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Close to the Kami

A couple of weeks ago, I received the April issue of the quarterly “magazine” of Kinkasan Koganëyama Jinja, in Miyagi Prefecture. (It only has four pages, hence the scare quotes.) This describes recent happenings, mostly matsuri, at the jinja, and also talks about upcoming events. One of those is the “first snake festival”, which happens for a week at the beginning of May, and thus often overlaps with Golden Week.

This is one of the most important matsuri at the jinja, and one of the significant features is that, during it, the doors to the main sanctuary are opened, and prayers are performed at those doors, rather than in the prayer hall at the bottom of the hill. The chief priest describes this by saying,

“It is possible to venerate the kami from close beside them, and so many people come from across the country.”

This illuminates an important point about Shinto. The kami are widely thought of as being literally inside the main sanctuary, so that the closer you are to it, the closer you are to the kami. If the doors to the main sanctuary are open, there is less of a barrier between you and the kami, which is bound to be good.

(Incidentally, an odd thing about this matsuri is that it isn’t actually for the kami in the main sanctuary; it’s for Benzaiten, who is enshrined in one of the subsidiary jinja in the precincts. Nevertheless, this is the matsuri at which the doors of the main sanctuary are opened.)

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