LGBTQ at Jinja

One of my readers asked me about the general Shinto attitude to LGBTQ presence at jinja and participation in matsuri. As I have mentioned before, this is not a hot-button issue in Japan, although the Shinto world tends to the conservative side of things. That meant that I did not immediately know what the answer would be, so I asked a few priests I know. I contacted priests who are in a position to know what the general attitude is, rather than just at their jinja, but there are a couple of things I need to make clear before getting to the answer.

First, my contacts are in jinja associated with Jinja Honchō. This is mainstream Shinto in Japan, so this applies to the overwhelming majority of jinja here, but it may not apply to other traditions, particularly the varieties of Sect Shinto.

Second, Jinja Honchō does not really do official positions on anything — they do not even have an official position on whether the kami exist. Thus, this is no more than the general attitude, and individual jinja may well take a different position, depending on the opinions of the priests working there.

That said, this is what you can take as the default position for interacting with a jinja, until and unless a priest at a particular jinja tells you that that jinja takes a different view.

The short version is that it is not an issue.

LGBTQ people are welcome to visit jinja and pay their respects to the kami, just like any other member of the general public. They are welcome to make offerings and receive omamori, and to attend matsuri, again like any member of the general public. (Some matsuri are not open to the general public — right now, thanks to COVID, most of them — and so you would not be able to attend those.)

They are also welcome to ask for a formal ceremony in the prayer hall, a gokitō or kigansai. As this involves direct interaction with the priests, there is likely to be more variation between jinja, but as a default, jinja would be happy to perform a ceremony praying for a safe and prosperous household (kanai anzen) for a same-sex couple, or a request for finding or maintaining a good same-sex relationship. Similarly, while formal ceremonies require “somewhat” formal clothing, a trans woman, for example, could dress as a woman without expecting it to be a problem. If an LGBTQ couple wanted to have a ceremony for safe travel, then the impression I get is that there is unlikely to be a problem anywhere, but there may be a few jinja that would be reluctant to directly endorse a same-sex relationship.

Other things would depend on the jinja in question. For example, some jinja run miko or priest experience sessions aimed at tourists. Would they accept a trans person as their gender? (Male and female priests have different vestments, while miko have to be female.) That depends on the jinja. There are not enough jinja doing this to make a general statement. Similarly, whether a jinja would be willing to perform a same-sex wedding depends on the jinja. The Shinto world as a whole is not enthusiastic about same-sex marriage, so you might encounter a bit more resistance here. (I know some jinja do them, and Jinja Honchō does not make trouble about it.) However, because this is basically not an issue, it is certainly all right to ask. If you like the “couple” omamori sets, but want to get two male or two female, rather than a male-female pair, then you can ask. That would probably cause a bit of purely practical confusion, but asking is not impolite or disrespectful to the kami.

So, to summarise, the general attitude in mainstream jinja Shinto is that LGBTQ people may pay their respects and participate in matsuri just like anyone else.

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