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Recently, I have read a number of articles in different places (not all Jinja Shinpō!) that made me think about the role of lineage in Shinto.

OK, so some of the articles were in Jinja Shinpō. Every year, they publish a number of short pieces by people associated with Shinto in some capacity who have the same zodiacal animal as the current year, the tiger this year. As there are twelve years in the cycle, that means people who are going to be 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, or 96. In principle, they could have someone who was 24 or 108, but I don’t think I’ve seen either of those. (No twelve-year-olds, either.)

Several of the ones in the January 17th issue mentioned lineage. One was by a man who has been a priest in the Imperial Household for fifty years, and he mentioned that when other people with that job started training him, they mentioned that they were all related — descended from the Fujiwara. Another was by the chief priest of Kasuga Taisha, who mentioned that he was also descended from the Fujiwara. I think the chief priest of that jinja always is, because it is the ancestral jinja of the Fujiwara clan. The current chief priest of Atsuta Jingū in Nagoya also wrote one, and mentioned that his family were traditionally priests at that jinja, although neither his father nor his grandfather had been priests.

From a slightly different perspective, an article in Jinja Shinpōsha’s record of the Great East Japan Earthquake mentioned that some jinja in newly-developed areas had trouble rebuilding after the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. This was because the “traditional” ujiko (that is, the people whose families had lived in the area for generations) would not let the “new” ujiko (that is, people who had moved to the area when it was built up into a commuter community) help. This is something that you still find today, nearly thirty years later.

One the other hand, one of the other new year articles was from a priest at Yasukuni Jinja who mentioned that his family had no connection to Shinto, and I have posted before about the series of articles by a female priest, who also served in the Imperial Palace, and who had no family connection.

And then, in the new year issue of the magazine of the Akasaka Hië Jinja adherents’ association, there was a special article from Yamatani Eriko, one of the Diet members sponsored by the Shinto establishment. She was writing about how wonderful Japanese culture was, and quoted Koizumi Yakumo to make her point. This is interesting because Koizumi Yakumo is Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish/Greek naturalised Japanese from over a century ago. Although she could assume that her readers would know that, she didn’t feel the need to mention it, nor did she seem to think that it made him any less valid as a commentator on Japanese culture.

Lineage is clearly important in Shinto tradition, and not just the Imperial lineage that I wrote about last week. On the other hand, it is not necessary. You do not need to be descended from a priestly family to become a priest, and you do not need to be born Japanese to be quoted as an authority on Japanese culture.

I do not think that there is any general bias within Shinto against people who do not have a lineage. However, there are particular jobs that are expected to go to people who do have a particular lineage. While I could, for example, train to be a priest, I very much doubt that I would be able to get a job in the Imperial Household in that capacity, and I certainly couldn’t become chief priest of Kasuga Taisha. On the other hand, there does seem to be a strong expectation that people in certain lineages will do exactly the job that their lineage is connected to, and no other, at least within Shinto.

On balance, it might be better not to have a lineage…

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