Further Impact of COVID-19

Further Impact of COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to affect the world, it is, naturally, having more effects on jinja. These effects are being reported in Jinja Shinpō, which means that I can tell you what is happening.

The advice is still that matsuri should be carried out, as it has been from the beginning, but jinja are asked to seriously consider only having priests present, or to restrict the number of other people who attend, to avoid crowding in the prayer hall. On the other hand, jinja are advised to cancel the associated events, such as mikoshi processions, or the communal naorai meals. Private matsuri, for making requests, should not be held, as a general rule. However, if they are urgent, then the number of participants and length of the ceremony should be minimised and the priests should ensure that the prayer hall is well ventilated, and check the temperatures of all participants, having them wear masks and wash their hands.

In general, there is no restriction on people paying their respects at a jinja, because you do that outside and normally with no-one else around. However, jinja are advised to remove the ladles from the purification font, and other things that are used by many visitors. They are strongly advised to stop distributing omamori and ofuda, but if they do, they should organise things so that the visitors do not touch them (before receiving them, presumably — it would be difficult to prevent them from touching them afterwards).

Jinja should postpone or cancel all meetings, and gather opinions in writing before making decisions. If they really cannot be avoided, then they should be carried out as quickly as possible, with as few people as possible, while wearing masks in a well-ventilated room.

If a priest, an employee, or a member of their families is confirmed as being infected, the jinja should make that public, and tell the Jinjachō as soon as possible. To avoid rumours, the jinja should announce the steps they are taking on their website or noticeboard.

A separate article gave some specific examples from Tokyo. The Asakusa Sansha Matsuri, which normally happens in the third weekend of May, is one of the biggest matsuri in Tokyo, with lots of mikoshi; in a normal year about 1.8 million people attend. The jinja and the matsuri committee have decided to move the whole thing to the third weekend of October, including the Shinji — the ceremonies for the kami. On May 18th, which would have been the day after the matsuri finished, the jinja will hold a matsuri to tell the kami that everything has been postponed, and to pray for the end of the epidemic. The final decision about whether to go ahead in October will be taken on August 31st, in light of the situation then.

Shitaya Jinja normally has its Taisai in early May. Every other year is the “main matsuri”, when the jinja’s mikoshi goes on parade with other mikoshi from neighbourhood groups, while the other year is the “shadow matsuri”, when only the neighbourhood groups go out. This year was supposed be the main matsuri, but the jinja has decided to cancel almost all the events, and just perform the central Shinji, with minimal attendees. Next year will be the main matsuri. (There is no indication of whether the year after next will also be a main matsuri, as originally scheduled, or whether everything will be shifted on a year.)

Ōkunitama Jinja in Fuchū City has a very large and famous night matsuri, held for a week from the end of April to the beginning of May, with processions of mikoshi, taiko, and dashi through the streets of the city, lit by thousands of lanterns. This matsuri is recognised as an intangible cultural property by Tokyo Prefecture, so the jinja has consulted with the prefecture about it. Here, again, most of it will be cancelled. The Shinji will still be performed, with minimal attendees, and although no mikoshi will be processed around, a karahitsu will be taken around the route. A karahitsu is a traditional wooden chest, which is used to carry offerings to a jinja in very formal ceremonies, and also used to carry the goshintai from one sanctuary to another during a ceremony to move the kami. The significant thing in this context is that a karahitsu can be carried by two people, as opposed to the dozens necessary for a mikoshi. Thus, the procession will, in a sense, go ahead, but on deserted night streets with a handful of people.

Jinja across Tokyo are taking a range of day-to-day measures as well. Some have reduced their opening hours or stopped doing ceremonies in the prayer hall, while others have apparently closed the precincts entirely. On the other hand, visiting a jinja as part of getting necessary exercise is still in accord with the guidelines, as long as it isn’t busy, so most jinja are allowing that, even if you cannot purify yourself or, in some cases, ring the bell.

At a few jinja, the koma inu are wearing masks, to remind visitors that they should, too.


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