There is an interesting article in this week’s Jinja Shinpō about the dedication of a new building at a jinja in northern Japan. This happens a lot, but the building in question is called the “Thousand Buddhas Hall”, and it has been built to house over two hundred Buddha images.
The jinja in question is Dewa Sanzan Jinja, a complex of three jinja on three mountains (which is what “sanzan” means), in the western area of northern Japan (which is what “Dewa”) means. Until the Meiji Revolution, these jinja were important centres of Shugendō, a Japanese religious tradition that combines Shinto and Buddhism. This confused the Meiji era bureaucrats charged with separating the two religions so much that they made the entire tradition illegal, and these centres became jinja. At that point, the many Buddha images held there were taken out to be disposed of. A local carpenter thought that this was a tragedy, and bought up as many as he could, saving about 250 of them. One of his descendants returned them to the jinja after the war, when jinja were allowed to have Buddha images again, and they were housed in the jinja’s museum.
However, the museum is, apparently, closed on weekends, which meant that the visiting worshippers could not always venerate the images. Thus, the jinja decided to build a new hall to house them, near the main sanctuary and as part of the main complex, along with a covered corridor so that people could move between them easily, even in the winter. The building was completed with all the Shinto rites, and after the ceremony to dedicate it, a Buddhist ceremony was also performed.
This is the first example I have come across of a post-Meiji jinja constructing a new building to house Buddha images and make them available for veneration. It is true that the Shinto-Buddhist syncretic elements at Dewa Sanzan have always been particularly strong, so it is not surprising that it has happened here, but it does seem to be part of a trend at certain jinja to roll back the strict separation of kami and Buddhas enforced by the Meiji government.