As the first wave of COVID-19 comes to an end in Japan, businesses and other activities have started to reopen. The state of emergency has ended across the whole country, but new infections are still being detected, albeit at a fairly low level. This means that there is a lot of caution about restarting things at jinja. Jinja Honchō has gone back to normal working practices, but most jinja still seem to be restricting formal prayers inside the prayer hall, and keeping numbers at matsuri down.
Because there is a lag between things happening and them getting reported in Jinja Shinpō, I don’t yet know how jinja are going about reopening, although I know that my local jinja still hasn’t put water back in the purification font. However, a few more interesting things have been reported, and this will be a slightly miscellaneous blog entry.
Isasumi Jinja is an important jinja in Fukushima Prefecture (in the inland Aizu region, so a long way from the nuclear power station). Until the late 19th century, it performed an “Ekijinsai”, or “Disease Kami Matsuri” in the second or third month of the lunar calendar (so probably March or April), but it was last performed in 1872. (As this was the last year that Japan used the lunar calendar, that may be the reason the matsuri was abandoned.) The jinja decided to revive it this year in response to COVID-19.
As the article notes, there was no-one who could remember how it was performed, so they had to reconstruct the matsuri from the jinja’s records. The performance of the matsuri was first announced to the kami of the jinja at the main sanctuary, but the matsuri itself was performed at the jinja’s tower gate, facing outwards. After the norito was recited, the chief priest scattered rice, salt, hemp, paper, and sake as purification. The idea is that the kami of disease calm down and go home.
Similarly, a jinja in Tokyo, Inarikiō Jinja, performed a traditional rite. This rite, called “Kujikiri”, or “Nine Character Cutting”, is performed privately every year in the annual anti-disease matsuri. This rite has been passed down through the generations of the priestly Ōkubo family. Normally, it was not performed at any other matsuri, but at the moment the chief priest felt it would be appropriate to perform it every day, at the morning offering, along with the daily prayer for the end of the disease. As this rite involves reciting nine characters in a loud voice, the jinja was worried that people might think something weird was going on, so they put explanatory signs up outside the prayer hall and front torii. (Incidentally, the characters in the jinja’s name mean “Inari Oni King”.)
On the practical side, a group in Nagano Prefecture that performs gagaku, classical Japanese music, at jinja, has started trying out online rehearsals for group performance. They report problems with lag, but note the advantages for enabling people from all over the prefecture (it is a big place, with lots of mountains) to be involved, so they plan to continue trying to use it. It looks as though Shinto will be part of the general trend towards the increased use of online tools.