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Society of Shinto Studies Meeting

This weekend, I went to half of the annual meeting of the Society of Shinto Studies. Unfortunately, it was being held over the weekend, and I have to work on Saturdays, so I could only attend the Sunday. Sunday was the day for individual research presentations, and there were four parallel sessions; obviously, I could only attend one. There were five presentations in the session I attended, and they were all interesting.

The first presentation was about Shinto and the environment, and it drew my attention to some more possibilities, but as far as this blog is concerned it overlapped with things I have already written about. The next two were about the portrayal of the supernatural in horror during the Heisei period, and about a boom in publications about “mysterious” places in the world in the 1960s, which led up to the “occult boom” of the 1970s.

I want to say a bit more about the last two presentations. The first was about Shinto weddings. It is well known that Shinto weddings only really started in the early twentieth century, with the wedding of the future Taishō Tennō. The presentation, however, drew out an aspect of that I had not seen discussed before.

Traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies were carried out in the new home, to which the bride (normally) had come. The bride and groom were present, of course, as was the groom’s family, but the bride’s were not. However, the form created for the new Shinto weddings involved both families, and had them share the ceremonial sakë during the ceremony. This seems to have been the beginning of Japanese wedding ceremonies at which both families met, and that has now become common sense, so that even when people go back to a completely non-religious ceremony, they maintain the idea that both families meet during the ceremony.

The second was about using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to look at the population around jinja, and make future projections. The speaker was from Kōgakkan Daigaku in Isë, so he was using Mië Prefecture, the site of the university, as his example. The census data is now available as open data, as is the projected population for 2050, and he used this, in a 500 m mesh, to determine the population living within 500m of each jinja in the prefecture. (One interesting side point was that, at this resolution, only about one third of the land was inhabited. Japan’s topography naturally creates relatively concentrated population patterns.)

The result was that there are currently 111 jinja with fewer than 25 people living within 500 m, a number that is projected to increase to 159 by 2050. There are already 43 jinja with no-one within that radius, and that will increase to 54 if the population changes as anticipated. Thirty six jinja are predicted to lose 80 to 100% of the population living within that distance by 2050.

Obviously, it is more difficult to maintain a jinja if no-one lives nearby, but it is not impossible. This sort of data does very little by itself, but when combined with other data it could be very useful. For example, if there was some way to measure how active each jinja was, then it would be possible to find jinja that were unusually active for the local population, and maybe learn from what they were doing. Similarly, it might be a way to find jinja that need additional support.

The presentations were very short — only thirty minutes each — so there was a tight limit on what the presenters could say. Nevertheless, I think it was well worth attending, and I plan to go again next year.

3 thoughts on “Society of Shinto Studies Meeting”

  1. I find the research regarding population living in close proximity to the jinja very interesting. I wonder why 500m was chosen, and how the individual jinja were “centered”. If you were considering “walking distance” to equate to “participation” I would think that 500m is a very small distance to consider.

    1. Yes, I also found that very interesting. The jinja were centred based on publicly available address data; there was some discussion in the talk of how that was done. I’m not sure why 500m was chosen, but even at that distance there were places where two jinja had overlapping zones, or where a jinja’s zone included land on the other side of a bay, much more than 500m away if you don’t swim. (I didn’t have time to ask about the practicalities of using walking distance; given the mountains and islands in Japan, that is potentially very important.)

      One fundamental limit is that, with 80,000 jinja in Japan, the whole process has to be automated to be practical. The research is at an early stage, as the data have only recently been made public, so I imagine that the early stages will involve a lot of refinement of exactly how the population is measured, to make the results as useful as possible.

      1. In any case, that 500m seems to make sense to the authors seems to illustrate how densely populated the Japanese experience their populated areas to be.

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