This week’s Jinja Shinpō has an article on the back page reporting the results of a survey carried out by the Iwatë Prefecture Jinjachō. Iwatë Prefecture is in northeast Japan, and it is one of the prefectures that were badly hit by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The purpose of the survey was to find out how the depopulation of rural Japan was affecting jinja in that area.
The answer appears to be “badly”. In the rural areas of the prefecture, about 80% of jinja have fewer than 500 households in their ujiko area, and almost 40% have fewer than 100. That is obviously not enough to support a full-time priest, and, indeed, only 230 of the 856 jinja in the prefecture are the main jinja for the chief priest; all the rest have a chief priest who is primarily chief priest of a different jinja. What is more, over half of the jinja report that the number of households in the area has decreased as compared to ten years ago, while only 8% report an increase.
Looking at the problem from another angle, only 61% of jinja across the prefecture reported having someone in line to succeed the chief priest. In some cases, this will be because the chief priest is still young and has only just started in the job, but in a fairly high proportion it means that there will be a crisis when the current chief priest dies. Most likely, the jinja would have to be put under the supervision of a priest who already has several jinja, decreasing the time that he can give to each of the individual jinja.
This does not appear to be a crisis yet, but the head of the Jinjachō said that the survey revealed that they could find themselves in a crisis even sooner than they expected. These results jibe with those from Jinja Honchō’s survey of the whole country, so it seems likely that many other areas face the same issue.
The bright side is that the Shinto world is now well aware of this problem, and that something needs to be done. The problem, of course, is finding an effective response.