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Hatsumōdë: The Visitors’ View

In my last post, I reported on Jinja Shinpō’s hatsumōdë survey of about 400 priests across the country. They also conducted an online survey of about a thousand “ordinary” Japanese, to see how they had handled hatsumōdë this year.

The first result they reported is that 78.2% of them had come across the encouragement to spread out hatsumōdë visits. That advertising campaign really does seem to have been effective, which underwrites the complaints made by rural priests, reported in my last post, that it was too much “one size fits all”, and did not take enough account of rural jinja.

The respondents were, of course, asked about their own hatsumōdë. 33% said that they normally do not go, which is broadly consistent with the other surveys that have asked this question — the standard result is that about 70% of Japanese people go to hatsumōdë.

28% said that they normally go, but had not gone this year. That’s 28 out of 67, or a 42% drop in hatsumōdë overall. About 45% of those people who did go to hatsumōdë said that they normally visit a famous jinja some distance from their home, and about a third of them said that they did not do that this year. That means that you would expect, typically, something like a 60% drop in visitors at famous jinja, which is broadly what they saw. So, the numbers add up, and suggest that there was a large drop, but not as large as I had feared it might be.

There was a space for comments in the survey. Some of them were what you would expect: older people who wanted to go to hatsumōdë, but felt that it was not safe under the circumstances, or people who got annoyed seeing queues of people at jinja on the news, after being told to spread things out.

A few of the quoted comments were more interesting, however, at least to me. One person commented that, normally, jinja say that ofuda and omamori cannot be sent by post, but that suddenly this year it was fine — was that really legitimate? Now, their understanding of the situation is oversimplified, because certain jinja have, in fact, always distributed ofuda and omamori by post, but their impression of the “standard” position is entirely accurate, and it is natural to have questions about the ease with which things changed.

Two comments wondered whether priests could just decide to extend hatsumōdë from the first three days of the year to the whole of January. This raises an extremely interesting question: who gets to decide what constitutes good Shinto practice? It is not at all clear that, even in theory, priests have that authority. Shinto priests are go-betweens for people and the kami, not sources of authoritative guidance. There is an argument that the Tennō gets to define good practice for Jingū and the imperial sanctuaries, but even then there are reasons to think that he does not get to set standards for the whole country. Jinja Honchō is very, very reluctant to forbid or require any practice, and largely restricts itself to saying that certain practices are definitely acceptable. (This is why almost anything on Shinto practice from Jinja Honchō includes a disclaimer saying “particular jinja might do things differently”.) If “tradition” determines correct practice, who decides what counts as following tradition? After all, Shinto practice has changed significantly over time.

In any case, while this year may have raised deep questions about who gets to define Shinto orthopraxy, the survey results do not suggest that hatsumōdë is going to take a serious blow from this year — as long as next year is more-or-less back to normal.

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Hatsumōdë: The Visitors’ View

3 thoughts on “Hatsumōdë: The Visitors’ View

    1. They aren’t actually umlauts. The line over the “o” is a macron, which indicates that it is a long “o” — the same sound, but twice as long. The dots over the “e” are a diaeresis, indicating that the “e” should be pronounced as an “e”, rather than being silent as in “mode”. “E” is never silent in Japanese, so the diaeresis is not used when writing for people who can be expected to know about Japanese pronunciation, but the macron is always necessary. “Yūki” means “courage” and “yuki” means “snow”. So “Yūki o dashitë!” means “Be brave!”, while “Yuki o dashitë!” means “Throw the snow out!”. (Only the first of those two expressions is a common phrase, though.)

      1. Thank you! I have started reading the Kojiki and I was seeing them everywhere and not understand so this is a big help!

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