The November 27th issue of Jinja Shinpō had an interesting article about the establishment of the first “Riders’ Jinja” in Tōhoku, at Yuriagë Minato Jinja in Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture.
What is a “Riders’ Jinja”, you may well ask. These are a recent innovation, established on the initiative of what sounds like “weekend bikers” — people who like riding around the countryside on their motorbikes. A Riders’ Jinja is a jinja that actively welcomes them stopping by. It will provide prayers for safe travel, of course, but it is also somewhere for the bikers to exchange information and take a break, and a point to actively aim for on their tour. These jinja have special flags identifying them as Riders’ Jinja.
The idea started in Chiba Prefecture, just to the east of Tokyo, about five years ago, and four jinja in that prefecture have joined the network. The article strongly suggests, but does not explicitly say, that this new one is the first Riders’ Jinja outside Chiba, but there are clear hopes to expand the scheme further, particularly in Tōhoku. The motivation given for that is to help with recovery after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, something that is still necessary, and I suspect that Tōhoku is also a nice area for riding.
There is a photograph of the “flag raising ceremony” at Minato Jinja. Several dozen bikers attended, and lined their bikes up along the two sides of the sacred path. The chief priest then purified them all with an Ōnusa. It is a striking image, because it is quite different from the normal image of a jinja, even for someone with extensive experience of contemporary Shinto. (Unfortunately, I can’t find an online version.) Foodstands lining the sacred path, yes. Motorbikes, no.
This is a good example of a new tradition trying to get started. The aim is to tie the jinja into an existing community, and to link that community to local areas. One aim of the scheme is to revitalise the areas around the jinja, by getting more people to visit. It does not appear to have any link to the kami enshrined at the jinja, but as it grows it could effectively create a pilgrimage route.
All traditions start somewhere, of course, and this is a particularly clear example of doing something new within the Shinto tradition. For obvious reasons, there are no ancient traditions involving motorbikes. However, Riders’ Jinja also seem to lack any connection to specific older traditions connected to travel. Instead, they are drawing on general features of the Shinto tradition, and deploying them in a new context.
I have no idea whether this particular tradition will catch on, and I doubt that there is any way of knowing. However, it is further evidence that Shinto is a living tradition, and that jinja will not die, but they will all be changed.