Invisible Jinja

Invisible Jinja

A couple of weeks ago, Jinja Shinpō ran an editorial about “invisible jinja”. This was not about literally invisible jinja, but rather about the ones that do not show up in any statistics, so most people are not aware of them. There are about 80,000 jinja in Japan that have legal status as religious corporations. There is a great range of sizes and prosperity here, from single jinja that employ dozens of priests to single priests who look after dozens…

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The Power of Words

The Power of Words

I have had a very short piece published in this week’s Jinja Shinpō. On February 11th, which is National Foundation Day, Shinto-related organisations hold events around the country to celebrate it. This national holiday was invented by the Meiji government, and these events are fairly representative of the right-wing and nationalist activities to which jinja are connected. Many of these events are reported, in some detail, in Jinja Shinpō. At one of the meetings, they made a formal declaration, including…

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The Problem of Death

The Problem of Death

A few weeks ago in Jinja Shinpō there was an article written by a priest raising the issue of how to respond to the death of someone closely involved in the activities of a jinja, specifically the question of the period of impurity. As I have mentioned elsewhere, death is a major source of kegarë, impurity, in Shinto. Shinto funerals are never held at jinja, and if there is a death in your immediate family, you are supposed to cover…

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This Year’s Snake

This Year’s Snake

My local jinja, Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, has a matsuri called the “First Rabbit Festival”, because it is held on the first day of the rabbit in March. That is today. (This is as late as it can be, because the days cycle through the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac; this year, the last day of February was a day of the rabbit.) This festival has a number of features, but one that is very visible is the large snake…

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Yaegaki Jinja

Yaegaki Jinja

Yaegaki Jinja is a local jinja in Miyagi Prefecture. I would most likely never have heard of it, except that it is located near the coast, and it was completely destroyed by the tsunami in 2011. Not only were all the jinja buildings swept away and almost all of its sacred forest killed, but after the tsunami the surrounding area was declared at-risk from future tsunami, and people were forbidden to live there. Thus, in one day the jinja lost…

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Length of Service

Length of Service

There is no standard retirement age for Shinto priests. It is also quite possible to be a priest at a jinja without actually performing many ceremonies there, so it is uncommon for priests to formally retire as priests. The comment I’ve heard a few times is that you can be an active priest as long as you can kneel formally (and get up again), but some priests remain formally in office after that, and may even lead the matsuri. There…

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The Grand Renewal of Kasuga Taisha

The Grand Renewal of Kasuga Taisha

The Grand Renewal of Jingū at Isë, where the jinja buildings are completely reconstructed and the treasures replaced every twenty years, is famous, and a major focus of the activities of the Shinto world. It started in 690, and has only been interrupted for a century or so, during a period of civil war; there have been 62 in total. It is not the only Grand Renewal, however. The latest textbook for the Jinja Kentei, the Shinto examination for lay…

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Shinto Beliefs

Shinto Beliefs

At the beginning of every year, Jinja Shinpō publishes a number of short articles by people in the Shinto world who share that year’s Chinese zodiac animal. As there are twelve animals in the cycle, that means that the articles are written by people who will turn 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, or 84 in the coming year. (I have not yet noticed one by someone heading for 96 or 108, nor by someone about to reach 12.) A lot…

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Aso Jinja and “Migawari”

Aso Jinja and “Migawari”

Aso Jinja is a large and old jinja in Kumamoto Prefecture, in central Kyushu. It is the Ichi-no-Miya of Higo, one of the old provinces of Japan, and its chief priesthood is hereditary in the Aso family, who used to rule the area as well as lead the religious rituals. It is located in the caldera of an active volcano, which is less exciting than it sounds, as the caldera is enormous, and the volcano is much less active now…

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Shimëkazari: New Year Decorations

Shimëkazari: New Year Decorations

New year is a very important period for jinja, and in Japanese culture more broadly. It is the only time of the year that almost everyone takes off, and a shop claiming to be “Open all year, no holidays” means that they are open over the new year period; the sign may even include a note saying that they are closed in August. Most people spend the time with family, particularly with family they do not normally see. It is…

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