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Kami of Sport

A while back, I wrote about an opinion piece in Jinja Shinpō that suggested that the jinja enshrining the war dead could move their focus to sport, since many of the kami enshrined there were sportsmen while they were alive. I also said that I thought this was a very positive idea.

The other day, I read this year’s issue of Mahoroba, a glossy free magazine put out once a year by Jinja Honchō to publicise Shinto and Jinja. (Jingū puts out a similar magazine, called Musuhi.) The final article was entitled “Kami of Sport” (スポーツの神さま), and suggested that the kami enshrined at Yasukuni Jinja would be good candidates for kami of sport, because many of them were sportsmen, and some actually represented Japan as sportsmen before being killed as Japanese soldiers. As the article puts it “The kami who fought as soldiers, bearing Japan’s flag on their backs, were also heroes who fought as sportsmen, bearing Japan’s flag on their chests”.

This is very interesting for two reasons.

First, the fact that it is in this magazine means that Jinja Honchō officially wants to spread this idea among the general population. Articles in Jinja Shinpō do not necessarily reflect Jinja Honchō’s opinion, but Mahoroba is Honchō’s own publicity magazine, so we can be confident that it does not include anything they disapprove of. It is also very likely, although not necessarily guaranteed, that Yasukuni Jinja itself in on board with this.

So, we may be seeing the beginning of a push to reposition Yasukuni Jinja as a jinja of peaceful sporting competition, rather than one associated with war. This sort of change has precedent; the clearest example is Tenjin-sama, who was originally associated with striking down his enemies with lightning bolts, but became the kami of scholarship over time, because he was a scholar while he was alive. I will be following this with interest.

The other extremely intriguing point is that the article does not name Yasukuni Jinja. It names Yūshūkan, the museum at Yasukuni, and refers to the place as “the jinja in Kudan”, which is also a clear reference, so there is no doubt which jinja it is talking about. But it avoids the name.

I confess I find it hard to imagine that this is accidental. Even if I can imagine the writer suddenly realising that they hadn’t actually put “Yasukuni” anywhere in the article, I cannot imagine an editor failing to notice. If it is deliberate, why? I can only speculate, but something I mentioned in my previous post about this comes to mind. “Yasukuni” may well be too strongly associated with other issues for an association with sport to take root. However, for most people, those associations are with the name, not the jinja itself. So, perhaps the goal is to encourage the new association by playing down the name.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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5 thoughts on “Kami of Sport”

  1. Considering that the “shrine at Kudan” was an extremely common poetical name for Yasukuni Jinja prewar, is it possible the author was merely trying to be poetical? I would imagine that the sort of people who read Mahoroba would already be familiar with that phrase.

    1. That’s certainly a possibility, and the author is clearly assuming that readers will identify the jinja. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it if that phrase had been used in addition to the name “Yasukuni Jinja”. It’s the complete absence of the name of the jinja that is somewhat surprising, not the use of “Kudan no mori”.

    1. The first record of purification with water is in the oldest surviving text written in Japan, the Kojiki, which was completed in 712. The practice has, as far as I know, existed continuously since, although it probably took its precise present form quite recently — maybe even after the war.

      1. Thanks for your reply. When it comes to washing hands, people in that era seem not to recognize baterias. But somehow they invented the way to sterilize the bacteria.

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