A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting little article in Jinja Shinpō about a jinja that has been involved in the creation of a local craft beer. The jinja is Haijima Tenjinja, and it is in Akishima City, which is part of Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture, right on the edge of the urban area in the west. (Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture has a rural bit in the Tama region, to the northwest of the main urban area. Akishima is pretty much on the boundary between urban and rural.)
Haijima Tenjinja is a Tenjin jinja, and thus has a grove of umë, a fruit closely related to plums and apricots. This tree is closely associated with Tenjin because Sugawara no Michizanë, the scholar and politician who is revered as Tenjin, was very fond of the tree, and particularly its flowers, during his lifetime. However, in the case of the beer, the fruit was more relevant. Umë spirit is a standard form of alcohol in Japan, but umë beer is not so common. A group of people in the area decided that they wanted to brew a clearly local craft beer, using the umë from the jinja.
Haijima Tenjinja does not have a resident chief priest — he is primarily associated with a different jinja in the city — so the local ujiko were approached first, and then approached the priest. He was happy for the fruit to be used in this way.
The project is being led by the owner of a local sentō, a public bath, who is also providing water for the brewing from a deep spring. He is collaborating with a local craft brewery (you need legal licenses to brew in Japan — I believe home brewing is illegal, although as I do not drink I have never investigated it). The brewery received about twenty kilograms of umë from the jinja, and then worked by trial and error to produce an umë beer. In July, it finally succeeded, and a ceremony was held in the precincts of Haijima Tenjinja to announce the successful brewing to the kami.
It seems that part of the purpose of this project is to strengthen the local community, and involving the jinja is seen as an important part of that.
One thing to note about this is that beer is not a traditional Japanese drink, and thus not a traditional offering to the kami, but that there is no problem with such an offering in this context. This is quite normal; if something has been made in the area near a jinja, then it is appropriate to offer it to the kami, no matter what it is. This derives from the kami’s function as a protector of the local community, and that function is also why it is very appropriate to involve the jinja in a project to strengthen the local community.
This reminds me of something I saw years ago about a jinja in Kyoto that’s famous for their ties to sake. It struck me as really interesting that they had a wall of sake barrels from quite a lot of distilleries. I also remember the spring had a turtle bathing under the waterfall and that was why the jinja was built. I know where I’m from most churches aren’t particularly fond of being associated with brewing or distilling of any kind. Which is odd considering a lot of monasteries in Europe are known for their brewing traditions. The idea though of this craft beer is a nice one, particularly since it ties so nicely into the community.
Thanks for the comment! You’re talking about Matsu-no-o Taisha. Associations between kami and sake are really quite common, and the wall of sake barrels is a feature of quite a few large jinja. (Meiji Jingū and Hie Jinja in Tokyo both have them, for example. Meiji Jingū is unusual in that it also has a wall of wine barrels.)
Beer, on the other hand, is quite unusual.
This is fantastic! I’m definitely going to visit next time I’m in Japan