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Jinja Shinpō and Shinto Scandals

In the 12th November issue, Jinja Shinpō ran an editorial about the trouble at Yasukuni, in which they explained their policy on such issues, and said something about their view of the Yasukuni problem. Both parts were very interesting.

First, they said that, as a matter of policy, they avoid reporting the details of “dark and dirty events”. This was referred back to an event in the 1950s. While the editorial, naturally, avoided reporting the details, it did mention that this event led to the introduction of regulations for the directors who run Jinja Honchō. The purpose of this policy is to uphold the quality of the traditions, but must not, they say, lead to them overlook important issues.

I can understand where they are coming from. Jinja Shinpō is part of the Shinto establishment, and if a chief priest is caught embezzling from his jinja they have the same interest as Jinja Honchō in keeping that from becoming widely known, while also making sure that it does not happen again. I am not sure I entirely agree with that policy, because I can imagine cases where I think it would be important to openly acknowledge what someone had done, condemn it, and support the victims. Nevertheless, I can understand it.

These days, however, I suspect that it is counterproductive. Jinja Shinpō avoided reporting what the chief priest of Yasukuni Jinja had said, so I googled it. No doubt other readers did the same; he had only just been appointed, so his resignation was big news. That increases the hits that the story attracts, and tells the other news outlets that Shinto scandals draw attention, making them more likely to run such stories in the future. In short, priests can get their information about Shinto scandals elsewhere now, and they will, if Jinja Shinpō refuses to print the important details. If they do, then this encourages other outlets to publish such stories. On the other hand, essentially no-one outside the Shinto world reads Jinja Shinpō. If priests and similar people could get all their information there, other outlets might ignore such stories. That is, Jinja Shinpō might be more able to keep the stories quiet if it printed the details.

The rest of the editorial was, if anything, even more interesting. It emphasised the need for Yasukuni Jinja to develop a formal position on its own religious principles, an issue that has come up before. In the course of doing this, it mentioned that the former chief priest had set up a committee to consider this, and quoted the late Uzuhiko Ashizu, probably the most influential individual in post-War mainstream Shinto. He wrote that, if Yasukuni Jinja wanted to be just a private religious institution, it could, of course, go ahead and enshrine the individuals convicted of war crimes by the Tokyo Tribunal. If, however, it wanted to remain some sort of public institution, he went on, it should wait for public opinion to form a clear opinion.

Yasukuni Jinja enshrined the convicted war criminals in the 1980s without strong public support, and no Tennō has visited since. The jinja still claims that it is, or should be, a public institution of some sort.

This editorial is interesting because, although it does not directly criticise Yasukuni Jinja (that would get pretty much everyone fired), it quotes Ashizu as saying that Yasukuni should not do something it later did, and also mentioned the former chief priest’s action in setting up the committee in a very positive light. This is about as close as I think Jinja Shinpō could get to criticising Yasukuni Jinja.

Because the details are not reported, that leads me to read between the lines. (That’s what you have to do when people will not tell you what is actually going on.) It makes me wonder whether the former chief priest was actually saying that Yasukuni Jinja had to change to become the sort of place that the Tennō would visit, and was forced out by established priests who did not want to make those changes. (The chief priest was appointed from outside the jinja, something that has been standard practice.) After all, there are, as came out in the comments on my last post on this, two contexts for “the current Tennō wants to crush Yasukuni Jinja”. One is “and he is wrong, and we must fight back”. The other is “and so we must change so that we can regain his approval”.

Again, this suggests to me that the self-censorship may be counterproductive. A discussion of the form that Yasukuni Jinja should take would be a good thing for the Shinto world to have, and it should not be based on speculation and reading between the lines of coy editorials. That is even more so if the editorial was supposed to be supportive of the jinja’s actions, and only looks critical because everyone knows that clear criticism is impossible.

It is important for people to be able to disagree publicly. It is far more important than maintaining a facade of unity right up to the moment an organisation implodes.

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