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Vigorous Debate

The highest decision-making body at Jinja Honchō is the Oversight Council, as described in my last post here. Its meetings have tended to be a simple rubber stamp for the proposals brought forward by the Board of Directors, but that was not entirely the case at this October’s meeting.

Before people get too excited, I should emphasise that it did rubber-stamp all of the proposals brought forward by the Board of Directors. The accounts and budget were approved, as were the various changes to Jinja Honchō’s rules. Quite a bit of this covered responses to COVID-19, and the proposals appear sensible to me, so it looks as though the councillors generally agreed.

However, there was a lot more debate and discussion than has been the norm in the past. This caused practical problems; the meeting was being held in a hotel in Kyoto, rather than in the normal hall at Jinja Honchō because of concerns about the infection rate in Tokyo, which meant that the meeting had an inflexible finishing time — and it ran out of time before the agenda was completed. (There were supposed to be four statements by individual councillors at the end, which is normal, but they had to be cancelled — the texts were distributed by post later.)

The meeting started entirely conventionally, and two reports on Jinja Honchō’s activities were accepted by the council. Things started to change a bit in the questions, because Revd Sano raised two critical points.

First, he claimed that the distribution of the special offerings from Jinja Honchō to mark the performance of the Daijōsai had not been done properly. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post. Revd Sano’s point was essentially the one I made there: practicality had been allowed to override symbolism, or, as he put it, the ecclesiology of Shinto was not a living part of their procedures.

His second question was about the number of jinja that had left Jinja Honchō in the last year. Last year’s number was, it seems, higher than normal (this number would appear not to be public…), and Revd Sano wanted to know whether there was a reason for this, or any trend. The reply was that the timing of a jinja leaving Jinja Honchō depended on when that jinja carried out the necessary legal procedures, so there are occasional concentrations in the numbers. In addition, if a chief priest with multiple jinja takes their main jinja (honmusha) out of Jinja Honchō, they also take all their secondary jinja (kenmusha) out. If that priest happens to be responsible for a lot of jinja, the numbers go up.

While the official reply sounds rather unsatisfying, my knowledge of statistics suggests that it could well be the only possible reply. Numbers of random events do fluctuate in strange ways, so that it might look as though you have a high number that needs an explanation when you really don’t. These numbers can look really high; as I have mentioned in an earlier post, the fact that a group of 25 people is made up of 17 men and 8 women is not a sign of bias against women, because there is a one in eight chance of that split happening one way or the other if you choose each member from a pair of one man and one woman by tossing a fair coin. Sometimes, “random fluctuations” really are the reason.

Of course, sometimes they are not. It would probably be useful for someone with a basic grasp of statistics to take a look at the numbers to see whether there is a trend, but I’m not sure that statistical analysis is Jinja Honchō’s strong suit.

And, as my report, like the meeting itself, is about to overrun, I will split it, and continue in the next blog post.

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5 thoughts on “Vigorous Debate”

    1. I only recently learned about how one priest might be responsible for many jinja from another one of your blog posts, but I didn’t realized how important that fact might be

      1. I’m glad it was interesting. The less mystical and spiritual aspects of Shinto are still very important, both to priests and to the way it fits into wider Japanese society. Thanks for the comments!

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