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Jinja and Temples

The 31st July issue of Jinja Shinpō had quite a lot of interesting articles, and I will write about several of them over the next few posts. (The jinja notices are not individually interesting — which makes them collectively interesting.)

One of these articles was a long one about inactive jinja, and the efforts in Saga Prefecture, in Kyūshū, to deal with the problem. The journalist visited several “inactive jinja” with people from the Jinjachō, and the article includes photographs. Some of the jinja look the part: almost lost among trees and undergrowth. Even those showed signs of recent activity, however, such as fresh shidë. Others, however, looked very active, and one had even had the sanctuary rebuilt within the last five or six years, despite being legally “inactive” the whole time. (The Jinjachō visited in 2017, and the sanctuary they saw this time was new.)

The most interesting case, however, is that of Tenman Jinja in Eri, Ogi City. This jinja is legally inactive, because it has no chief priest, but it is still an active site of religious activity. This is overseen and coordinated by the head monk at the neighbouring Buddhist temple, who, six years ago, had coordinated a rebuilding of the jinja with the ujiko. This time, it turned out that the head of the Jinjachō knew the head monk, and so they were able to set up a meeting to talk about the problem. (The Japanese term is “shiriai”, which means that they were not friends, but knew about each other’s existence and had met. Thus, the implication is that the head of the Jinjachō could have looked at the contact details on the signboard at the temple and said, “Oh, him!”.)

The meeting had three interesting results. First, the monks at the temple have been managing the matsuri at the jinja for a long time, which makes it difficult to appoint a Shinto priest as chief priest, and have them take over the matsuri. The article does not go into detail about why, but the implication is that there would be opposition from the ujiko to such a change. The second point was that the monk himself was understanding, and willing to help resolve the problem. The third interesting point was that the monk decided to contact other Buddhist monks in the area to find out how many temples were managing jinja.

In this case, we see a close link between Buddhism and Shinto. Such a link has a lot of historical background, but in this form it must be post-war, as it would have been illegal under the Meiji Constitution. The local ujiko obviously see no problem with a Buddhist temple managing a jinja — and why would they, as it has quite possibly been like that all their lives. The article does describe this as an unusual case, and it gets much more space than the other jinja as a result. It is unlikely to be the only example of this, but such cases are probably not common. However, the survey the monk is planning may have surprising results.

This legal problem is going to be very tricky to resolve. The jinja is not inactive in any substantial sense, which means that forcible action by the state to dissolve the religious corporation would not be welcome — and I think the state would be very reluctant to take that step. However, the religious corporation (which presumably owns the land, although the status of the new sanctuary may be more ambiguous) is a member of Jinja Honchō, and Jinja Honchō’s regulations mean that the head of the corporation must be a licensed Shinto priest. If it were an independent religious corporation, then there would be no problem with the monk taking on the legal role, but the jinja can only leave Jinja Honchō if its head follows the necessary procedures. And it does not have a head. Appointing a priest specifically to take a jinja out of Jinja Honchō and then resign would be technically possible, but it is politically difficult for the same sorts of reasons that make it difficult to have a priest actually take over at the jinja. Licensing the monk for the same purpose would also be tricky, even if he were willing to train as a Shinto priest. Licensing the monk as a priest, and appointing him as chief priest indefinitely should also be possible, at least from Jinja Honchō’s point of view, but might also provoke opposition.

Now that the Jinjachō is talking to the monk, I think it is likely that they will find a way to make the jinja legal again, but it is not going to be straightforward — and it may well be something that they deliberately do not talk about much.

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2 thoughts on “Jinja and Temples”

  1. Very interesting co-operation between these two faith traditions (if that is a suitable term for them – I’m not sure). Thank you for this post about it.

    1. I’m not sure Shinto really does “faith”. It really isn’t easy, though — the differences from the paradigm cases of “religion” make it difficult not to be misleading. I have suggested “religiously-inflected traditional practices” in the past.

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