Skip to content

My Hopes for Shinto

A week or so ago I wrote a post saying that I thought Shinto was on the verge of radical change. One of my patrons, quite reasonably, asked me what change I would like to see. This blog post is about that.

The first thing I should say is that I am not in a position to do much about these hopes. I am not a priest, and I do not have influence in Jinja Honchō. This is just what I think would be good for Shinto, and the people making the decisions might disagree. In addition, because I am not in a position to do much, I haven’t come up with any detailed plans. Thus, this post is a bit vague.

The flippant answer is the conclusion to my first essay about Shinto in manga: a smaller role for nationalism, a larger role for women, and a lot more talking foxes. Unfortunately, talking foxes are probably not an option.

First, I would like to see jinja focused on preserving their own traditions and playing a role in their local communities. “Local community” means everyone who lives in the area around the jinja, not just people in families who have lived there for generations. It is impossible to say anything more specific about this, because all the details would depend on the jinja in question.

However, I get the impression that jinja now are generally quite passive in their communities. They are there, and the traditional matsuri happen, but even if there are resident priests, they do not often seem to have active programs to connect to local people. Some do, of course, and I would like to see more of that. The problem is that most priests and jinja may well not have the time or the skills to do this.

That brings us to the second point. I would like to see Jinja Honchō focused on supporting smaller jinja in those activities. (Larger jinja have the resources to look after themselves.) That might well mean organising staff and finance for jinja in depopulated areas, and would certainly mean sorting out legal issues with things like cashless payments. It would mean a lot less emphasis on nationalist issues, although not a reduced emphasis on Jingū. Jingū is, after all, an important jinja, and Jinja Honchō’s income is, as I have mentioned before, largely dependent on the distribution of Jingū Taima.

Jinja Honchō does currently support smaller jinja, but this would represent a significant change in orientation. It would probably require changing the practice of recruiting the directors of Jinja Honchō exclusively from the chief priests of large jinja, and would also require a rearrangement of the secretariat, to put more human resources into these tasks.

It would also require Jinja Honchō to be more proactive in its support for jinja, although as the jinja would still be making their own decisions, there are limits to this. It would, I think, be more a case of Jinja Honchō developing schemes to support different kinds of activity, and then offering that support to jinja that were interested. The goal would always have to be to get the jinja to a state where it was independently sustainable, because Jinja Honchō simply cannot support 80,000 jinja, even if that would be a good idea.

I think that jinja playing an active role in their communities, mediated through traditional matsuri, would be able to find a sustainable path in areas that were not totally depopulated, and contribute to slowing or halting depopulation. This would be a path of the kami, but would be different for every jinja, just as the kami are.

I have a Patreon, where people join as paid members to receive an in-depth essay on some aspect of Shinto every month, or as free members to receive notifications of updates to this blog. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

6 thoughts on “My Hopes for Shinto”

  1. / . . . I would like to see Jinja Honchō focused on supporting smaller jinja in those activities. (Larger jinja have the resources to look after themselves.) . . . /

    Hi there! Here at J.H. we’ve got small jinja briefing packages a, i, u, e, o, and we can also put together particular modifications, given local variations. So, tell us about your jinja and let’s see where things are . . . .

    /. . . It would mean a lot less emphasis on nationalist issues, . . ./

    Tap, tap. tap, is this thing on? Yes. Well, I _am_ aware of all the chanting of Japan! Japanese!! Japan!!! Japanese!!!! . . . and, well, as you can see, I _am_ entirely Viking scale, originally from Sweden, moved here to Japan about thirty years ago . . . Twenty years ago I became one of the priests at my local jinja here, and ten years ago I became the high priest. Our local matsuri . . . . . .

    / . . .although not a reduced emphasis on Jingū. . . ./

    . . . and _my_ read is that with a jinja focus on local community, local community, local community . . . well, Jingū merely happens have a local community of _all_ of the islands, / means everyone who lives in the area around the jinja, not just people in families who have lived there for generations. /, and would certainly include such people as that six foot four Swede I invented in that last paragraph . . .

    1. Yes, I think it would be good for Jinja Honchō to have some standard offerings that can be adapted as necessary. Might actually produce them in the International Section, but we are still working on the initial stages.

      On the second point, it is worth pointing out that racial/ethnic purity is not part of the nationalist thread in Shinto. It’s not even a significant factor in national politics. The environment here is very different from that in the USA in that respect.

  2. Aloha David! Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I suspect you have a lot more influence on Shinto’s future than you might think. Oftentimes an outsider can see the future better than an insider. The ability to see the forest instead of the trees concept. You are doing AMAZING work in helping people better understand Shinto. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. P.S. One of your previous comments about involving more women resonated. Perhaps setting up a female support group at local jinja might be a scalable way to help bring beneficial changes to Shinto sooner rather than later. Set-up a pilot model and then once the model has been perfected, scale up. I think making it ONLY women might be important.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’ll have a blog post about Shinto outside Japan in the near future — I think I might have a bit more influence in that area.

      On the second point, female support groups are common. They just tend to be subordinate. The issue is that female priests are rare, and female sōdai may be even rarer. When Prof. Mirsalis gets her book published, I highly recommend it. This, however, is an area where I am sure I don’t have a lot of influence.

      1. Aloha David! Good to know. We are staying near the oldest Shinto Shrine outside of Japan (Hilo Daijingu-125 years old) whose chief priest is a chief priestess. We first met, about a year ago, before we started a bit of world walk about, as I was giving her a copy of your book on Shinto. She shared that she had challenges in Japan trying to suggest innovations in the Shinto world and finally decided she could do more for Shinto by being a chief priestess OUTSIDE of Japan. Planning to meet her again during our 6 week stay here in Hilo.

  3. As a Vietnamese, I, too, would like to see less nationalism. Japan has an ancient and glorious history to be proud of, but that can be done without denying wartime atrocities, without calling for remilitarisation, without worshipping war criminals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.