The July 25th issue of Jinja Shinpō had quite a long article about a matsuri in rural Kyoto Prefecture to mark the designation of Saguri Jinja as a “Jinja to Promote the Revivification of Jinja in Depopulating Areas”. (As normal, the title sounds better in Japanese.) I am pretty sure that I have mentioned these programs before — the Shinto establishment is aware that rural depopulation is a major threat to rural jinja, and has been trying to address that for decades. The problem has not been solved, but it is possible that it would have got a lot worse, more quickly, had they not acted.
In this case, this time they have chosen a jinja in an area that is not suffering from depopulation yet, but which is likely to do so in the future. The hope, as described in the article, is to strengthen the bonds between people through jinja ceremonies, prevent depopulation between generations, and pass the traditions on to the future. In other words, it seems that the hope is to give young people stronger emotional reasons to stay in the area.
Saguri Jinja does not have a resident priest. Indeed, it only has an acting chief priest, which may mean that he is not sufficiently qualified to be a chief priest, or that he has too many other jinja, too far away, to want to be formally appointed as the chief priest of this one. In either case, the priestly support at the jinja is minimal. Thus, the sōdai played a major part in the ceremony.
Half a dozen of the sōdai took part in the formal presentation of the offerings to the kami, passing the stands to each other as described in my essay on Shinto Liturgy. As noted there, this is one of the few parts of the liturgy of a matsuri that lay people can perform. They spent a couple of days practising, but apparently they were still quite nervous on the day, and were very relieved when it was completed without any significant problems.
They had advertised the matsuri in the local area, and about eighty people attended. They are also working on ways to continue the program. First, they plan to plant chestnut trees in the precincts, so that children will be able to gather chestnuts there. (The second character of “Saguri” means “chestnut”.) They have already started work on producing a jinja newsletter, and they are recruiting elementary and junior high school girls to learn Urayasu-no-Mai, one of the standard miko kagura, to perform at the Reisai (grand matsuri) in autumn. Further plans are under consideration.
The description of what they want is interesting. They want children to be able to play in the precincts again — tag was specifically mentioned as an option. (Do children still do that these days? Multiplayer smartphone tag games do not count.) Some jinja do ask people to be quiet in the precincts, but that is far from universal, and active encouragement of noisy running around, at least for children, is not limited to Saguri Jinja.