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Matsuri for COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, Jinja Honchō and jinja in Japan are responding. Jinja have closed their museums, had staff wear face masks, and put restrictions on activities. For example, Ōkunitama Jinja in Tokyo is, for the moment, not writing goshuin directly into people’s goshuin books, but rather handing out pieces of paper with the goshuin already on. This is, presumably, to avoid the risk of infection from the book, and also to discourage people from coming to get a goshuin if they can delay it a bit.

Some jinja are also, apparently, stopping people from rinsing their hands and mouths with water on entering the jinja. This is a big deal: purifying yourself before approaching the kami is a fundamental part of Shinto. (I confess I have stopped rinsing my mouth, but I still rinse my hands.)

A number of jinja are also offering prayers for the end of the epidemic. For example, on March 3rd Kamo Wakëikazuchi Jinja in Kyoto held an annual matsuri to celebrate the Peach Blossom Festival (Momo no Sekku). This is the origin of the Doll Festival, and has always had a strong connection with purification. The prayer for the end of the epidemic was thus added to the standard norito for the matsuri, and the (water soluble) dolls that were washed down the river were charged with purifying COVID-19 as well.

Another jinja, Tsuno Jinja in Miyazaki Prefecture, which is the Ichi no Miya of Hyūga Province, has been holding a matsuri to pray for the end of the epidemic every day, alongside the normal daily matsuri, since February 18th. The chief priest plans to continue doing so until the epidemic is declared over, which could be some time.

Jinja Honchō has also asked all jinja to perform a matsuri to pray for the end of the epidemic, and to add a prayer for the end of the epidemic to the norito that they recite every day at the daily matsuri. (Adding something to a norito is called “Kotowakitë”, which means something like “to change the topic”, because that is how these sections normally begin. It is not at all uncommon to add something this way when a matsuri has multiple functions.) The first matsuri is to be performed on a suitable day, and the daily addition continued until things get better. The first matsuri should be a separate matsuri, but the priests are directed to “consider the possible attendance of ujiko and sūkeisha carefully”. Which ought to translate to “don’t invite people to the matsuri praying for the end of a contagious illness”.

The same issue of Jinja Shinpō reports on a request for all jinja to perform a matsuri in April to give thanks for the official designation of the new Crown Prince. Jinja Honchō recognises three grades of matsuri: Grand Matsuri, Matsuri, and Lesser Matsuri. The matsuri for the Crown Prince should be a Matsuri, while that for the epidemic should be a Lesser Matsuri.

I often wonder about Jinja Honchō’s priorities.

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