I have had an article published in the latest Jinja Shinpō. It is a response to a review of a book about foreigners moving to Japan and taking over that was published a few weeks ago. Earlier drafts were a lot less temperate than the final one… In the end, I focused on a genuine problem that was mentioned, and that jinja can actually do something about.
The problem is this. It is not uncommon for immigrants to a country to gather in areas with many people from the same country, to work at the same places, and create neighbourhoods where the residents have little contact with natives of the host country, and where the culture is different. This situation creates problems for everyone.
This process is, of course, entirely natural. If you are, say, Vietnamese and want to work in Japan, you are likely to contact people you or your friends know to get advice. Those people are often Vietnamese, and only really know about the area where they live. So, they introduce their employer, or another local employer who is willing to employ them. They recommend local landlords who are willing to rent to Vietnamese immigrants. And so the new immigrants end up living in the same area, working at the same firms.
The book was, it seems, suggesting that there should be legal restrictions on purchases of real estate by foreigners in order to solve this problem. Obviously, that won’t have any effect, because most of the foreigners are renting from Japanese landlords.
On the other hand, jinja are in a position to do something positive. First, they are everywhere. Second, they are a concentrated site of Japanese culture. Third, serving as a centre for the local community is a large part of the point of their existence. Thus, jinja are perfectly placed to invite immigrants to participate in Japanese culture, meet native Japanese, and build connections with the wider neighbourhood. In some farming areas, where a very high proportion of the working-age population is immigrant, this could also save the jinja from dwindling to extinction.
Of course, the details of what could and should be done would depend very much on the particular jinja and the local immigrant community. That’s something I would like to help with, and so the article finishes with my email address, so that if there are any priests who read the article and would like to talk to me about what they could do, they have a way to do so. It will be interesting to see if anyone does get in touch.
Wow! Way to be proactive. I’m really interested in how this proposal is received. Please follow up if possible.
If anything I can talk about comes of it, I will definitely follow up.
I see one problem here in getting involved. Smaller local jinja, especially those without a full-time priest, rely on the local neighbourhood association (chonaikai) for upkeep and matsuri, in most cases. However, from my experience only people living in their own homes are active members of the chonaikai. Those who rent normally pay the chonaikai-fees and may take part in a matsuri, but are not involved in organizing them. This is a pity as helping to organize events makes for much stronger neighbourhood and shinto bonds than just to take part, but where I live there is clearly a border between home-owners and renters, even if some renters have been living in the area longer than some recent home-owners.
Thanks for the comment. I agree, it is clear that I am suggesting a change in practice at most jinja, and one that might well encounter initial opposition from locals. I think that jinja are, culturally, in a strong position to take the lead in the change, which is one reason why I would like to see it happen, but it isn’t going to be straightforward. I haven’t received any contact yet, for example. (Although that isn’t surprising. Patience is very definitely needed in this field.)