Recently, there has been trouble at Yasukuni Jinja, and the chief priest has had to resign. Jinja Shinpō reported it, but they were very coy, and only said that he had made “improper remarks” in an internal meeting at the jinja.
So, obviously, I had to Google it to find out what he had said.
It appears that he said that when the Tennō travels to distant places to honour the war dead, it pushes Yasukuni Jinja further out of people’s awareness (presumably as the most appropriate place to honour the war dead), and that the current Tennō wants to crush Yasukuni Jinja.
Now, I can understand why these remarks would not be popular with the Shinto establishment. They are institutionally committed to the Tennō agreeing with their policies and positions, because the idea that they follow the Tennō is central to their conception of the Japanese state and the role of Shinto. If the chief priest of Yasukuni Jinja, a central part of that establishment, suggests that the Tennō does not support Yasukuni Jinja, that is a serious threat to that institutional belief. However, I really do not agree with his resignation.
First, the Tennō is very important to Yasukuni Jinja (see my essay about it for the reasons why), so it is part of the chief priest’s job to have an opinion about the Tennō’s attitude to his jinja. I do not need to have an opinion; the chief priest does.
Second, the opinion he expressed is not completely unreasonable. The current Tennō is clearly deliberately avoiding going to Yasukuni Jinja. He frequently visits jinja, and he frequently honours the war dead, but he never visits the jinja across the road from his home to honour the war dead. I have a different hypothesis about the reason (again, see my essay about Yasukuni Jinja), but the former chief priest’s hypothesis is not unsupported by the facts.
Third, he expressed that opinion at an internal meeting within the jinja, not in public. There are very good reasons for not saying that publicly, but he did not. If he thinks that this is why the Tennō is avoiding the jinja, he needs to discuss it with the other priests, and talk about how they should respond. It is, after all, also part of his job to ensure that the jinja survives.
So, he had a reasonable opinion about something important to his job that he expressed in an appropriate and private context, and he had to resign because other people (probably within Yasukuni Jinja as well as outside) believed that he should not think that.
I think that is a serious mistake, and could be a sign of a serious problem for the Shinto establishment. They need to be able to discuss, at least internally, the possibility that important parts of Japanese society do not see Shinto the way they would like them to, so that they can talk about how to respond to that situation. If even the chief priest of Yasukuni Jinja can lose his job for raising such possibilities, how can anyone else breathe a single word?