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New Year Activities

As I have mentioned before, Hatsumōdë is one of the most important times of year for most jinja, when many people visit and make offerings that are essential to their financial viability for the next year. It is natural, therefore, that many jinja try to think up ways to get more people to visit, and make more offerings.

This can be as simple as advertising; large jinja near Tokyo take out advertisements on the underground trains, and smaller ones may have adverts on local buses. I imagine that the same happens in other cities. I get information about New Year activities from the jinja that have me on their mailing lists, and I am sure the same happens to other people. Obviously, this costs money, so the jinja must have a solid financial base to even start on this approach, and it is only likely to work if there is a substantial local population.

Other jinja make Hatsumōdë more of an event. For example, it is, apparently, not uncommon for the ujiko to set up a table offering warm amasakë (a sweet and mildly alcoholic drink), and maybe grilled mochi rice cakes. Still others have special propitious items that are only available at Hatsumōdë, to encourage more people to visit at that time, and to make offerings to get those items.

Obviously, there is a risk that these activities will become too commercial, and make the jinja seem less like a religious institution and more like a restaurant or theatre. Jinja Shinpō had an editorial a few weeks ago pointing out this risk, and urging chief priests not to do anything that would give people a negative impression of jinja and Shinto.

Good advice, but I feel it is so vague as to be useless. Chief priests trying to decide on their own approaches may try to err on the side of caution, but they may really need that money in order to eat for the following year (not a concern for any of the people in a position to write editorials), which will inevitably bias them in favour of plausible looking schemes.

Furthermore, prefectural Jinjachō sometimes ask jinja to put out petitions supporting constitutional revision, or other political positions that are supported by the Shinto establishment. It is, however, known that this gives a significant number of people a negative impression of jinja and Shinto; Tokyo did it a year or two back, and it did create negative feedback. I suppose it is possible that there has been a quiet policy decision to not do that any more, but if so it is in direct contradiction to the Shinto establishment’s public position, which is that all jinja and priests should be actively working to get the constitution revised, as that is (apparently) a central part of Shinto.

Given that jinja are being positively encouraged to do things that may turn people away from supporting the jinja in future, the policy in the editorial cries out for clarification. Most jinja do not make enough money to support themselves or a priest, and this is at the heart of the biggest problem facing the Shinto community. In that context, to simply discourage money-making schemes is to promote the collapse of most jinja.

Again, it is possible that, in private, the Shinto establishment is working very hard to find ways to make smaller jinja financially viable and enable them to recruit and retain priests, but there is, alas, precious little public evidence of it. It is also, I fear, hard to see why they would keep it secret if they were doing it.

2 thoughts on “New Year Activities”

  1. “prefectural Jinjachō sometimes ask jinja to put out petitions supporting constitutional revision”

    …I would love to learn a little more about this. As an American, obviously I’m not terribly in touch with contemporary Japanese politics; what is Jinja Honcho’s official position on the constitution? What specifically are they aiming to revise? (Apologies if this is terribly obvious).

    1. It’s not at all obvious, but it’s a bit much for a comment reply. I will do a blog post about it at some point in the near future; thank you for the question.

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