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Transferring Kami in Fukushima

Over the past few years, Jinja Shinpō has carried quite a few articles by the head of Fukushima Prefectural Jinjachō, mostly about the recovery efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Fukushima Prefecture was particularly affected by this, because it was the site of the nuclear plant that suffered several meltdowns. It is important to remember that Fukushima is not the prefecture that suffered the most casualties, but because radiation levels made it impossible to remain in part of the prefecture for more than a few hours every couple of weeks, it was not possible to even start rebuilding a substantial area for years, and a smaller area is untouched even now.

The initial exclusion zone included over 240 jinja, and an article in the 16th August issue talks about the progress that has been made at some of them since the exclusion zone was reduced in size. The main topic is Seino Jinja, which was badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, and had to be completely rebuilt. A construction company, Sōken, has offered to rebuild a number of jinja free of charge. I don’t think they have actually set a target, but they seem to have done three or four so far, and the article reported the Jichinsai, a ground-blessing ceremony, for the reconstruction of Seino Jinja. Without Sōken’s assistance, this would almost certainly not have happened: the jinja only had 80 households of ujiko before the disaster, and now there are only 30.

However, the part of the article that caught my attention was at the beginning, talking about the 240 jinja in the exclusion zone. The Jinjachō was concerned that it might never be possible to return to the area, and so negotiated with the prefectural police to get access and perform ceremonies to move the goshintai (the objects occupied by the kami) out of the exclusion zone, so that they could be honoured elsewhere. They did this in the August after the disaster, and he comments that performing the ceremonies in Tyvek suits was really hard.

Most priests do not think that Shinto is just a set of cultural practices, and they are willing to go to considerable lengths to serve the kami properly.

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