The September 20th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an interesting article on cashless offerings on its back page, written by the deputy chief priest of Akibasan Hongū Akibajinja. (Fun fact: “Akihabara” was actually “Akibahara”, named after an Akiba Jinja, but the bureaucrat who named the railway station wasn’t a local and got the pronunciation wrong.)
The main argument is similar to one that I have made on this blog before: the physical offering has religious meaning, and waving your smartphone around isn’t the same. He does suggest a couple of interesting alternatives to setting up a cashless terminal on the offering box. One is returning to the old custom of scattering rice. The current custom of offering money is generally thought to be a replacement for that custom, so going back to it certainly has tradition on its side. Another was setting up vending machines that accept cashless payments, and dispense coin-shaped tokens that can then be offered (and, presumably, gathered up and put back through the machine). The vending machines idea had not occurred to me, and it would certainly be better than requiring staff to supply the symbolic offerings. Presumably, the machine could dispense rice if desired, thus combining the two ideas.
However, two points he makes as part of his argument are also interesting.
First, he argues against making the change simply because it is more convenient for the people who have come to pay their respects. Some people apparently do say that the kami will accept the change if it is good for the people, but he argues that this is rather like emotionally blackmailing the kami (“oshitsukëwaza” in Japanese). Thus, he argues that we should look at what the kami want.
That leads to the second interesting point: how can we find that out? He argues for historical study, for two reasons. The first is that it is difficult to determine the will of the kami through turtle shell divination or oracles (traditionally granted through the kami possessing a miko, although he doesn’t mention that specifically). The second, though, is that oracles and the like are private. Nobody else can check whether the kami really said what you said they said. This makes it impossible to have a public discussion and reach a consensus on what the kami want. Historical evidence, on the other hand, is available to anyone who looks, and there is a good chance of reaching agreement.
This is a very common attitude within Shinto, although it is much less common for it to be made that explicit. (I do wonder whether he has studied philosophy at some point.) However, I think there is a fundamental problem. How do you link past Shinto practice to the will of the kami?
He does gesture at an answer to that. He says that offerings of cash have continued for over a hundred years, and there have been no problems.
Well, no problems if you don’t count the Influenza Pandemic, Great Kanto Earthquake, Pacific War, Great East Japan Earthquake, COVID-19 Pandemic, and numerous smaller earthquakes, typhoons, and floods. There is a prima facie case to be made that something is really annoying the kami. Maybe it is the cash offerings.
I am inclined to agree with most of what he says about methodology — Shinto should be based on what the kami want, assuming they are the sort of thing that can have desires, and the way we determine that should be public. However, I am not at all convinced that studying the history of Shinto is a way to meet those conditions.