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October 2023 Oversight Council

The regular October meeting of Jinja Honchō’s Oversight Council was held on October 20th, and reported in the October 30th issue of Jinja Shinpō. It seems that “lively exchanges of views” continued.

The most important focus of debate was still the dispute over the presidency, but this issue did not go anywhere. That should not be surprising to anyone who has read my previous posts on this problem (click on the “disputed presidency” tag to see those earlier posts if you are interested). While many of the same arguments are being made, the people opposed to Revd Tanaka did raise an objection that was new to me: they argued that the Chairman’s nomination had actually been accepted by the Board of Directors, until a member of the secretariat, who had no right to speak at the meeting, raised an objection. That was countered by one of the directors saying that he had raised an objection. As the article notes, the two sides got no closer together. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the court case in December, and while that ruling will not solve the problem, it should produce movement.

There were a number of complaints about the conduct of the Oversight Council that were connected to how it handled this issue. One councillor asked that votes be taken and counted, but the responsible person from the secretariat explained that the Oversight Council had always worked by acclamation. They then asked why the special motion on the presidency that had been raised in May had not been voted on; the answer was that it was controversial. There were complaints that the minutes of the last meeting were missing a lot of points, as well. In a similar vein, there were a couple of points where the report notes that some people called for the meeting to move on to the next point on the agenda, and that while there were voices of opposition, there was also applause, so the Speaker (normally, I would say Chairman, but this is not the same person as the Chairman of Jinja Honchō, so I will call him the Speaker to avoid confusion) moved on to the next issue.

All of these complaints and actions have something in common. They are customs that grew up while the Oversight Council was a passive body that simply agreed with everything submitted to it and then went home. They are, in my opinion, simply not fit for purpose now that there is actual disagreement within the Council. Minutes need to record councillors criticising the secretariat or the President, and votes need to be taken, and counted, to determine what the majority position is. There also needs to be clarity on when the Speaker can stop discussion of an issue. The procedures need to change so that the people opposed to the current leadership feel that they have a platform and are taken seriously.

However, this was not the only issue that the Council actively discussed. Another scandal was also brought up.

The chief priest of Usa Jingū (the original Hachiman jinja) in Ōita Prefecture was recently promoted to Tokkyū (Special Rank), the highest rank for a priest. (Not an express train — different kanji.) However, it turns out that Usa Jingū has not paid its dues to Jinja Honchō for eight years, and owes about ¥10,000,000. The initial response from the secretariat was that the dues were handled by the Prefectural Jinjachō, and that they hadn’t received a formal report. The heads of the Prefectural Jinjachō are all ex officio members of the Council, so the head of Ōita Prefectural Jinjachō stood up and said that they had submitted a report, and that since priests are not allowed to be raised to Upper Second Rank, much lower, if they are in arrears, he thought the promotion was inappropriate. The head of a different department of Jinja Honchō then said that they had, indeed, received the report from the Jinjachō, but only after the decision had been taken to promote the chief priest. At this point, according to the report, lots of people started talking at once, and “the hall descended into a certain degree of chaos”. Yes, that’s actually a translation. I wonder if they were throwing chairs?

Seriously, though, there is background to this that is not mentioned in the article, and which I may not be remembering entirely correctly. I think that the current chief priest of Usa Jingū was imposed on the jinja by Jinja Honchō, instead of the (female) heir of the hereditary line of chief priests (which goes back over a thousand years), over the objections of the sōdai of the jinja. The sōdai took Jinja Honchō to court and lost, because the regulations do quite clearly give Jinja Honchō the right to make those appointments. Thus, I suspect that there are longstanding tensions in Ōita, explaining why things have not been resolved informally, and why it all suddenly came out at the Oversight Council. (One councillor did complain that the Council was the wrong forum for this discussion, and I think he was right.)

A second issue that was raised was much more sensible and constructive. The budget included money for publicity for Jingū Taima, and one of the councillors wanted to know how effective the advertising was. The relevant department head at Jinja Honchō pointed to the statistics they had, but admitted that it was very difficult to point to concrete outcomes. That is, of course, always true of advertising. I have seen a purported quote from some famous businessman along the lines of “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. If I only knew which half, I wouldn’t spend it”. The department head’s final defence was that these projects had been approved by the relevant committee, and that seems to have been accepted.

Nevertheless, I think this is exactly the sort of question that the councillors should be asking. Are Jinja Honchō’s projects actually working? I don’t think such questions have been asked before, and might have been regarded as impertinent in the past. Now, however, the contrast is with people basically accusing the leadership of Jinja Honchō of corruption, so they probably seem quite welcome and reasonable. I hope that this habit will continue after the crisis is resolved.

Finally, a sōdai from Tottori Prefecture gave a speech in the open section about depopulation and the devastating impact it was having on jinja. He called on the Shinto world to pull together and address the issue, and received a massive ovation from the whole council. I agree. This is an issue that the Shinto world should be pouring its energy into. And everyone seems to agree that the other side should recognise the importance of this issue and give in over the presidency.

Alas, we do not seem to be any closer to ending that dispute.

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3 thoughts on “October 2023 Oversight Council”

  1. Robert James Heaton

    One might speculate that these “lively exchanges of views” will have been accompanied by “full and frank discussions” behind the scenes. There are certainly a few issues coming to the boil.

  2. I have seen this type of behaviors in many non-profit organizations in the United States too… Historically everyone agreed and worked together, and because of that no real formal rules were defined for how to order business or deal with conflict, which would have been “easy” to implement at that point, but were not seen as “important”…. until conflict arose, and the organization lacked the tools to deal with it. I do hope that Jinja Honcho learns from their current situation and at least develops the tools to deal with these issues in the future.

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