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Digitising Norito

When I posted about the process of writing out norito at Jingū a couple of weeks ago, I had a comment about the possibilities for digitalisation. That very topic, complete with a reference to the article that inspired my blog post, was taken up in a book review in the October 3rd issue of Jinja Shinpō. The review was of a collection of norito for regular matsuri written by the chief priest of Akasaka Hië Jinja in Tokyo, and the comments were inspired by the fact that the book includes a CD-ROM with the norito on it in a format suitable for printing. (Looks like Shinto has made it to the 1990s…)

The issue, as the reviewer, the chief priest of another jinja in Tokyo, laid it out, is as follows.

The ideal is to write norito specially for each matsuri, although possibly only making minor changes from earlier years to acknowledge recent events, and then write it out, by hand, using a brush and ink. At the very least, the norito should be written out fresh for the matsuri, even if the content is the same, as they do at Jingū. However, most priests do not have time to do this for most matsuri. Facing that reality, what is the best compromise?

The norito has to be available in physical form during the matsuri, as holding the paper and reading from it is an important part of the process. The liturgy specifies that paper should be used, so reading it off a tablet is not an option. Full digitalisation is not on the table.

One possibility is to use a written copy of the norito that has been around for years, getting a bit grubby, and with notes on slips of paper to add the petitioners’ names or any other changes. Another possibility is to print out a fresh copy of the norito.

Both of these are clearly inferior, he says, to writing out a fresh copy, but if that is not available, what is the best option? He suggests, as a good compromise, composing the norito on a computer, then revising it, and finally adjusting the size of the characters and the layout to get a good balance. Then print out the norito, and write it out based on the print-out. (He doesn’t actually mention the possibility of just reading from the print-out, but…)

Finally, he phrases the choice as between refusing to use computers in the process at all, and using old copies of norito with little notes added in. He thinks that the debate is going on quietly, but that it should be discussed more openly — and, reading between the lines, he thinks that it is better to use computers, at least in the composition process.

I suspect that the use of computers is inevitable. Younger priests will be used to composing on a computer or even a smartphone, and even if they continue to believe that it is important to write the “presentation version” out by hand, they are very likely to have digital versions of their norito around. I also suspect that printed norito will make an appearance in jinja with smaller numbers of priests and, importantly, no-one who will notice. (I suspect that they already have.)

The physical norito on paper, however, is not likely to vanish for quite some time.

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3 thoughts on “Digitising Norito”

  1. I am a few days late, but I find it an interesting difference between this and the Catholocism I grew up with. When beseeching God for a specific (variable) purpose, from my peeks behind the scenes, involved a lot of reading off of pages with blank spots to fill in as you go. I can’t imagine some of the priests I’ve known wanting to write out, for example, a marriage ceremony by hand every time. I’d wager many type up and print their homilies each week, too.

    1. My mother was a Protestant minister, and she certainly typed her sermons, and then printed them out. The differences between Shinto and Christianity are really deep and profound, and go far, far beyond polytheism versus monotheism. It matters to Shinto that the norito be handwritten in a way that it could never matter in Christianity.

  2. Pingback: AI Norito – Mimusubi

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