A couple of weeks ago (in the September 9th issue) I had another article published in Jinja Shinpō. This article was mainly about Shin’yūsha, an organisation that was set up primarily to run workshops for children at which they could encounter Japan’s traditional culture. It is fairly new — less than ten years old — but it has already developed to offer some events aimed at adults. I have attended quite a few of the events, often with my daughter, and she has generally enjoyed them.
The event that inspired the article was a workshop using traditional Japanese “stone paints”, which are paints made using ground stones as the pigments. There was a shared image, where each child coloured in one part, and they all got to paint two images of their own choice, as well as mixing their own paints once (and then borrowing from other people, because of time limits). My daughter really enjoyed this one.
There are a couple of reasons why Jinja Shinpō is interested in an article about this group. One is that the events are normally held at jinja, and all the participants formally pay their respects to the kami at the end. At that ceremony, the president of Shin’yūsha, the person leading the workshop, and one of the children offer tamagushi on behalf of everyone. I am not sure exactly how the child is chosen, but my daughter was picked last time, so I suspect there is a strong element of “they’ve been to the workshops a few times and will get the etiquette right”, and a policy of choosing children who have not done it before. The other is that the president is Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko of Mikasa. (She founded Shin’yūsha shortly after completing her PhD (DPhil, technically) at Oxford, and still attends and participates in almost all the workshops — all the ones that I have attended, at least.)
The aim of Shin’yūsha is to preserve valuable elements of Japanese culture by introducing them to children, so that the children will be familiar with them, and maybe even take them up as practitioners. Given my daughter’s current interest in art, for example, it is quite possible that the workshop might lead her to use “stone paints” at some point, which she might not have without it.
The main point of my article was that I think this is a really good idea, and that Shin’yūsha’s workshops are an effective way of doing it. There is a strong emphasis on actively doing something with the traditional culture, whether painting pictures, wearing the clothes, or performing the dance, which is likely to leave a strong impression with the children. Further, the fact that Shin’yūsha’s workshops are almost all open to everyone, and subsidised so that the participation fee is only a couple of thousand yen, is also important. If an area of Japanese culture is having trouble finding people to carry it into the next generation, then it obviously needs to look outside the existing participants, and open workshops are a good way to do that.
Another point that I made in my article was that the same applies to Shinto. Jinja have a serious problem with finding the next generation of priests, and if they are going to solve that problem, Shinto is going to have to look beyond the traditional priestly families. The only reason that there is a problem is that those families are not meeting the need, after all. I suspect that something conceptually similar to Shin’yūsha’s workshops might be helpful.
One thing that I did not touch on in my article, however, is a concern that I have. As I said, Shin’yūsha’s workshops are really good, and subsidised. There are not many opportunities to get that sort of hands-on experience. Television stations have even broadcast about them. However, I have never seen one oversubscribed. Now, these are workshops; the maximum number of participants is thirty, or even fewer. The Tokyo area has a population of over 30 million. It really should not be difficult to get them oversubscribed.
My concern is that the attendance numbers are low because they are workshops held by an Imperial Princess in a jinja, and a lot of people look at this and think “Well, not for people like us, then”. This is wrong; anyone can attend. However, I can see how people might get that impression. I worry that the same may apply to jinja, that too many people think that it’s not for them, because they are not from a jinja family, or do not have ancestors from the area. If people have that impression, then jinja are going to have to work really hard to overcome it, and there is no sign that they are doing that.