Kanda Myōjin

Kanda Myōjin

Kanda Myōjin is an old jinja in Tokyo. It claims to date back to the eighth century, and thus predate the city by about nine centuries. It may well be that old; it is certainly known to have existed before the Tokugawa shoguns moved their capital to Edo and turned it into a city. It claims to be the general tutelary jinja for the city of Tokyo as a whole, with a focus on the people who live there, rather than on the government. That is, it is a popular jinja, rather than a formal one.

This is manifest in several ways. First, the kami enshrined are normally described as Daikoku, Ebisu, and Taira no Masakado. Neither Daikoku nor Ebisu appears in the original Shinto myths, and thus they were rather downplayed by State Shinto, but they are both among the seven gods of good fortune (not all of whom are kami, sort of — that’s another complex issue) and very important in popular devotion. Daikoku is identified with Ōkuninushi no Ōkami from the legends, which is fairly standard, but Ebisu is identified with Sukunabikona no kami, which is much less usual. Taira no Masakado is famous for declaring himself in Tennō in a rebellion in the tenth century; it’s fair to say that State Shinto was not very enamoured of him. Indeed, they were so unenamoured of him that they moved him out of the jinja; he was moved back in after the end of the war.

Second, Kanda Myōjin takes its association with Akihabara, which is within its narrow Ujiko area, seriously. It has organised several collaborations with anime and manga artists, and recently accepted the offering of a large, hand-drawn manga scroll by the author of an extremely long-running serial. Kanda Myōjin has had, and may have at the moment, several ema (votive plaques) with designs taken from popular anime or manga. This sometimes includes the female characters working as miko at the jinja. In a jinja publication I read recently, they defended people who offer ema with manga drawings on the back by pointing out that this is, in fact, the original form of ema. It is at least as defensible as writing a request.

Third, they are very explicit about changes to jinja traditions, and very positive about them. For example, they are quite proud of having the first reinforced concrete main sanctuary ever (and, as a result, they are one of the very few jinja in Tokyo with a pre-war main sanctuary). They also published a book in which they described the pre-Meiji customs of the jinja, and how they differ from the subsequent standard.

This approach seems to have worked very well for them: they are in the process of building a new visitor centre in preparation for the 1300th anniversary of the jinja’s foundation. If it wasn’t most of the way across Tokyo, I would probably be looking at going there more often.

(People who have read my Patreon essay about Shinto people should note the miko on the jinja website.)

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