Most readers of this blog have probably heard of Himeji Castle. It is the most spectacular of Japan’s surviving castles, and a World Heritage Site. I doubt anyone has heard of Himeji Jinja. Well, you are going to. But first, a bit of background.
As readers probably do know, I work for Jinja Honchō as a consultant. Earlier this year, I suggested that I could offer assistance to jinja, particularly smaller jinja, that wanted to strengthen their ability to accommodate foreigners, both visitors and residents. Nothing will really happen at a jinja unless the priests, and often the local people, want it to, so I felt that the key to actually making a difference was to find jinja that wanted to do something I could help with, and help them.
The head of my department decided that it would be a good idea to do this as an official Jinja Honchō project, and it started from July, when Jinja Honchō’s financial year started. We are printing articles about the project in Gekkan Wakagi, which is Jinja Honchō’s internal monthly newsletter. All priests get it, but it is not publicly available. (Not being a priest, I don’t automatically get it, although they are giving me copies at the moment.) The articles explain the broad outline of what we can offer, and invite jinja to get in touch with us.
In early August, we got our first response, from Himeji Jinja. The jinja was founded in the late nineteenth century, and it enshrines the last lord of Himeji domain. As it was founded in the castle grounds, it has no ujiko (parishioners), and therefore relies on sūkeisha, adherents, for its income. A new chief priest took over last year, and she wants to revitalise the jinja.
The basic situation of the jinja is great. It is in the grounds of Himeji Castle, so there will be foreign tourists in the general area just as soon as foreign tourists come back to Japan. The precincts are fairly large, and look pleasant from Google Street View; the cherry blossoms and autumn leaves are said (by the chief priest) to be particularly beautiful. The buildings are fairly large, and the chief priest is there about half the time. It will be a good place for people to visit to get an experience of Shinto.
In short, I am going to be recommending that people visit this jinja very soon now.
However, you may have noticed that I did not link to the jinja’s web page. That is because it doesn’t currently have a web page. Our first priority is going to be the creation of one in Japanese, with the English version close behind. (They may even go live simultaneously, but the English page will be created based on the material on the Japanese page.) I will be writing the English web pages, and discussing what should be on the Japanese pages with the priests.
We also plan to create guidance material to help foreign visitors pay their respects at the jinja, and make it easy for them to choose appropriate omamori for themselves and their friends.
However, the project is still at a very early stage. We had the first meeting (an online meeting) on Wednesday (the 7th of September), and the next one is planned for the end of the month. After the next meeting, we should have worked out a schedule for what we are going to do. There is a lot to be done, because the previous chief priest had not prepared much publicity or explanatory material even in Japanese. I plan to keep writing about it on this blog, so that you can follow along and see how it develops.