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Seki Semimaru Jinja

The August 21st issue of Jinja Shinpō had an article about Seki Semimaru Jinja, a jinja in Shiga Prefecture, on the shore of Lake Biwa. There are two sanctuaries, an upper and a lower, and the main kami is Semimaru. Semimaru is a famous, and semi-legendary, early poet, and some legends say that he was blind but recovered his sight, so the jinja is connected to the arts and to eye conditions. One of Semimaru’s poems is in the Hyakunin Isshu, the collection of one hundred poems by one hundred poets that every Japanese person encounters at school. However, his history is completely obscure. The jinja itself is said to have been founded in 822, to venerate Sarutahiko and Toyotamahimë in the upper and lower sanctuaries respectively, and Semimaru was enshrined in both sanctuaries in 946. (Officially, Sarutahiko and Toyotamahimë are still the main kami, but that is not true in practice — there is a hint in the jinja’s name.)

While this is an old jinja, and one that was important enough to be a village jinja in the prewar system, it spent a long time post-war with no chief priest (thus, it was legally inactive), until one of the staff members at Shiga Jinjachō, Revd Hashimoto, took on the role in 2012. He has been working to revive the jinja ever since.

There were two problems. There was no religious activity at the jinja, and the buildings were literally falling down. Literally literally: one of the roof beams in the offering hall fell, damaging the wall. Revd Hashimoto started a matsuri dedicated to the performing arts, and started raising money for repairs.

The fundraising took place through online crowdfunding campaigns. The second one is linked from the jinja’s page, and it looks as though it did not make its target. However, it did make enough to perform emergency repairs: demolishing the collapsing offering hall and replacing it with a simple roofed area, putting a temporary roof over the main sanctuary to keep the rain out, and repairing the entrance gate and cloister corridors. The completion of those repairs was marked by a matsuri, which was the nominal topic of the article.

Revd Hashimoto and the other people associated with the jinja will need to keep working to raise money if they are going to complete the repairs properly, but they do seem to be making real progress.

This is a good example of a jinja in a rural area that is recovering from being legally inactive through the efforts of an energetic chief priest. Given that he worked at the Jinjachō, it seems likely that he became aware of the jinja because it was inactive, and so in this case someone at the Jinjachō decided to solve the problem personally. Of course, that will not be possible in all cases, as there are simply not enough people in Revd Hashimoto’s position.

The use of crowdfunding is still debated within the Shinto establishment, but I do not think anyone would want to say anything to discourage this sort of case. This is one reason why Jinja Honchō moves so slowly and cautiously on many issues — they do not want to upset people who are working hard to support jinja across the country.

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2 thoughts on “Seki Semimaru Jinja”

  1. Very interesting. Futahashira Jinja in Sendai has allowed me to make donations via electronic transfer, and I know they’re doing crowdfunding for restoration and building of a new site in preparation for their 2026 millennial celebration.

    1. That’s interesting to hear. Jinja Honchō’s committee to discuss these sorts of issues has finished its discussion meetings, and the members are about to start work on their report. This is good, because if Jinja Honchō doesn’t make recommendations soon it will find it has been overtaken by events.

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