The September 13th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an article on the front page reporting on a seminar, held online, for the national organisation of young (under 40) Shinto priests. There were three speakers, one of whom was from a temple in Tokyo and talked about giving the customers what they want and abandoning traditions if they were not popular. (That provoked one of the journalists to write in a comment piece that maybe they didn’t want to take on all the proposals wholesale.)
The speaker I want to write about, however, was from Nomura Securities, and was reporting on the results of a survey that his company had carried out in June, in cooperation with an NPO called “General Research Centre on the Future of Buddhist Temples”. This covered 10,000 people aged from 20 to 80 across the whole country, and while it was mainly about attitudes to Buddhism, it also asked questions about Shinto.
He reported that 38% of people knew where their Ujigami Jinja was. Sixty two percent never paid their respects at a kamidana, a household shrine, while 22% did it a few times a year, and 8% every day.
They also conducted a follow-up survey with 2,000 people who indicated that they visited a jinja at least once per year, and asked them how many times in a year they had the chance to meet a Shinto priest. 72% said they never met a priest, 15% said once a year, and 6% said twice. (I’m somewhere around fifty times a year, so basically off the scale…)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people these days get their information about jinja from the internet. 33% look at the jinja’s homepage, 7% at portal sites, and 7% at social media. As the speaker (possibly Tsukazaki, but the second character of his name is unusual) said, this underlines the importance of jinja having at least a basic web presence.
The survey asked whether people would want to talk to a professional or a religious figure if they had a problem. Seventy four percent said no, in general, and only 4% said that they would want to speak to a Shinto priest. If the overwhelming majority of people who visit jinja never see a priest, that is not terribly surprising.
One final overall question was “Do you hope for anything from jinja and Shinto priests?”. Eighteen percent said “yes” or “to some extent”, while 36% said “no” or “not really”. Given the lack of contact with priests, that is not really surprising, but still rather discouraging.
The overall message of the training session was that jinja could no longer expect to survive by simply continuing as before. (Mind you, I am not sure that there was any point in the last two centuries when they could.) Perhaps reinventing themselves as service providers is not the way forward, but the consensus was that something needed to be done, and the younger priests were the ones who were going to have to do it.
“Abandoning traditions if they are not popular” seems a bit extreme to me, but I do think there’s something to be said for listening to what the people are interested in and rebranding those old traditions to appeal to new generations.
I think Jinja Honchō would agree with you on that. The difficulty, of course, is getting the balance right.