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Disputed Presidency

The 1st August issue of Jinja Shinpō carried a couple of articles about the dispute over the presidency of Jinja Honchō. The first reported some legal moves.

It seems that Revd Ashihara, the director who was appointed president by the chairman, applied to the Tokyo Legal Affairs Office to record the change of president of Jinja Honchō from Revd Tanaka to himself. (This is a standard procedure, and my understanding is that it is necessary when certain officers of a religious corporation change.) He did this on March 6th. When the current management found out, they lodged an urgent case in the Asahikawa District Court in Hokkaidō, seeking a provisional ruling that Revd Ashihara was not the president of Jinja Honchō.

(Why Asahikawa District Court? I think this is because Revd Ashihara is the chief priest of Asahikawa Jinja, and thus resident in the jurisdiction of that court. They could probably have done it in Tokyo instead, because that court has jurisdiction over Jinja Honchō, but there may have been Reasons for doing it in the far north of Japan.)

On July 8th, the court issued such a ruling. The court did not rule on the central question of whether the chairman needed the approval of the board to appoint a president, but rather took the position that the discussions of the appointment of the new president had not yet been completed, and that Revd Ashihara was therefore not the president yet, whatever might happen in the future.

Revd Ashihara sent a letter to all the prefectural Jinjachō informing them that he would appeal but that he had, for the time being, withdrawn the application to change the registered president of Jinja Honchō, to avoid further confusion.

The article was buried on page ten (of a newspaper that normally only has six pages — this was the special expanded summer edition), and is based entirely on a statement released by the Jinja Honchō secretariat and Revd Ashihara’s letter. (Given that the disputed point is who gets to speak for Jinja Honchō at the moment, I am trying to avoid referring to either side as “Jinja Honchō” in this context. In all other contexts, the secretariat in Tokyo is still Jinja Honchō.) Jinja Shinpō is clearly being extremely careful not to make things worse in its reporting of this issue.

In any case, this little flurry of legal action has not changed the status quo in the slightest, and does not augur well for an amicable resolution of the problem.

The second article reported that the entire board of directors of Jinjashinpōsha had resigned and been replaced. Jinjashinpōsha is the company that publishes Jinja Shinpō, and books and pamphlets about Shinto. It is legally separate from Jinja Honchō, because it is a for-profit corporation, not a religious corporation, but it is based inside Jinja Honcho’s offices, and a lot of its directors are important chief priests.

This was, it seems, connected to the dispute over the presidency, but it was not in any way a purge.

The Chief Priests Emeriti of Atsuta Jingū, Dazaifu Tenmangū, and Fushimi Inari Taisha resigned and were replaced by the current chief priests of Atsuta Jingū, Dazaifu Tenmangū, and Fushimi Inari Taisha. A number of other chief priests, including the Shō Gūji of Jingū, resigned, and were replaced by the chief priest of Meiji Jingū, the deputy chief priest of Hikawa Jinja in Saitama City, and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. The chief priests who have newly joined the board are all relatively recent appointments, and thus relatively young. I think a couple of the new appointees are actually younger than I am, although I am not sure.

(As a side note, Fushimi Inari Taisha is not affiliated to Jinja Honchō, and I suspect that their presence on the board is a reminder that Jinja Shinpō is for the whole of Jinja Shinto.)

This leads to the suspicion that the directors decided that they were too old to be stuck in the middle of the current crisis, and handed the baton on to younger people. This is confirmed by the former president of Jinjashinpōsha’s resignation letter, which is published in the same issue and says exactly that. Specifically, he says that he hopes that the energy of the young people will enable Jinja Shinpō to engage effectively with the current crisis.

The rest of his resignation letter is surprisingly strong. Obviously, it is all couched in polite Japanese, and it isn’t really possible to swear in Japanese anyway, but it is very hard hitting. It draws attention to the current problems in the Shinto world, laments that the Shinto world appears to have lost harmony (“wa”) and mutual respect, and argues that this scandal could be one that affects the whole of Japan. He acknowledges that some people will criticise him for resigning at this point, but he says that he wants to hand over to the energetic youngsters, who will be a new wind blowing through the Shinto world — an image he expresses in phrases taken from the Ōharai Kotoba, the main purification prayer of Shinto.

The most surprising comment comes towards the end, where he calls on Shinto people across Japan to unify around the chairman of Jinja Honchō. Five years ago, that would have been an entirely conventional formula. Now, of course, when the big problem is the conflict between the (disputed) president and the chairman, it means that he has openly picked a side.

This bombshell was buried on page eleven.

My assessment of the chances of an amicable resolution of the crisis is rapidly tending towards zero. 

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2 thoughts on “Disputed Presidency”

  1. Aloha! Thank you for sharing. Fascinating. I have often seen traditional business organizations muddle through for many years resisting change until there is an event, such as the court case, which forces them to consider making changes. Then it becomes a battle between the traditionalists (typically older status quo types) and innovators (typically younger who welcome change with a senior leader). This struggle often goes on for long periods of time before market/financial conditions finally determine which group triumphs or in most situations a compromise hybrid leadership group is created. With a religious organization I still believe the financial conditions will determine the final make up of the leadership group. Really enjoying this somewhat inside look at the organizational dynamics within the world of Shinto. Thankful.

  2. Like the previous commenter, I too have seen organizations roiled by such an internal battle, but in my case in political organizations instead of business. It’s a deeply human thing. It’s absolutely fascinating to see this kind internal “conflict” play out in the context of Japanese shinto. Thank you for your continued reporting!

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