This week’s Jinja Shinpō included an article about “Dai Ni no Furusato Sōsei Kyōkai”, “Second Hometown Creation Group”, an organisation of volunteers that has recently started up, based at a jinja in Tokyo. (They have a web page, but it is entirely in Japanese.) The group plans to engage in two kinds of activity. The first is sending small groups of volunteers to help out at matsuri, and the other is to plant new woodlands, based on the sacred woodlands at jinja (“Chinju no Mori”). In both cases, the organisation waits for local areas to get in touch saying that they want help, and then tries to supply the assistance they need.
Planting the woodlands is, obviously, good for the environment both globally and locally. Although Japan has a very high proportion of wooded land (more than any other industrialised country, I think), a lot of that woodland is cedar plantations, which bring their own problems, especially now that it is not economic to actually use them. Planting new, mixed woodlands based on local trees is likely to improve things generally.
The matsuri volunteers are, it seems, the group’s main purpose. The need here is very simple. There are a significant number of areas in Japan’s rural areas that do not have enough people to carry out the traditional matsuri. Some areas have a much lower population now than they did at the end of the eighteenth century. The idea is that jinja (or Buddhist temples) that need people to perform a matsuri contact Second Hometown, saying what they need, and Second Hometown sends the details out to the people on their volunteer mailing list. Ideally, they find enough people to carry out the matsuri.
That in itself is important, as it ensures that the tradition remains alive for a little longer. There is also a wider aim. The hope is to build links between the rural communities and the volunteers, who will mostly be from urban areas. For example, they might require volunteers to post to social media about the matsuri and the food, to attract tourists to the area. In the longer term, the hope is probably that the links will lead to some people moving to the areas.
This is important because this is one of the largest problems facing Japanese society at the moment. The Japanese population is too concentrated in Tokyo and its immediate hinterland, and most of the rest is around Nagoya, or in the Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto area. Matsuri volunteers cannot solve this problem by themselves, but if the group is successful, they can preserve the matsuri until more people move to the area, and possibly bring more people to these areas.
As you might expect, I have signed up as a volunteer, and if I do go to anything, I will use the Mimusubi Twitter and Facebook accounts to publicise it, and write about what happened on the blog. It might even get an essay in some cases — I don’t know.
An aside on hot-button topics. Their sign-up form has an entry for gender, with options for “male”, “female”, and “other”. (You can select multiple options.) Gender roles are not a hot-button issue in Shinto.