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Distributing Jingū Taima

Every year, the Shinto world distributes Jingū Taima, the ofuda associated with Jingū, and more specifically with the Naiku, which enshrines Amaterasu Ōmikami. People are expected to place this ofuda on their kamidana, and venerate it for one year, before replacing it at the end of the following year. Thus, in theory, jinja would distribute one Jingū Taima per household per year.

In some areas (although not the area where I live), the priests and adherents of the local jinja go to visit every household and business, taking Jingū Taima with them and receiving the appropriate offerings from people who want them. This seems to be more common in the countryside, but it does happen in urban areas.

This year, of course, the pandemic complicates things somewhat. It seems that, in normal years, it is not uncommon for people to invite the priests or adherents inside, and they talk a bit before the ofuda is handed over. This year, Jinja Honchō is specifically suggesting that people not do that, and that if people refuse to even come to the door they should just remind them that the Jingū Taima is available at the local jinja, and leave it at that. Obviously, they are also advised to wear masks, and to go in small groups. However, the Shinto establishment is very reluctant to call for a significant reduction in these activities.

This is because the distribution of Jingū Taima is one of the most important activities undertaken by jinja, as far as the establishment is concerned. There are numerous meetings about it, and certificates for jinja that do a particularly good job. I think that a large part of this is due to the connection to pre-war practices, where the distribution of Jingū Taima was promoted by the state, but the establishment gives other reasons for continuing it now.

It is, they say, an important way to promote links between people, between people and society, and between people and the kami. The number of Jingū Taima a jinja manages to distribute is taken by the establishment to be one of the most important measures of that jinja’s health.

I do not think that this is a wise, or realistic, position. The purpose of prewar State Shinto was to focus everyone’s attention on the Tennō, and on the nation. Channeling everything through Jingū, presented as the site of veneration of the Imperial ancestor kami, made a lot of sense for that. Postwar Jinja Shinto is, however, not like that. Individual local jinja are much more important, although the Tennō and Jingū do still play an important role. Putting so much emphasis on something that draws attention away from the local jinja and towars Jingū is, arguably, not a good plan.

Quite apart from that, it seems to be failing. The number of Jingū Taima distributed is falling year by year, even though the number of households is rising (as the average household size falls) and interest in jinja and even Jingū specifically is rising, as measured by the number of people who visit them.

However, Jinja Honchō cannot simply stop doing this. The money from the Jingū Taima is absolutely vital to funding the Shikinen Sengū, the 20-yearly Grand Renewal, at Isë, and that ritual is extremely important in the Shinto establishment’s image of itself, and of Shinto.

At the moment, there is no more than low-level discontent, which almost never makes it out into the open. Nevertheless, I think this is one of the points over which the Shinto establishment may face major problems in the near future.

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