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“What are Kami?”

The July 26th issue of Jinja Shinpō carried a column with the same title as this blog post, written by the chief priest of a jinja in Shikoku. (This is the woman who served as one of the Tennō’s priestesses, and who did not come from a jinja family.)

This is interesting in itself, because Jinja Shinpō almost never addresses this kind of issue. I suspect that this was published because, as a personal column, this article is clearly not an official statement from Jinja Shinpōsha (the publishers of Jinja Shinpō), making it possible to address the issue.

The content is also interesting. She says that she didn’t feel that she really understood what the kami were throughout her training, and had no clear picture in her mind. She went to a variety of jinja to try to experience the presence of the kami, but never really felt anything. As a result, she was quite worried about what she would say if, after she had become a priest, someone came to the jinja and asked her what the kami were. A priest really ought to have an answer, surely.

Her realisation came not at a jinja, but somewhere she was working after graduation. One of her colleagues made a comment about ghosts, and she had an immediate reaction of anger. “They don’t believe in ghosts, which means that they don’t believe in kami, because you can’t see them either!” But she immediately felt puzzled — given that she herself had suffered all these doubts about kami, why did that comment make angry?

At that point, she realised that she did, already, have kami within her. She had always had a sense of something close to her and watching over her. She closes the column with what she would now say to someone who asked her what the kami were, although I do not know how many other priests would agree with her.

“Kami are not necessarily numinous, superhuman entities, but rather entirely everyday things that are with us and watch over us.”

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