In January every year, Jinja Shinpō, the newspaper of the Shinto community in Japan, publishes a number of short articles giving people’s New Year thoughts. In order to write one of these, you must be a “Toshi Otoko” or “Toshi Onna”. “Toshi” means “year”, while “Otoko” is “man” and “Onna” is “woman”. A “Man/Woman of the Year” is anyone who was born with the same Chinese zodiacal animal as the current year. The editors reach out to senior priests at significant jinja who meet that criterion and ask for articles, and many of those appear in the first issue of the year (which is always nominally published on January 1st, no matter what day of the week it is; Jinja Shinpō is normally published on a Monday). However, they also put out an open call in December for articles from anyone who will be a Toshi Otoko/Onna the following year.
This year is the year of the boar, the last year of the twelve year cycle, so I am a Toshi Otoko. I wrote an article, and it was published in today’s issue. The open call articles are very short, about four hundred characters, which is roughly equivalent to two hundred words. This actually makes them quite hard to write, because it is difficult to say something intelligent and interesting in such a small space.
I wrote about the work I am doing at Jinja Honchō. This was strategic. You see, part of my job is to help Jinja Honchō with reaching out to non-Japanese who might have an interest in Shinto. An important part of that is translating material for them, such as a booklet about the accession of the new Tennō. However, I do not think that reading about Shinto is the best way to learn about it. If you cannot get to Japan, you basically have no choice, which is why I am writing my Patreon essays, but ideally Shinto should be experienced in person. Thus, one of the things I would like to do in while I am at Jinja Honchō is make the experience of Shinto more accessible to foreign tourists.
However, in order to do that, I need the cooperation of at least one jinja. Jinja Honchō is not itself a jinja, and so cannot directly make matsuri available, and in any case the staff there are very busy. I would therefore like to make contact with a jinja that is interested in making it possible for foreign visitors to experience matsuri, and help them to do that effectively. The language barrier and differences in cultural expectations mean that this is not completely straightforward, but it should not, I think, be too difficult.
All jinja get Jinja Shinpō, although I do not know how many priest read it. My hope is that someone will read the article, and get in touch with Jinja Honchō to see if I can help set up matsuri for foreign visitors at their jinja. In the first instance, one jinja would be enough, because if we can set up something that works in one place, it becomes much easier to offer it to other jinja.
The paper arrived at jinja at the end of last week, but it is a national holiday today (Adulthood Day), so I have to wait a bit before I can expect to hear anything. I hope it works.