Recently, an online group that has a professed aim of helping jinja has caused a problem in the Shinto world, which has raised larger issues. (This was covered in the July 19th and 26th issues of Jinja Shinpō.) The group in question ran a website where people could upload information about jinja, and the goal was to connect jinja in rural areas with people who might want to support them. The group even, it seems, contacted Jinja Honchō about it in advance.
The first problem was that anyone could edit the information, and that the site did not get permission from the individual jinja. If people got the impression that the site was officially endorsed, I can see how that might be an issue.
The real problem, however, came when the site started collecting offerings for the jinja, allowing people to send money. There had still been no direct communication between the group and the jinja, and so the jinja had no idea of how the group was going to get the money to them, or even if there were any plans to do so.
The head of the group was summoned to Jinja Honchō, and actually went, which rather suggests badly organised good faith, rather than dishonesty — and that is, indeed, how Jinja Shinpō is reporting it. For now, the site has removed the offerings function. Further discussions seem to be planned, but nothing about that is public yet.
However, this raises the issue of the spread of the cashless society. Japan has remained more attached to cash than many places, but over the past few years cashless payment systems have made significant inroads, and their spread has been accelerated by the pandemic, as some people are reluctant to handle cash that other people have also handled. This creates a problem for jinja, as I have mentioned before.
First, there is the entirely practical problem of setting up the system. This sort of technology tends not to be something priests are familiar with, and for some jinja the set-up costs would also be a serious issue. Then there is the issue of the processing fees. Not all of the offering to the jinja would go to the jinja. There is also a concern about anonymity — there seems to be an idea that people should be able to offer to the kami anonymously if they wish.
More significant, however, are the religious issues. As I have mentioned before, throwing your money into the offering box is, in part, derived from purification rituals. Waving your smartphone around would not be the same. Similarly, the monetary offerings made for a formal ceremony are physically placed before the kami during the ceremony, as offerings, and that is not possible if they are only bits.
These issues are going to have to be solved, however. Apparently, banks have started charging fees for accepting large quantities of coins, so that there is, in practice, a 3.5 to 4% processing fee on cash offerings. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Could Jinja offer a bundle of (sanitized?) coins to patrons in exchange for electronic payments, and then patrons could use those coins as offerings?
Yes, something like that is probably the best way forward. The details still need to be worked out. For example, the overwhelming majority of jinja, even in urban areas, are unstaffed, which would make the transaction difficult. It might also be impossible to do it with actual coins, due to the conditions on the cashless services.
The devil is in the details here, I think.
But once they’re handled by the patron… they’re no longer sanitized. If you want to keep things sanitary, then either the offerings must be able to be sanitized with minimal contact before reusing them, or able to be disposed of without further significant contact. That’s the central dilemma of the issue in my mind. How to retain physical offerings without the drawbacks (in terms of equipment, training, effort, and waste) of actual physical offerings?