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The question of how jinja should respond to the changes in society driven by the information revolution is important, and there were several presentation reports in the Journal of Shintō Studies that took up aspects of that theme. One, by Liu Simon (I’m guessing he has non-Japanese roots) was on crowdfunding: “The Possibilities and Significance of Using Crowdfunding by Shrines: The Cases of Tenmangū in Osaka and Kunōzan Tōshōgū”.

Mr Liu (he was a graduate student) did a survey of the main Japanese crowdfunding sites in 2020, and found only 27 examples of crowdfunding related to jinja. As he says, this suggests that the idea is not yet widespread, and indeed there have been articles in Jinja Shinpō expressing concern about how it should be done. The presentation picked up seven of these examples, which were carried out by two jinja.

The first jinja is Osaka Tenmangū. This is a major jinja in Osaka, responsible for an important matsuri, the Tenjinsai. While this is the sort of jinja that might be expected to have more money coming in than going out, the income for the matsuri fails to cover its expenses. The crowdfunding campaigns, which all succeeded, were supposed to help with this. However, as Mr Liu points out, the total income from crowdfunding was only about 2% of the cost of the matsuri, and so its economic contribution was not all that significant. (That said, if the 2% takes you from 99% covered to 101% covered, that matters.) The crowdfunding campaigns were also good at raising awareness of the matsuri, and at giving anyone with an interest an easy opportunity to get involved. This sort of community growth may well be an important function of crowdfunding for jinja.

The second jinja is Kunōzan Tōshōgū, in Shizuoka. This is the jinja where Tokugawa Ieyasu was originally enshrined after his death, before being moved to Nikkō, and it still holds a number of important cultural artefacts associated with the first Tokugawa shogun. Its crowdfunding campaigns were to raise money to restore some of those artefacts. (There were two campaigns, but the presentation report does not make it clear how many artefacts were involved.) These were also successful, and secured the cooperation of a number of local organisations, businesses, and a smartphone game company. After the artefacts were restored, they went on a tour, giving people who had contributed, among others, the chance to see them in person.

In this case, the money raised through crowdfunding does seem to have been important in enabling the restorations, but the connections made through the program are held up as equally important. In addition, the connections were important in getting enough people to look at the campaign and consider contributing.

The conclusion of the report is that it is not easy to get enough attention to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, and that jinja will have to be careful if they are to preserve the religious aspects of their practice. Linking the funding directly to matsuri and cultural treasures is one way to do that, but there are other options. For example, I know of another crowdfunding campaign that was for the rebuilding of a small jinja on a mountaintop.

In a sense, jinja have been using crowdfunding for centuries — there are lists of the names of people who contributed to rebuilding jinja at countless locations, including my local jinja and Kinkasan Koganëyama Jinja. However, that did not involve websites and advertising on SNS. There will inevitably be problems as priests work out how to work with the new tools, but in the long term I think it is inevitable that they will.

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