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This Year’s Hatsumōdë

The most recent issue of Jinja Shinpō included a long article on hatsumōdë, and how it went at various jinja. This is a standard feature at this time of year. In the past, it focused on the larger jinja, but recently it has spent more time on jinja in regions that have suffered natural disasters recently, and on jinja that have some particular link to the year.

This year, the first three days of the New Year saw good weather across Japan, so there were a lot of people. Jingū, in Isë, reported 513,112 visitors in the first three days, 31,611 more than last year. (The annual number of visitors was about 8,500,000, the seventh highest number on record.) Meiji Jingū, in Tokyo, reported 3,120,000 people, again in the first three days of the year.

The reports from the areas of western Japan that suffered serious flooding in July last year and the area of Hokkaido that suffered a major earthquake suggest that the number of people visiting jinja has fallen substantially, but that is hardly surprising. A lot of the jinja had to make temporary repairs and establish temporary prayer locations in order to be able to accept visits in the first place. Areas, such as Kumamoto in Kyushu, that had had longer to recover, reported that the number of visitors was more or less back to normal, but in some cases repairs to the jinja itself were still at an early stage.

At one jinja, the main sanctuary and associated buildings were badly damaged, and have all been disassembled and stored until the priests can afford to put them up again. There is a temporary prayer hall, but the priests noticed that many people were praying towards the former site of the jinja, so they marked the area with shimënawa and set up a himorogi (a large tree branch for the kami to inhabit) for people to revere.

This year is the year of the boar in the Japanese interpretation of the Chinese zodiac. (My understanding, based on random TV reports here, is that the Chinese call it the year of the pig.) This means that jinja with an association with boars reported five to ten times as many visitors as normal.

Many of these jinja enshrine Wakë no Kiyomaro, a Nara-period (about 1250 years ago) noble who was sent to Usa Jingū, in Kyushu, the original Hachiman jinja, to ask whether a particular Buddhist monk should really become the next Tennō. He brought back a “no”, and was historically revered as a protector of the Imperial house. Part of his legend has a pack of wild boar appearing to escort him and protect him from assassination attempts, so those jinja often have statues of boars, rather than koma-inu, in front of the prayer hall. At one, a worshipper crafted and donated a (fairly small) ceramic statue of a boar family late last year, with the intention that people rub it for luck. It would seem that it has already been well-used.

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