Earthquake Commemoration

Next month will see the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. There will, I am sure, be a number of events to mark it, and since it is a very solemn event to start with, the necessary pandemic countermeasures will not, I think, be a serious burden. (The largest issue that immediately comes to mind is that people who had to leave an area in the aftermath probably will not be able to go back for a memorial event.)

Jinja Honchō is also asking jinja across Japan to hold a special matsuri to pray for recovery from the disaster. It should be held around March 11th, on a convenient day, and is to be a minor matsuri, although the chief priest may, at their discretion, choose to hold it as a medium matsuri. A sample norito is also provided (and was printed in Jinja Shinpō).

Requests for this sort of special matsuri are not uncommon, but they are normally related to events in the Imperial family, such as the Tennō visiting overseas. The requests always come with a sample norito, which is always described as an “example text”. That is, priests are always free to write their own norito for the event, but as that takes a lot of effort, they are also free to use the one that Jinja Honchō offers. I suspect that a number of jinja in the worst-affected areas will write their own norito this time, to refer to the specific events they experienced.

Flexibility as to the day is also standard. Sometimes, there is an event at the jinja close to the most appropriate day, and it makes sense to combine the matsuri so that there will be more attendees, and a larger matsuri. That reason is unlikely to be important this time, of course; the instructions specifically remind the priests to take steps to prevent infections. Another reason is that most priests are responsible for more than one jinja, and the matsuri should, in theory, be performed at each jinja — it should be performed for each kami, not just by each priest. It would be physically impossible for many priests to perform all of the matsuri on the same day.

The discretion to hold the matsuri as a medium matsuri is something that I do not remember seeing before. My guess is that this is because the matsuri is likely to be much more important for a jinja on the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, where they were directly affected by the quake and tsunami, than for a jinja in the mountains of Kyushu. I would imagine that quite a lot of jinja in the affected areas will hold it as a medium matsuri, at least at the priest’s main jinja. Elsewhere, it will depend on the chief priest, and how they feel about their jinja’s connection to the event.

One point of interest in the norito was that it gives the time of the earthquake, according to the old Japanese clock, as the hour of the sheep. This is the first time I have seen this measurement used in a contemporary document. (The norito still uses the modern calendar to give the date, however.)

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