The editorial in the March 28th issue of Jinja Shinpō was a very interesting discussion of the possible future structure of jinja within Jinja Shinto.
Since the end of the war, when jinja ceased to be run by the government, they have been religious corporations. The basic concept is that each jinja is its own religious corporation, and has has its own priest or priests. As I have noted before, things are more complex than that, with subsidiary jinja both within and outside the precincts attached to a single religious corporation jinja, but that has been the basic idea behind Jinja Honchō’s approach.
It is currently unsustainable. There are about 80,000 jinja that are religious corporations, and only about 20,000 priests. Because there are a handful of jinja with multiple priests, there are, if rumours are to be believed, priests who are the chief priest of one hundred jinja, and in rural areas it seems to be normal for one priest to oversee a couple of dozen jinja. The priest is necessary, because otherwise the religious corporation does not meet its legal requirements, and that could, in principle, lead to legal penalties.
The editorial noted that there is a growth in “hub jinja” (my translation of the Japanese). These are large and wealthy jinja with a lot of priests, and the resources to pay them. These priests, I think including fairly junior ones, are then appointed as the chief priests of small jinja in the area, and have the responsibilities of that role, including religious functions such as conducting the main matsuri, and the legal responsibilities of the head of the religious corporation. The small jinja are mainly looked after by the ujiko, and do not provide enough money to support a priest, but that is not a problem because the priest is employed by the hub jinja.
This sounds to me like a very sensible approach to the current problem. There are some small jinja that are probably too far from any candidate hub jinja for it to work for them, but it could cover a lot of the jinja that have problems.
The editorial raises the possibility of a further development of this. There has been an assumption under Jinja Honchō that, if you merge the religious corporations of two jinja, then you actually merge the two jinja, moving the kami to be venerated on a single site. However, there is no reason why that has to be done. A religious corporation can have multiple sites, and the legal structure has nothing to do with the religious one. Thus, the religious corporations of the small jinja could be merged into that of the hub jinja, while leaving the jinja themselves in place, with one of the priests from the hub jinja assigned as a chief priest.
This might also be a good idea. There is paperwork involved in being a religious corporation, and for a small jinja the amount can be excessive relative to the jinja’s activities, as I understand it. If the small jinja were part of a larger religious corporation, then its small income would be legally reported as part of the hub jinja’s income, removing the need for any separate filing, and similarly for all other legal requirements.
Obviously, the small jinja would lose a great deal of independence, but this proposal is intended for jinja that are at risk of completely disappearing without some sort of action. It strikes me as a potentially good way to preserve the sacred sites and their matsuri given contemporary social conditions.