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A History of “Inactive” Jinja

I have previously written on this blog about the problem of “inactive” jinja; that is, jinja that have the legal status of a religious corporation, but do not meet all the legal requirements to maintain that status. These can range from jinja that are so genuinely inactive that priests from the area cannot physically find them, to jinja where the matsuri are all performed, on schedule, by the ujiko and people visit to pay their respects, but there is no legally designated head of the religious corporation.

The most recent issue of Jinja Shinpō contained an interesting article on the origins and history of the problem. Apparently, it goes back to the Occupation.

Between 1868 and 1945, all jinja in Japan were under state control. On 15 December 1945, the occupying forces issued the “Shinto Edict”, which separated jinja from the state, making them independent and forbidding the state to support them. It also required jinja to register as religious corporations, or be dissolved, within a few months. At this point, Japan’s infrastructure and housing had been virtually destroyed by Allied bombing, even in the cities that had not been literally nuked, and so people did not have a lot of spare time to carefully consider their responses. As a result, priests at the time appear to have tried to register as many jinja as possible as religious corporations. Even so, about 20,000 jinja seem to have disappeared.

Many of the jinja that were registered had, apparently, never been big enough to function as independent religious corporations, and had no prospect of becoming so. This became even more pressing when the religious corporation law was revised shortly before Japan recovered its sovereignty, and the requirements on religious corporations were made somewhat stricter. (I seem to recall that there were cases in which people registered bars as religions, where they ate and drank as a religious ritual, so that the bar didn’t have to pay tax. The revision put a stop to that.) At this point, some regions did take steps to rationalise things; in Kumamoto Prefecture, in Kyushu, the number of registered jinja dropped by 2,212. This was the result of a deliberate policy of incorporating small jinja as “remote sites” of larger jinja, so that they could be overseen by the priests of the larger jinja. However, other areas just converted all the religious corporations to the new law; even so, the paperwork does not seem to have been done for all of them, and another 10,000 jinja disappeared.

After Aum Shinrikyō attacked the Tokyo Metro with sarin gas in 1995, the religious corporation law was tightened again, and the issue became more urgent. However, the problem still has not been solved.

One major obstacle is that there is paperwork involved in merging or dissolving a religious corporation, and that tracking down the necessary information, and someone willing to do the work, is not always easy. Another is that, if the jinja is only inactive on paper, the local people often do not see what the problem is, and may not even realise that the jinja is a religious corporation, or, if they do, not know what that means. This means that the first stage is explaining the problem to them and convincing them to take action.

The final problem, of course, is that a jinja enshrines kami, so they cannot just be demolished. The kami must be found a new home.

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