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Dissension in the Ranks

“Calling on Jinja Shinpō and its Readers while Lamenting the Current State of Jinja Honchō”

This is not the sort of title I expect to see on an article in Jinja Shinpō, and indeed the first sentence of the article says, basically, “I am not at all sure whether this article will be printed in Jinja Shinpō”. As I have mentioned before, Jinja Shinpō rarely publishes anything critical of the Shinto establishment, or even anything that might be awkward for them. This is why I included them in the Shinto establishment in my essay on the topic (which is now part of the book). In some ways, this is actually helpful for me, because it means that I can assume that any jinja activities reported in Jinja Shinpō are uncontroversial

On the other hand, it is a bit of a problem for a newspaper, and that is actually the main point of the article. The author, the chief priest of a jinja in Kanagawa Prefecture, starts by saying that he worked at Jinja Honchō almost thirty years ago, and has worked with it on various committees in the years since, but he feels that it has changed, and needs reform. However, he then says that he will not say anything specific about its problems in this article.

Instead, the article calls on people to write articles about these topics for Jinja Shinpō, so that there will be a lively debate in the pages of the newspaper. He also calls on Jinja Shinpō to report on important issues in more detail, even if they are a bit uncomfortable for the leadership of Jinja Honchō. The example he gives is the recent withdrawal of Kotohiragū from Jinja Honchō. The two sides give different versions of events, so the newspaper could simply print both stories. I wrote about that withdrawal a few weeks ago, and it is true that I had to search online to find any details; Jinja Shinpō said almost nothing beyond the fact that it was happening.

I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the call in this article. I might not agree with his particular criticisms of Jinja Honchō (although I might — as he does not say what they are, I have no idea), but it is clear that jinja in Japan are facing serious structural problems, as the population ages and shifts away from agriculture and towards cities. In such a situation, it is important for people in those positions to discuss the problems that they see, and look for solutions. Jinja Shinpō, which every priest in the country gets, even if they do not all read it, is clearly the best forum for doing so. I also suspect that it would make the newspaper even more interesting.

What will happen?

I have no idea. It is possible that people at Jinja Honchō will try to fire the author, although that would be politically very unwise, and I strongly suspect that they know that — so I do not expect that to happen. After all, he did not make any specific criticisms that they can object to. The real question is whether anyone else will take him up on his suggestion, and whether the people at Jinja Shinpō will follow his suggestion of reporting on relevant events in a bit more detail.

I await developments with great interest.

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5 thoughts on “Dissension in the Ranks”

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter,

    Though I know very little in detail about the inner politics of Shinto, I have had a good degree of experience with publications, big and small. From that experience, I do have a few points to add:

    First, I find it highly unlikely that the author of the contentious piece would be fired or harassed out of the paper. Chances are, if the paper published the article, they want it out in the public for one reason or another. I find it very difficult to believe that those in Jinja Shinpo (at least those at the top of the paper) are annoyed that this was published.

    However, the question does remain as to why it was published. On that topic, I see two main possibilities.

    The first is that Jinja Shinpo’s editors are trying to revamp the paper in some way. I can imagine that, as journalists, they were quite annoyed that they couldn’t cover the story of a jinja leaving Jinja Honcho adequately. Perhaps this article is an attempt to use public support to bolster their own political power within the Shinto establishment, enabling them to become more bold in their reporting. I can imagine the rest of the Shinto establishment want to retain the status quo in regards to Jinja Shinpo’s reporting. If Jinja Shinpo however want to engage more freely and actively with major issues though, showing that the public would support them helps them enact such change without the rest of the establishment shooting them down.

    The other, more cynical reason is that it could be an attempt to prevent dissent from occurring within the wider Shinto establishment. When an organization has a major internal problem that they just don’t want to deal with, the last thing they do (usually) is just to ignore it, as it only serves to embolden 3rd party publications and citizen journalists to investigate, leading to further reputational damage to the organization.

    Instead, what the organization will do is openly discuss how they ‘need to do something’ about the issue, and how they’re ‘fully committed to combating the issue of [insert bad thing here]’. This allows the organization to appear as if they’re dealing with the problem, without actually doing anything to solve it. The reason why the article in Jinja Shinpo is so vague is because they’re trying to do exactly this. Stating to the world ‘We must solve this problem, and we will do so’ often leads to the general populace losing interest, as they assume the problem is actually being dealt with, even if it never is.

    1. Thanks for the comment. That’s an interesting take on it, which may have something to it.

      The author of the article is not an employee of the paper, however, but the chief priest of a jinja. This means that he wrote the article and sent it to Jinja Shinpō on his own initiative, and they decided to publish it (most likely). Thus, it is unlikely to be part of a plot to do nothing on the part of the Shinto establishment. I think they do that for some issues — the most notable is the lack of anything close to an agreed Shinto theology. Every so often, there are official statements that something must be done, but nothing ever is. I suspect that this is because the establish knows that the theological positions within Jinja Honchō are so diverse that if they say anything, they will split the organisation. That’s certainly how things appear to me on that issue, anyway.

      So, I would incline towards the first possibility you raise — in this case. It’s definitely interesting.

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