At present, Jinja Honchō is being sued by two people, one former employee and one who was demoted. The former is suing for (the Japanese version of) unfair dismissal, while the latter is suing for unfair demotion. (I’ve never heard of that in the UK or US, but apparently it is a thing here: Japanese law appears to rely on “abuse of authority” rather than any particular consequence.) They are asking for the courts to confirm that the decisions were without effect, and for payment of the salary that they should have received. (Again, this is quite common in Japanese law: they are not asking to be reinstated — they are asking the courts to confirm that they were, in legal terms, never actually fired or demoted.)
They were disciplined because they raised trouble within Jinja Honchō over a real estate transaction in which a dormitory, and the land it was built on, was sold to a company, which immediately sold it on to a property developer at a substantial mark-up. They claimed that the decision was illegal, and that it was made to, effectively, enrich the middle-man company, which had close associations with directors of Jinja Honchō. Jinja Honchō held an investigation, which was nominally independent, after taking the disciplinary action, and it concluded, as I read the report of the report, that the transaction was legal and in accordance with Jinja Honchō’s rules, but that the rules should be changed so that the same sort of action would not be within the rules in the future.
Jinja Shinpō carried a substantial article about the closing arguments in the November 9th issue. This is the first time they have reported anything of substance about the case, rather than simply mentioning that it was happening, so it looks as though the articles asking them to report these things in more detail are having an effect.
The claimants’ arguments are essentially as you would expect. They say that they have shown in court that their warnings about malpractice in the sale were accurate, and that their actions were, therefore, appropriate whistleblowing. They said that the independent investigation could not be relied upon, and that their penalties were revenge from people in authority at Jinja Honchō who did not want the situation to come to light. Thus, they should not have been disciplined, and so the disciplinary action was an abuse of power.
Jinja Honchō’s arguments are a bit more interesting. First, they insisted that the sale was appropriate and legal, and that the claimants had only raised suspicions, but had not shown otherwise. Second, they argued that the claimants were not just employees, but were also priests in leadership positions. Despite the knowledge and demeanour that should go with that, they had linked up with the hostile “Group to Ask Jinja Honchō to Get Its Own House In Order”, and continued unreasonable attacks. (The group in question appears, from the outside, to be mainly composed of priests who have fallen out with Jinja Honchō.) Finally, they argued that the penalties were imposed based on Jinja Honchō’s religious values, and that if they were declared invalid, it would lose its ability to work as a denomination (hōkatsu shūkyō hōjin). This would interfere with constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, and so the court must not make such a decision.
I am not a lawyer, so I will not comment on the strength of the legal arguments. This case is, obviously, potentially catastrophic for the current leadership of Jinja Honchō. If they lose, they will almost certainly have to resign, and may be subject to penalties themselves. On the other hand, despite the claims in the religious freedom objection, I do not see it being bad for the system in the long term, whichever way things go, as long as Jinja Honchō responds sensibly. That said, it is clearly a very important issue for the Shinto community, so it is good to see Jinja Shinpō reporting it in more detail. The verdict is expected in March.
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