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Kamidana Booklet

Jinja Honchō has recently (within the last year) published a new booklet about kamidana. It is all in Japanese, but the information is basically the same as that in Shinto Practice for Non-Japanese, except that it is aimed at Japanese people in Japan.

Given that target audience, their choices concerning presentation and what to cover are interesting.

First, it opens with a double-page manga of two women going to a jinja, praying for weight loss and a boyfriend, and then getting an omikuji and omamori, before discovering that they have no idea what ofuda are, or what you do with them.

This manga reflects a rational assessment of the target audience for the booklet. Women in their twenties and thirties do make up a large proportion of people who visit jinja without already having a strong link to them, and they are very often praying for boyfriends. Those are the people who will find this booklet useful: interested in jinja, but without the connections that mean they get told about kamidana without asking.

The next page shows photographs of both a traditional kamidana, with a miyagata, and the modern redesigns, including one made to stand on a table or on top of a cupboard. Jinja Honchō has been drawing attention to these modern versions for a while, because they fit better in modern Japanese homes.

The booklet gives clear instructions for how to set up and venerate a kamidana, with a couple of points that I haven’t seen stated clearly before. One is phrased as a FAQ, and tells you that you should take the thin paper wrapping your ofuda off it before venerating it. This is good, because it was years before I realised that you were supposed to do that. You are really, really not supposed to remove the next layer of paper, so it is far from obvious that you should take that one off. (This isn’t in my book, because not all ofuda have this paper, and it isn’t at all clear whether it would be on ones that people overseas would be able to get. If you have an ofuda and are wondering: the paper you should remove is very thin and translucent, and has nothing written on it. It is normally just wrapped around the ofuda, rather than being sealed at the top and bottom. If the outermost layer of paper has something written on it, leave it on. In later years you might discover that it says “remove this paper”, but oh well…)

The other is that the text explicitly says that you should exchange the offerings for new ones immediately before you venerate the kami, every morning. I wrote a while ago that I had failed to find anything from anyone that was explicit about when you should take offerings down. Well, now there is something.

It is quite possible, even likely, that this booklet is explicit because I couldn’t find anything that was. Part of my attempt to pin down the official answer was to ask the people I work with — in the religious education department of Jinja Honchō. The people who made this booklet, in other words.

The booklet does not, however, tell you what to do if you are not venerating the kami every morning, which is an interesting choice. They normally try to lower the barriers to starting, and clearly do that in other aspects, but they are simply taking it for granted that you will venerate the kamidana every day.

Another interesting choice is that the booklet tells you to stop venerating your kamidana for about fifty days after a close relative dies. This is a standard tradition, but it is interesting that the compilers felt it should be included in an introductory booklet.

If you have the booklet, you can go to a special page on Jinja Honchō’s website, and ask them to send you a printed version of various norito for use at a kamidana or a jinja, and the Ōharaëkotoba. (There is a QR code.) They clearly think that there will be demand for a printed version, and they are probably right.

Overall, the booklet looks good to me. The target audience has been sensibly chosen, and it does seem to explicitly describe everything that you would need to do in order to venerate a kamidana in the traditional way. I have no idea how easy it will be to get it into the hands of the people who would benefit from it, but if jinja hand it out to people like the characters in the manga, it could be quite effective.

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7 thoughts on “Kamidana Booklet”

  1. > two women going to a jinja, praying for weight loss and a boyfriend

    Yikes. If this were the US (and I realize it’s not) this would trigger a rather unpleasant public relations firestorm.

    1. Indeed. But this is Japan, where a simple Google search turns up lots of lists of the best jinja to visit to pray for a boyfriend…

  2. Glad to be a patron again, and that this is the first post I see after returning. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Like I said, it was years before I realised… And, given that it is in the booklet, I guess that there are a lot of people in Japan who don’t.

  3. Pingback: Ujiko Booklet – Mimusubi

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