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The Oversight Council

The Oversight Council (評議員会, hyōgiinkai) is the highest decision-making body in Jinja Honchō. It appoints the chairman, directors, and auditors. It must approve all budgets, and all major changes to regulations, and the board of directors is required to respect its decisions when conducting day-to-day business, unless there is a really good reason not to. The regulations require it to meet once a year, and the chairman may convene it more often if he feels that it is necessary. In practice, it is convened twice a year, once in May and once in October. This is so regular that the meetings are referred to as the May Meeting and October Meeting. I am not actually sure which is the required one, although May seems to be generally more important, so I suspect it is that one.

There is, to the best of my knowledge, no official translation for “hyōgiinkai” at the moment, so I am experimenting with various possibilities. “Hyōgi” means something like “assess and debate”, while “inkai” is committee, or council. “Council” is clearly better than “committee” given the importance of the body, but “hyōgi” is harder. At the moment I am trying out “oversight”, because that suggests both ultimate authority, and a day-to-day hands off approach, which fits with the way that the body works. At some point, Jinja Honchō is likely to ask me to produce an official translation for it, and I would like to have a good one ready. Hence the experiments.

Anyway, to return to the substance. Members of the Oversight Council are not allowed to be members of the administrative staff of Jinja Honchō, nor to be an employee of a prefectural Jinjachō. This is because it is supposed to monitor what these groups are doing, on behalf of the Shinto world as a whole. There are up to 168 members, who have a three-year term, and can serve more than one term.

One hundred and forty one of the members come from the 47 prefectures of Japan, in three groups. The 47 heads of the prefectural Jinjachō are all on the Oversight Council. In addition, every prefecture sends one priest, and one person who is a director of a jinja but not a priest. These representatives are elected by the prefectural Jinjachō’s council (which is made up of priests and people from across the prefecture). Jingū, at Isë, appoints two members. This is largely symbolic (two out of 168), but the symbolism is important. The final 25 members are additional priestly members, distributed between the prefectures by the chairman, and reassigned every three years. I suspect that this is done to allow for the fact that some prefectures have a lot more priests than others.

Normally, the chairman makes proposals to the Council, but if ten members sign a proposal, that proposal will also be brought forward, and can be passed by a majority. This means that the chairman and directors have no power to fire members of the Oversight Council, but the Oversight Council does have the power to fire the chairman and all the directors. (Even if the current rules make it difficult, the Oversight Council can change the rules.)

As I have mentioned in earlier posts about dissension in the ranks, the Oversight Council has been a bit of a rubber-stamp in recent years, but in theory it would win any showdown with the directors or administration. Revd Sano, who started the recent public disagreements, is a member of the Oversight Council, which effectively puts him beyond the reach of any reprisals from the centre.

The reason for this blog post is that the October meeting of the Oversight Council was rather livelier than normal, and I am going to write about it. This post is necessary background information.

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6 thoughts on “The Oversight Council”

  1. I am sorry but I disagree with you on your interpretation of 評議員会 hyōgiinkai as made up of “hyōgi” and “inkai”. I see it rather as a combination made of “hyōgi-in” and “kai”, so a meeting/council (“kai”) of advisors/counsellors (hyōgi-in). A committee (council) in Japanese is normally called an “iinkai”(委員会)and not an inkai(員会)- actually I don’t think “inkai” exists as a proper Japanese word.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      In terms of Japanese derivation, you’re absolutely right. There is a word “hyōgi”, which seems rarer than the compound “hyōgiin”, “councillor”, and then that is compounded to “hyōgiinkai”, a “kai (meeting)” of “hyōgiin”. If you look it up in a dictionary, “hyōgiinkai” has the meaning “council”. And, in fact, “the Council” would be a possible translation for the name of the body, but I don’t think it is informative enough.

      When working on a better translation, the appropriate split is different. “inkai” is not a word by itself, but it is the part of the word that means “body of people meeting”, as in “yakuinkai”. The question, then, is how to translate the “hyōgi” part. The meaning of the kanji does matter, as do the actual activities of the body. It’s also important that, in this case, the body is prior to the individuals. That is, they do not appoint hyōgiin, and then gather them in a meeting. The body is an important part of Jinja Honchō, and people are appointed to serve on it. Thus, despite the derivation of the Japanese word, I think its translation should start with the body, and work back to the individuals. It’s very important to think about all these aspects, or you end up with the situation that Jinja Honchō has with other terms, wherein the “chairman” presides over their meetings, while the “president” chairs them…

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