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Jinja and the State

Every year, the Society of Shintō Studies holds an academic conference at which its members give short papers. I attended a few years ago, but the pandemic and work commitments mean that I have only been once. I really should try to get there this year. In any case, summaries of the papers are published in the Journal of Shintō Studies a year or so later — in this case, in issue 269. These are very short papers (only a couple of printed pages), but they are a bit more detailed than abstracts, and I think some of them will be interesting to readers of this blog, so I will write a few posts about them. I plan to introduce five presentations, including this one, out of the 34 given. (The conference has four parallel tracks.)

Today, I want to introduce a piece of research on a jinja in the 1930s. The English title of the paper is “Examining Shrine through Shrine Log Entries: The Shift of Niiname Rites Date at Futaarayama Shrine in Utsunomiya in 1934”, and it is by Sugimoto Masaru. (There are 34 of these short summaries, and the quality of the English titles is a bit lower than in the normal issues. Still, checking it has shown that this jinja does indeed read its name as “Futaarayama”, while the jinja using the same characters in Nikkō reads it as “Futarasan”. Both of these jinja claim to be the old Ichinomiya of Shimotsukë Province, because they have the same name as the jinja listed in the old documents, and are close enough together that the geography works for both.)

Part of the point of the article is that the Shrine Log Entries are not as boring as they sound. The logs themselves were legally mandated records under the pre-war system, and one might expect them to be entirely formal. Now, that can be more informative than one might anticipate, but it does not tend to make thrilling reading.

The first point Sugimoto makes is that the entries in the log vary in form. The chief priest wanted to write them in a form appropriate to important historical documents, but the local authorities wanted him to write them in bureaucratese. (The Japanese is “kanputekikijutsu”.) Thus, the logs include both, thus not only recording conflict between jinja and the central authorities, but actually being one site of that conflict.

The second point concerns the chief priest’s (Revd Morikuchi) opinions on when the Niinamësai, the harvest festival, should be held. He did not agree with the prefecture, and appealed to higher authorities in the government. However, they did not support his position, and he noted “if it is a government decree, we have no choice”, which does not suggest he was convinced.

These particular discoveries are not all that riveting in themselves. However, they do show that there was disagreement over Shinto policy in this period, and suggest that the jinja logs, which every jinja (or at least every important jinja — I’m not entirely clear on that) kept, could be a valuable source for finding out about those disagreements.

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