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Back to Koganëyama Jinja

Last weekend (which is Sunday/Monday for me) I went back to Koganëyama Jinja on Kinkasan, in Miyagi Prefecture. Kinkasan is a small island a kilometre or so off the Pacific coast, and the closest Japanese land to the epicentre of the 2011 earthquake. During the tsunami it was, briefly, not an island. The main thing on the island is Koganëyama Jinja, and I have visited it every year since the island reopened for visitors in 2013. I have written about it several times before, but I haven’t sorted out tags through the blog yet. Maybe soon.

My preferred way to visit the jinja is to stay overnight on the island, which involves chartering a boat to get across. You can use the scheduled boats to stay over Saturday to Sunday, but not Sunday to Monday. However, I hadn’t been able to do that for a couple of years. In 2020, the charter service wasn’t running, and last year I couldn’t take the time. (I did it as a day trip instead.) This year, I got to stay overnight again for the first time in three years.

There were a number of interesting features. One is that they have completely redecorated the top floor of the sanshūden, the building where people stay at the jinja. It’s obviously very recent, because the tatami mats were still green, and it’s much improved over the previous decoration. I imagine that they will redo the next floor down when they have a quiet season, so that they can shut the whole floor.

Another is that I was not the only person staying overnight. That is unusual; this is only the second time that it has happened. This is not really unexpected — most people do not have my weekend, after all. Last time, the other people were a group led by a mystic (the person who told me that I had appeared to her in a dream and told her I was a reincarnation of Chikamatsu Monzaëmon). This time, they may have been a group, but they seemed a bit more independent of each other, so I’m not sure.

This raises an issue during the matsuri. Everyone recites the Ōharaëkotoba together, then the two miko light small fires (of “goma”, pieces of wood with requests on), and the chief priest reads the norito, with a pause while one of the assistant priests reads the list of people in attendance or offering remote prayers that day. Next the miko dance kagura, before everyone offers a tamagushi. The chief priest goes first, of course, and all the priests pay their respects with him. The attendees go next.

The issue is that the attendees have to be put in some sort of order. The names have to be read out in some order, and people have to offer tamagushi in some order. The first, simple, point is that people who attend in a group offer their tamagushi together. (At Konganëyama Jinja, everyone offers a tamagushi; at some jinja, one person offers a tamagushi and everyone else just pays their respects. That can also be influenced by the size of the group.)

Once everyone is in their groups, the order seems to be determined first by the size of your offering. I make a substantial offering every year, because my original motivation was to contribute to recovery after the earthquake, and that need has not gone away. It’s large enough to get me a really big ofuda, but not actually the biggest one, according to the jinja’s website. (This is good; the one I get only just fits in my bag to bring home. Incidentally, the available ofuda are called “medium ofuda”, “big ofuda”, “big big ofuda”, and “specially big ofuda”. I get a “big big ofuda”.)

This time, I was the first on the list, and the first to be called to offer my tamagushi, by myself. The next to be called were in a group of two, and they seemed to have a “big ofuda” (you can see everyone’s ofuda being distributed when you leave). Everyone else seemed to be on a medium ofuda, and they were grouped together.

I don’t know how they break ties.

It might seem strange to treat people better at a jinja just because they offer more money, but this jinja (Gold Mountain Jinja on Gold Flower Mountain) is all about getting money. The main benefit on offer is wealth; the jinja claims that if you visit in three consecutive years, you will never have money troubles.

Incidentally, the offering cannot be the only factor. This time, I was served my dinner in a private room, rather than the common dining hall, and one of the priests came to talk to me at the beginning of the meal. That didn’t happen the last time other people were there, even though I made the same offering, but I suspect that this is because the last time this happened was only my third visit, and this was my tenth.

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2 thoughts on “Back to Koganëyama Jinja”

  1. Pardon please,but,who, or whom are the Kami at this particular jinja? I understand the financial woes due to the earthquake,but it is strange people would be treated “better” because of a substantial money offering. I have respect and honor for the residing Kami,however the priests appear to be placing materialism over the spirit of the Kami, possibly negating the help of the Kami. Xie xie for the good work you do.

    1. The kami in question are Kanayamahiko and Kanayamahimë, kami closely associated with metal and mineral wealth.

      Within Shinto, it’s not at all strange for people to be treated “better” for larger offerings. There are many, many jinja at which you will get a more elaborate matsuri if you make a larger offering as part of it, and people who make larger donations to rebuilding get more recognition. On the other hand, that is not the only way to get recognition or special treatment — long association with the jinja will also do it. I suspect that high status in wider society would also have that effect — I doubt that the prime minister has to wait with everyone else if he visits a jinja, for example.

      The idea that everyone is equal before the kami is not, however, a part of Shinto. Anyone can venerate any kami at any jinja (these days, although not historically), but some people are privileged, and sometimes that privilege is inherited.

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