Jinja Honchō has recently convened a committee to look into how it is funded, and how it spends the money. It has been about fifteen years since this was last done, and the immediate trigger was a change in the availability of statistics: one of the measures that Jinja Honchō used to ensure that its demands for payments were fairly distributed across Japan has not been updated since 2015. (I don’t know why it took them eight years to look for a replacement. I assume that the change looked temporary, or that a close replacement for that measure was expected. This has not happened.) The committee has now reported, and there was an article about it in the September 11th issue of Jinja Shinpō.
The response to the main question was to recommend the continued use of the old numbers for now, because things hadn’t changed much. The committee said that they looked into all the obvious substitutes, but that all of them would lead to large changes in the contributions from different prefectures (both increases and decreases, depending on the prefecture). Given that, they thought that further discussions were needed before a decision was reached. That’s actually fair — if their brief was really to find a way to get something close to the old distribution that relied on statistics that were still being updated, then finding that there was no way to do that does call for renewed investigation.
Their other comments were interesting. One point is very important, and something I knew, but that had not previously been published this clearly.
Most of Jinja Honchō’s income comes from the offerings that people make for Jingū Taima. This explains why Jinja Honchō is so strongly committed to this particular measure of people’s commitment to Shinto, and why they spend so much effort on trying to increase the number distributed. Of course, the belief in the religious importance of Jingū is entirely sincere, at least for the most part, but it is not the only factor in play here.
This committee did suggest setting up another committee to look into alternative sources of income, rather than effectively taxing jinja across Japan, but addressing that issue appears to have been outside this committee’s remit.
They made some other interesting comments. They noted that Jinja Honchō had reduced the amount taken from jinja during the pandemic, without a noticeable reduction in activities or running a deficit. These amounts have now been restored, and the committee pointed out that this meant that Jinja Honchō had financial room for manoeuvre. They recommended cutting the cost of training courses given the “social situation” (the fact that most priests in rural jinja have no money, I think), and coordinating with the prefectural Jinjachō to reduce the costs for licensing.
The committee also suggested that Jinja Honchō should reconsider what it was spending money on, and focus on investments in the future of Shinto, particularly increasing the distribution of Jingū Taima and responding to depopulation. The other things they listed were religious promotion, and the training of priests. Things not mentioned include constitutional revision, campaigning against separate surnames for married couples, or securing prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni Jinja.
I have to admit that I am in broad agreement with the committee on this point. I do not know how much money is spent on “other activities”, but the committee presumably did get to look at the accounts. It will be interesting to see whether Jinja Honchō does respond to the report by shifting its emphasis.