Japan, as you may be aware, has a lot of natural disasters. It has so many, in fact, that Our Imperial Family, a quarterly magazine published with a lot of support from Jinja Honchō (if you are a Honchō-accredited priest, it is my understanding that a subscription is basically compulsory, although not officially compulsory) has a column in every issue about jinja recovering from the effects of natural disasters. The disasters and jinja change, but there is always enough material.
The important thing about the columns is that they are about the recovery: the rebuilding of the jinja, restarting matsuri, or holding some matsuri even though your jinja is too close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant for people to stay in the area overnight. Thus, it is fundamentally an optimistic series.
The most recent instalment took that to an extreme.
In July last year, large areas of Japan saw their worst flooding for decades. Dozens died, and thousands were flooded out. Naturally, this also affected jinja, and the magazine sent a reporter to talk to some of those jinja and report about their plans for recovery. One of the places they visited was a Mishima Jinja in Nomura, in Ehimë Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. This is a fairly common dedication for a jinja, and the one in question is quite small.
The area had been prone to flooding, until a dam was built in the 1970s. The rain last year was so heavy, however, that the dam managers had to open the floodgates, literally, and so the area was flooded once again. The jinja, however, had taken the opportunity to build properly, now that the risk of being washed away seemed to have receded. The main sanctuary was rebuilt in 2014, while the purification font was rebuilt in 2015. The flooding carried the font away, washed the walls of the prayer hall out leaving nothing but a roof on pillars, and swamped the outer sanctuary of the main sanctuary. Fortunately, the inner sanctuary, with the go-shintai, was slightly higher, and escaped damage.
At the time, the priest thought that it would take ten years to rebuild, as the ujiko had to rebuild their own homes first.
However, in September last year, one of the ujiko came forward and said that he would not only pay for all the repairs, he had organised the materials and the workmen necessary to do it. The prayer hall was repaired, the purification font re-established, and the mikoshi cleaned, ready for the Grand Festival in mid October. Four local junior high school girls danced the Urayasu no mai kagura (sacred dance), the mikoshi was carried around the precincts, and the matsuri itself was properly performed.
The donor wanted to retain a certain degree of anonymity, but did agree to be interviewed, under the name of “Tarō Nomura” (basically “John” plus the name of the town). However, everyone at the jinja knew who he was, so this was a fairly light level of anonymity. He said that he couldn’t bear to see the kami in that state, and so wanted to do what he could. As (apparently) a successful businessman with contacts in the construction industry, he was in a position to do quite a lot.
While this story is exceptional, the feeling for local jinja that it expresses is not. Jinja that are struck by disaster are normally rebuilt by the people who live nearby, even if it usually takes longer than three months. This is the key to the survival of Shinto, I believe. It is genuinely important to a lot of people even if, as discussed in the last post, many of them don’t exactly believe any of it.