In the January 24th issue, Jinja Shinpō published an article about hatsumōdë this year, the second year under the influence of COVID-19. The big picture is that, at most jinja, numbers were way up on last year, but still not back to 2020 levels, before the pandemic got started. In general, the number of visitors to a jinja was around 70% of 2020 levels.
At this point, the reports are all from major jinja, such as Jingū in Isë, Meiji Jingū in Tokyo, Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, and Dazaifu Tenmangū in Kyushu, and they are backed up by analysis of location data from mobile phones. This is certainly good news for those jinja, for two reasons. First, hatsumōdë is, as I have mentioned before, often very important for a jinja’s finances. Second, customs do die if they are not practised for a significant period. Since hatsumōdë is only done once a year in any case, losing two years could have started the decline of the tradition.
Thus, the timing of the Omicron wave in Japan was very good for jinja. While it is in full swing now, it only really started to get going a few days after hatsumōdë was finished, so traditional New Year activities all took place almost as normal.
The article also covered a few jinja where things were a bit more disrupted. There was unusually heavy snow, the heaviest for about fifty years, in some areas, and Taga Taisha in Shiga Prefecture had so much snow that the tent they had set up for hatsumōdë (probably a temporary omamori stand) collapsed under the weight. They weren’t able to keep up with clearing the precincts, so I suspect they did not get quite as many visitors as normal.
Jinja in Fukushima were also covered. Although it is coming up to eleven years since the earthquake and tsunami, some areas near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor are only just being reopened. Registered residents are now allowed to stay overnight in some parts of Futaba, to get ready for moving back in June, and the local jinja was open for hatsumōdë. The jinja in nearby Namië, to which people have been able to return since March 2017, reported that it had about 100 visitors, and about 50 gokitō (formal prayers) in the new year season. However, only about 10% of the former population of the area has so far returned.
There will almost certainly be another article on this topic in a week or so, because Jinja Shinpō is conducting a broader survey of its correspondents across Japan. When that article is published, I will write again.