The November 9th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an interview with the chief priest of Hokkaidō Jingū, who has just been appointed a Chōrō. This appointment is a pure honour, given to priests who have made an important contribution to Jinja Shinto over the course of several decades. They receive a staff with a small statue of a pigeon on top — this is historically significant, but I am not sure of the exact significance. Chōrō is the highest honour that a priest can receive within Jinja Honchō.
Anyway, this priest, Revd Yoshida, was being interviewed. He said that, the other day, someone visiting the jinja said to him “Shinto priests are right-wing, aren’t they”. He reflected on the encounter.
“That was an ordinary woman, from the general public. I really felt just how far the mass media is pushing society to the left. It’s as if Japan isn’t Japan anymore.”
One may feel that the woman had a point.
And, in fact, Shinto priests really do tend to be right-wing, although there are, naturally, numerous exceptions. I think there are two reasons for this.
First, Shinto is inherently small-c conservative. It is all about preserving the matsuri performed in the past and passing them on to the future. It doesn’t have a tradition of social revolution or reform. If you are dedicated to preserving traditions in your job, you are likely to be conservative in your wider outlook as well.
Second, there was a power struggle in the immediate post-war period between people who wanted Shinto to become a global religion, or a set of folk customs across Japan, and those who wanted to keep it centred on the Tennō and the priorities of the pre-war Japanese state. The latter faction won. This has meant that, if you want to advance in Jinja Honchō, you need to at least appear to be a right-wing conservative, and I am sure that most, if not all, are quite sincere. If you disagree, you stay out of the central bodies, or keep quiet about it until you leave to work at your family jinja. Thus, all the material coming out of the centre is very right-wing.
The first reason is not going to change. The second, however, may change as Jinja Honchō experiences generational shifts. It will be interesting to see what happens — I should be around for the next one, at least.