I mentioned in my earlier post that Jinja Shinpō was gathering more information about this year’s hatsumōdë. That information was published in the February 13th issue. The newspaper asked the priests who are affiliated with it as local reporters about their hatsumōdë experiences, and they received responses from 373 people across the whole of Japan. This is not a randomly selected representative sample, but it does cover a wide geographical area and many types of jinja, so it is the best data we are likely to get.
The first thing to note is that most of the country had good weather for hatsumōdë this year; 85% of the respondents said that it was clear. This makes a difference both to the total numbers, and to the distribution over days. If January 1st has good weather, more people go to their local jinja on that day, but if it’s inclement, people wait to see whether it gets better.
Most jinja saw more visitors this year than last, with 236 — almost two thirds — reporting an increase, and only 34 reporting a decrease. The overall pattern was similar, but weaker, for formal new year prayers, in which 131 priests reported an increase, and 43 a decrease. In this case, 191 reported no change. When asked to compare the numbers to those before the pandemic, the overall results suggested that things have returned to normal: 120 reported an increase, 113 no change, and 137 a decrease. For formal prayers, 90 reported an increase, 168 no change, and 108 a decrease.
Within these generally positive results, it seems that a number of priests reported reductions in the number of group visits, even when the total number of visitors had increased. Since many jinja see themselves as being primarily for groups, particularly the local community, this is not seen as a positive change. In some cases, this seems to have been the result of traditional group activities stopping during the pandemic, when the members could not gather, and simply not restarting — at least not yet.
Behaviour during hatsumōdë also showed changes. A number of priests commented that people seemed more relaxed about infection measures now, but that they were still being careful. It seems that the tendency to avoid large, popular jinja, which are often crowded, is still in place, and smaller rural jinja are seeing more visitors than before the pandemic. I would guess that the absolute numbers are not large, however. A number of jinja also reported a sharp reduction in the number of people visiting in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. That is not universal, but it is interesting. There is some suggestion that this might be an acceleration of a trend that had begun before the pandemic. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the night-time visit is not a particularly old tradition, so it might be declining.
Aside from the changes in numbers of formal prayers, there have also been changes in the way that they happen. One thing that seems to be common is a shift from simply turning up on the day to booking a slot in advance. During the pandemic, it seems that a lot of jinja introduced advance booking, probably to avoid people gathering in waiting areas, and people seem to have got into the habit of reserving a slot even now that they do not have to. In some cases, this has even led to an increase in the number of prayers. On the other hand, while new year prayers for small companies used to involve the whole staff attending, that changed to a few representatives during the pandemic, and this has yet to change back.
Overall, then, hatsumōdë seems to have gone well this year, and the signs are that the overall impact of the pandemic may be passing. However, it may well have left its mark in changes to how people visit jinja in the new year. This is the third year that Jinja Shinpō has carried out this survey, and I hope that they continue. The information is really useful, and it would be helpful to be aware of changes in such a central part of contemporary Shinto practice.