanese who mostly value pageantry over religiosity, he views himself as providing a more meaningful service than his counterparts who carry out wedding ceremonies in traditional Christian denominations.

"You have to be under the umbrella of someone to do this job. I am not fake. I am licensed and ordained in two different churches," the 44-year-old Altar said in an interview.

The American, who is also an English teacher and part-time musician but officiates Tokyo weddings on weekends, said he got one of his licenses online from the Church of Spiritual Humanism "for around $10 bucks."

Since the late-1990s, Western "white weddings" overtook Shinto nuptials as the ceremony of choice, and with this, the foreign "pastor" found a niche market where his services at expensive hotels and wedding chapels became the new vogue.

Foreign nationals are not permitted to perform Christian weddings or other religious services in Japan without a proper religious activities visa sponsored from abroad.

Christian clergy who oppose the ceremonies call many such foreign celebrants "bogus pastors." But bridal industry sources argue that neither the participants nor the host venues, in the majority of cases, consider such Christian-styled weddings to have overt religious meaning.

For participants, the weddings are mostly a chance to don a tuxedo, wear a wedding veil and walk down the "virgin road" (wedding aisle), bridal insiders say.

FEATURE: Christian nuptials all about inclusiveness, says American celebrant 

Only about 1 percent of Japan's population of roughly 127 million is Christian, according to data released by the Cultural Affairs Agency in 2015.

But a 2011 survey by research company Bridal Souken found that in the first several years of the new millennium, Christian-styled weddings accounted for about two-thirds of Japanese unions, and even now a majority of people still prefer them over Shinto or secular ceremonies.

Foreign celebrants, who in Altar's experience are invariably Caucasian, are mostly hired by companies subcontracted by "kekkonshikijo," exclusive wedding chapels.

"The chapels have nothing to do with congregations or worshippers. The Western ceremony is a chance to wear the nice dress and be like Cinderella or Snow White. Probably the men too, they want a bright ceremony to invite their friends to," he said.

Many job wanted ads used to be posted online, but nowadays most people are referred by friends, and the business, while still profitable, is harder to crack into, Altar said.

Altar, who took an academic course on the New Testament at university, says around 2000 when he started out, he could make about 40,000 yen (about $370) per ceremony, but the fee has fallen sharply with the increased number of celebrants. "It's about 10,000 yen for one 20-minute ceremony. But on a good day, even now, I can make about 50,000 yen (for several weddings)."

Money aside, Altar says for him it is all about getting couples to relax and have a "good wedding," which he conducts in Japanese. He has performed more than 1,000 Christian-styled weddings.

"I wouldn't say (all foreign pastors) do, but I take the responsibility very seriously because if it were my wedding day I would be pissed if somebody screwed it up."

"Rather than a 'regular pastor' my focus is not on God as it is on the couple. The religious tones can be extreme," said Altar, adding that sometimes when he launches into his spiel about God he can feel participants tune out.

"You say stuff like, 'Shu Nomi Mae De' -- In front of God (only) -- you do this and that, and they're like, ugh, but they wanted it, then they really got it," he said with a laugh. "I'm doing it, so it's like, I know man, but this is what you bought into."

Kiyoka Smith, 36, who worked as a regional wedding planner for about 10 years, agrees that the allure of the Christian-styled wedding has little, if anything, to do with religion.

"I think it's visual, something Japanese yearn to be like. It's about the image of the (Christian) wedding, not religion," said Smith, who met her husband-to-be at a Christian-styled wedding she was working at when he had a job there as a foreign pastor.

FEATURE: Christian nuptials all about inclusiveness, says American celebrant 

Jesse LeFebvre, 36, a doctoral candidate in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University who has a masters in Japanese religion, interviewed 67 different individuals in the Kanto area, including those considering Christian marriages as well as foreign and Japanese ministers, to write his paper entitled "Christian Wedding Ceremonies --'Nonreligiousness' in Contemporary Japan."

He argues that nonreligious attitudes in society often contradict behavior that is unmistakably religious at its core -- a tendency to rely on religious professionals and rituals in a vicarious way when they suit a specific purpose, even though most Japanese consider themselves to be "mushukyo," or nonreligious.

Japanese are said to live by the creed "born Shinto, live nonreligious, wed Christian and die Buddhist."

"The thing I found interesting is when Japanese people said they were not religious they were quick to point out that it did not mean they were rejecting religion," LeFebvre said in a phone interview.

"What they're saying is I'm not in a cult, I'm not a weirdo, I'm normal. But it's very easy to see other people as religious. So foreigners, like being Caucasian for example, is a sign to many Japanese that this person is authentically Christian."

Because of a superficial religious understanding, Japanese often fail to differentiate between Protestant religious groups, which in general have looser restrictions regarding marriage, and Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity, LeFebvre said.

"I had several people who said they would never trust a Catholic priest who wasn't married and had his own family because how would he know about weddings? I was thinking in my head that's a good point, but you know Catholic priests aren't allowed to marry, right?"

Thousands of kekkonshikijo, half of them freestanding wedding chapels designed to meet expectations of aesthetic gothic beauty and authentic religious decor, have sprung up around the country in recent years, according to LeFebvre.

By hiring foreign celebrants, the bridal industry, with an estimated value of 2.52 trillion yen ($22.95 billion) in 2016, has also found a way to cope with a scarcity of Protestant ministers who are generally unable to officiate weddings on weekends because their main duties fall on Sundays.

LeFebvre said although Japanese ministers might be favored within a small minority concerned about whether a foreign pastor is authentic, Western Caucasian men usually get a pass because of a pervasive perception of them fitting the Christian bill.

"If it looks authentic, sounds authentic, then it must be truly authentic. (Japanese) don't go to church or know a minister but because the minister at the wedding chapel is Caucasian (to them) he must really be Christian."

Despite being nonreligious, all of the interviewees said they sincerely pray even at Christian-styled weddings.

Atsuo Murakami, 45, who works in Tokyo and is a member of the United Church of Christ in Japan, said he has less problems with Japanese participating in Christian-styled weddings, but he wonders why more ministers are not Japanese.

"I guess the idea is to convey this exotic part of a package. I have less hang-ups about the (nonbeliever) participants doing a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony. As long as they get together and pray, I think the presence of God is anywhere," Murakami said.

As for Altar, he is confident that the Japanese couples he marries value his service, whether they are nonbelievers or true Christians. The vows, such as "to love, honor and cherish," are universal, he says.

"Most Japanese are completely agnostic, just like Americans. They're not your flock. If I were marrying my flock, it would be a different story. But if they believe, then I believe not in Christianity but the idea of Jesus as in turn the other cheek or giving food to the hungry. That to me is Christianity."

FEATURE: Christian nuptials all about inclusiveness, says American celebrant