There is a position in Jinja Honchō called “san’yo” (参与). This title turns up from time to time in Jinja Shinpō, particularly in obituaries, but I hadn’t managed to work out what sort of position it was. There are a lot of other titles, but over time it became clear from context what they were, at least in general terms. For example, a sanji is a fairly high-ranking employee of Jinja Honchō, while a chōrō is an elderly and eminent chief priest who has been particularly honoured by Jinja Honchō. For san’yo, however, all I had managed to work out was that there were quite a lot of them, so it clearly wasn’t a particularly high honour.

Last time I went into Jinja Honchō, after we had finished the business meeting, I asked them what they were. I now understand why I had trouble working out exactly what they did: the people at Jinja Honchō also had trouble explaining exactly what their role was.

They are, formally, a kind of adviser to Jinja Honchō. In the main regulations, they are in the same section as “komon”, “counsellors”, but clearly in an inferior position. They are to be appointed, for three year terms, by the Chairman of Jinja Honchō, from among people who have done important service to Jinja Honchō, or who have valuable knowledge and experience. They are supposed to offer their opinions on important issues facing Jinja Honchō, or at least pay attention to the discussions. (The Japanese is a bit ambiguous.)

The regulations say that Jinja Honchō can appoint “jakkan” san’yo. My Japanese-Japanese dictionary says that “jakkan” means that the number is not clearly specified, but it shouldn’t be that big. “A few” is a common English translation. It seems that there are currently over a thousand san’yo, which is even more than I had expected, and more than I would have thought fell within “jakkan”. The san’yo receive the papers for meetings of the Oversight Council, and under normal circumstances they are entitled to attend and observe. (Last year, only the councillors were permitted to attend because of concerns about the pandemic.) I do not think they are allowed to speak at the Oversight Council, and they obviously do not get a vote.

So, it looks like san’yo is currently, in practice, an honorary position, used to indicate that someone is making, or has made, a valuable contribution to the Shinto community, when Jinja Honchō cannot afford to actually employ them, or when that would be inappropriate. It seems that it is also used when Jinja Honchō wants to give someone an official connection to the organisation, but has no budget to employ them, or particular job for them to do. (I have been an “affiliated lecturer” at an academic department, which is much the same sort of thing.) Judging from the obituaries, the three-year term seems to be a dead letter; it looks as though most san’yo are reappointed until they die. (I am sure there are exceptions, however.)

This is, as far as I can tell, very different from komon, which seems to be a rare title, and reserved for people whose advice Jinja Honchō really wants. Although the two posts are specified in the same regulation, they appear to have evolved in quite different ways over the last seventy five years.

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