An Absence of Worshippers

An Absence of Worshippers

COVID-19 continues to have an effect on jinja and other Shinto organisations, and some of those effects have been reported in Jinja Shinpō. One that was on the front page last week was the fact that Jinja Honchō had to hold its directors’ meeting by sending paperwork to all the directors, rather than having them all meet in one place. That seems to have worked, although at least one of the directors said that they should look into setting up online meetings. I tend to agree that that would be a good idea.

Another thing that was brought up at the meeting was the financial difficulties that many jinja are facing. Although it is still possible to visit a jinja and toss some coins in the offertory box, that is not how most jinja make a living. Rather, the main source of income is the offerings for personal ceremonies — kigansai. As these involve people gathering in the prayer hall of the jinja, many jinja are not performing them even if people ask, and at jinja that would still perform them, it seems that no-one is asking. While most jinja have no rent to pay, as they own their land, they do still need income, and I suspect that most jinja do not have large cash reserves to fall back on. This is something that could get significantly worse as time goes on, but for now it is just at the level of expressions of concern.

Many jinja are performing matsuri at a reduced scale, as I have mentioned before. This has even reached Yasukuni Jinja, which performed its Spring Grand Festival with no attendees other than the priests. The group of National Diet members who visit Yasukuni Jinja together (official name, translated: “The Group of National Diet Members Who Visit Yasukuni Jinja Together”) did not visit Yasukuni Jinja, and, indeed, the jinja is discouraging people from doing so. They are not allowing anyone to pay their respects formally, for example.

A couple of other jinja were also mentioned. Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto, which I mentioned in the context of rings of reeds last week, performed a special matsuri, the Gion Goryōë, at a subsidiary jinja outside the main precincts. This matsuri dates back over a thousand years, and is related to the Kyoto Gion Festival. The jinja’s records show that this matsuri, or a similar one, was performed for the cholera epidemic of the late nineteenth century, and for the flu epidemic of 1918. Of course, the number of people present at the matsuri was strictly limited.

In a completely different approach, Fukushima Inari Jinja has started making chi-no-wa (reed ring) omamori. The chief priest wrote an article about it in Jinja Shinpō, and apparently the idea started from a phone call from someone who wanted to know if they had such omamori. At the time, they didn’t, but as the staff of the jinja all had time on their hands (no-one is having ceremonies performed, after all), he suggested that they should use those hands to make chi-no-wa omamori. The concept behind them was to remind people of the long tradition of prayer against epidemics and, if possible, to bring a bit of light into their lives. According to an article on the jinja web page, they were very popular in the local area. (They do say “House of the Descendants of Somin Shōrai” on, so the tradition of lying to the kami is being continued as well.)

The number of new infections per day in Japan is falling, so I am sure that the influence of the pandemic on jinja will continue to change. I just hope that the financial impact will not be devastating.

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