Two prefectural Jinjachō, Saitama and Osaka, have worked together, with support from Jinja Honchō and in consultation with an expert on infection prevention, to create a set of guidelines for jinja to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while continuing their activities. This is described as “A New Form of Jinja Reverence”, and their slogan is “For Unchanged Prayers”. They have a logo for this, as well.
The guidelines themselves are very practical, and largely what you would expect. For example, they recommend taking steps to maintain distance between people, such as marking places to stand on the ground, and ensuring that there are no objects that are handled by multiple people.
One of the things that they have in mind is Hatsumōdë, the traditional jinja visit at the beginning of the New Year, when even quite local jinja normally get hundreds of visitors over a few days, and Meiji Jingū in Tokyo gets several million. Obviously, this has the potential to be an infection disaster. On the other hand, this is also most of a typical jinja’s annual income, and so the jinja will not cancel it.
The suggestions are to try to separate people by at least one metre, and to encourage them to leave the jinja precincts as quickly as possible after they have paid their respects. Similarly, the provision of amulets and the like should be organised so that as few people as possible touch the objects, and transparent acrylic screens or vinyl curtains should be used to minimise the chances of droplets passing between the staff and the visitors.
They recommend removing the bell ropes, so that people cannot ring the bell when they pay their respects, and removing the ladles from the purification font. Instead, they suggest setting up a system in which water is constantly flowing out of the font, and they have prepared a poster describing the correct etiquette for rinsing your hands at such a font. It is not the same as the etiquette when you have a ladle. The instructions can be downloaded; there is no English, but you should be able to follow the pictures. (This is the first set of instructions issued by a jinja that I have seen that explicitly includes spitting the water out again. You are supposed to, but that keeps not being mentioned clearly, probably because it is slightly unpleasant.)
While few of the recommendations are startling, the full list will, I think, be very useful, because there may be points that had not occurred to jinja. For example, there is a mention of making sure that people do not share vestments, such as hakama. I suspect that there might be quite a few jinja where the temporary miko do share the hakama, and so the reminder that they shouldn’t do that this year is helpful.
The recommendations for ceremonies are interesting, because this is where there is a direct interaction with religious issues. They suggest that all the attendees should wear masks and, as a basic rule, so should the priests and miko. However, if there is more than two metres between the officiants and the attendees, the priests and miko may remove their masks. Even then, they should put them back on when handing over tamagushi or offerings to the attendees. This suggests that they do not see any deep religious problem with wearing masks while officiating at a matsuri.
This sort of practical work is going to be very important to get jinja through the pandemic with their traditions intact, so it is very good to see that it is being done.