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An Article in Jinja Shinpō

I have a short article in the latest Jinja Shinpō. (It’s on page 5 of the April 3rd issue, if you happen to have access to it.)

The article is about foreign tourists at jinja, a topic that has been receiving quite a bit of discussion in the pages of the paper recently. Since I have been a foreign tourist at a jinja, I wrote a bit about it from that perspective.

I think that there is a problem. I think most foreign tourists see jinja as a collection of traditional Japanese buildings, possibly with a nice woodland or garden attached. That, however, is a complete misunderstanding of what a jinja is. The buildings are unnecessary, even if they are National Treasures in some cases; the point of a jinja is that it is a place to pay one’s respects to the kami.

Thus, it would be appropriate if foreign tourists had the opportunity to do that. A simple formal omairi, where the priest performs harae and then the visitors offer tamagushi, is quite sufficient; it takes about five minutes, so only the busiest jinja would have a problem with meeting the demand. This would be a short experience of what jinja were really about, as well as an interesting experience of Japanese culture for the tourists. It’s also the sort of thing that might inspire an interest in Shinto that doesn’t start with the architecture.

Of course, everything would need to be explained. There would need to be explanations of how to receive harae and offer a tamagushi, and explanations of what the various elements meant would also be helpful. In addition, the explanation would need to suggest how much to offer, because foreign tourists have no idea. Most jinja could not produce an English explanation themselves, and certainly would have trouble with Chinese or Korean. However, the rituals are the same in almost all Jinja Honchō affiliated jinja, which means that a leaflet could be produced once, and then distributed.

There are a couple of things I suggested that the jinja need to consider. One is that most tourists do not bring formal clothes with them, and in summer they might well be wearing t-shirts and shorts. In general, you are not supposed to do a formal ceremony dressed like that. However, the point of making this opportunity available to tourists is to enable the ones who know nothing about Shinto to experience it a bit, so turning them away because they didn’t put the right clothes on does not strike me as the right approach.

The other thing concerns the items that are given to people after a formal visit. This often includes an o-fuda, and sometimes a bottle of sake. Those are not easy for tourists to carry around, so the jinja should think about small and light alternatives.

I have no idea whether anyone will read the article and get ideas, but I hope it does move the discussion in a positive direction.

Talking of explanations of harae, the new essay for my Patreon is on that topic, and should be out to patrons in the next couple of days. If you haven’t already become a patron, you can get back numbers; there are instructions on the right.

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