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Disagreement about COVID-19

Revd Sano’s article really seems to have started a new trend for articles critical of Jinja Honchō in Jinja Shinpō. The October 5th issue included a short article criticising a different aspect of Jinja Honchō’s activities: its response to the pandemic.

To be honest, this criticism is rather more muted, because it opens with an appreciation of the guidelines and pictograms that Jinja Honchō and the prefectural Jinjachō have made available, and goes on to raise two questions rather than directly criticise. The questions, however, are critical.

The article was provoked by another article reporting that Jinja Honchō had officially approved its own guidelines for responding to the pandemic, and the questions are about the relationship of these guidelines to other activities.

First, the author queries the relationship between the guidelines and the pictograms. He argues that, as pictograms are a distillation of information into easily comprehensible form, they should be created once the information to be conveyed is finalised. However, Jinja Honchō’s pictograms were created and issued before their guidelines. Are the pictograms, then, incomplete? (No! They’re perfect!)

The second query is about the relationship between Jinja Honchō’s guidelines and those issued by specific prefectural Jinjachō, and other organisations. If they are the same, then they would appear to be redundant. On the other hand, if they are different, that would seem to call for an explanation of how they differ, and why.

These are not unreasonable questions, and I think it is clearly a good thing that people in positions of influence in the Shinto world (the author is chair of the Edification Committee for Tokyo Jinjachō) feel that they can raise these questions publicly now. I hope that continues.

On the other hand, I think the concerns in this case are misplaced. This is clearest in the case of the pictograms. A pictogram can only convey very simple information, so pictograms can be created as soon as you know what kind of requests you need to make. Guidelines, on the other hand, need to cover the question of when you should make those requests, and how you should handle specific kinds of situation, such as the main annual matsuri of a jinja. These issues take more time to address, but they are not going to create a need for new pictograms — they are just going to create advice on which pictograms to use when. As it is important to take steps to slow the rate of infection now, it makes a lot of sense to release pictograms as soon as they are ready, and before the final guidelines are ready.

The second question needs to be addressed in a bit more detail, and as I haven’t seen Jinja Honchō’s guidelines, I cannot actually address it here. They certainly could be redundant or contradictory, but it is also possible that they are addressing additional situations, or are taking a different perspective. The situations of jinja across Japan differ enormously. There are some in rural areas that do not need to take any measures at all, because no more than one person is ever there at a time. There are others that are large and wealthy, and have been taking their own measures for months. (I have made several posts about Kanda Jinja’s response, for example, and about the modified matsuri at Yasaka Jinja.) Prefectures have different mixes of these sorts of jinja, so guidelines produced by Osaka and Saitama, both of which are dominated by large urban areas, might be inappropriate for Tottori, which is entirely rural. Jinja Honchō, however, has to produce material that is applicable to all jinja it covers. This might well necessitate some changes to guidelines prepared by a prefectural Jinjachō. It is true that some clarity about the differences would be helpful, but there could easily be very good reasons for doing it this way. There could even be a legal obligation for Jinja Honchō to have its own guidelines.

Even so, it is important for people to be able to air criticisms and critical questions publicly, even if there is, ultimately, nothing that needs to be fixed. Ideally, I think Jinja Honchō would respond to such criticisms equally publicly, particularly when there are good responses easily to hand, but I think we may have to wait a bit longer for that.

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