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Jinja Kō

My patrons continued discussing Shinto overseas after my recent post on the subject, and one of them raised an interesting point that ties into historical customs. They asked whether some sort of proxy jinja visit would be possible, and that is something that was a standard part of practice within Japan for centuries.

One of the biggest problems for people who want to practise Shinto outside Japan is getting hold of ofuda. While I am continuing to work with Jinja Honchō on this issue, there are still a lot of problems to be solved.

A possible way for people overseas to get around this is to take inspiration from a traditional Japanese practice: the jinja kō. A kō is a group of people devoted to a jinja, and they still exist today. (There is even an overseas one for Fushimi Inari Taisha, which has a Facebook group.) Historically, there seem to have been two broad types (which were not always called “kō”, but that is probably the most common name). One type was devoted to a local jinja, and provided practical support for matsuri there. Indeed, in the absence of a priest, they may have run the jinja. This type is most likely to have been called something else, and it is not of much relevance to people overseas.

The other type was devoted to a distant jinja. Jingū, at Isë, was a common choice, but they also existed for other famous jinja. It was common for these groups to pool their money so that one member of the kō, normally chosen by lot, could go to the jinja, have a prayer said for everyone, and bring back ofuda.

The applicability of this to foreign practice is obvious. A kō with thirty members could probably afford to send a representative to Japan every year, and this is a clearly legitimate and traditional way to get ofuda.

It would be best for such a kō to communicate with the jinja in advance. You do not need permission to form one, as long as you do not claim that it is endorsed by the jinja, but if someone foreign suddenly turned up and tried to get thirty ofuda, there might be concerns about reselling. Thus, the group would benefit from having at least one member who spoke Japanese, although they would not have to be the one to go to Japan — at least not every year.

My impression, from talking to a significant number of priests about this general sort of issue, is that most jinja would be pleased, albeit puzzled, to be told that there was an overseas kō devoted to the jinja, and that someone would be coming over to pay the kō’s respects, make requests, and take a few dozen ofuda back. I’ve also raised the possibility with Jinja Honchō, and they confirmed that they do not see any problem with it, and do not think that people need anyone’s permission to form such a kō. (We are thinking about more active possibilities, but this isn’t really something that the jinja would do, much less Jinja Honchō, so it is not clear what actions are available to us.) It is possible that some particular jinja might not like the idea, but that would be odd and surprising, although still something that should be respected.

The costs to the members would depend on how many of them there are and how much it costs to get to Japan in any particular year. It would be wise to make a substantial offering to the jinja (say, ¥50,000 for the gokitō, plus the standard offering per ofuda, which is another ¥1,000 or so each), because this would ensure that the jinja remained positively inclined to the group. However, the travel expenses would be at least five or six times that, and variable depending on the time of year, oil prices, geopolitical changes, and how far the jinja is from the airport. The kō would be well advised to put everything in writing and keep clear accounts that all the members can inspect, but that is no different from any other voluntary group that handles money from its members.

The biggest obstacle might be finding enough people with an interest in Shinto who live sufficiently close together to make the kō itself viable, but that is definitely a lower hurdle than those to the other approaches. I do, therefore, suggest this as an option.

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8 thoughts on “Jinja Kō”

  1. Although the Facebook group Fushimi Inari Faith International Dōjō · 伏見稲荷信仰国際道場
    ( )
    still exists, the organizer is now located in Japan with a plan of continuing after receiving level five priesthood. So there have been no new Ofuda or other items for around three years now. It is hoped that the Kō group will become active someday.

    Currently I obtain Ofuda and other juyohin from Shinto Shrine of Shusse Inari in America which is affiliated with the Jinja Honchō rather than Fushimi Inari Taisha.
    ( )
    The priest is a hereditary priest from Shusse Inari Jinja in Matsue.

    1. I wasn’t aware that the Fushimi Inari group was on hiatus. Mind you, it’s a good reason. (Level five priesthood must be a Fushimi thing — Jinja Honchō only goes down to level four.)

      Shusse Inari is a good option if you want Inari ofuda, or a Jingū Taima, but at the moment you are out of luck if you want a Hachiman ofuda, or a Tenjin ofuda. If you can find other people interested in venerating the same kami and jinja, a kō should be a way to get ofuda for any jinja in Japan, as soon as you can get the group together. It is another option.

  2. Affiliation with Japanese martial arts organizations are handled in a very similar way.

    There’s an annual membership fee which grants access to training and materials. All payments are usually made with PayPal (in Yen and a fee included so the receiver gets the correct amount of money).

    Zoom is utilized for training and/or education sessions. Some sessions have a fee (depending on the subject matter).

    Testing fees, promotional certificates, merchandise, etc usually have additional fees attached to them.

    I think the same, or a similar format could be used for a ko group.

    1. That’s a bit different, and the sort of thing that is very difficult to organise for jinja in Japan. It might well be illegal for jinja to receive money through PayPal, for example. It certainly used to be — there was a rider on Japanese PayPal that you couldn’t use it to make donations, only for purchases. Last time I checked, however, I couldn’t find that condition, so maybe PayPal has restructured so that it can legally process donations. Someone would need to check. Remote participation in matsuri is also frowned upon. If an individual jinja wants to do it, no-one can stop them, but that is regarded as problematic by the Shinto world in general.

      The point of this suggestion is to sidestep those worries. A kō would hand over money to the jinja in cash, when the representative member was in Japan, and that person would get the ofuda then and bring them back in their luggage before handing them over in person to the members. Zoom wouldn’t be used, because the members of the kō would all be in the same area, and the visits to the jinja would be done in person by that year’s representative.

      1. Interesting. I remember you mentioning the PayPal or credit card payment issue in another article. I didn’t realize remote matsuri participation was frowned upon.

        Now I better understand why the annual in-person visit would be needed.

  3. Cintamanichakra Dasa

    I mean, would the members of the Kō even need to live together or physically meet? Maybe some of the members could themselves live in Japan and go to the Jinja to request the matsuri and obtain the ofudas. The traveling costs would potentially be negligible and it can’t be that expensive to mail out ofudas. Maybe priests themselves could act as kō representatives, even. (I do realize that that could be seen to amount to basically selling ofuda, of course.)

    1. It could be seen as selling ofuda, and it also involves mailing them, which is another activity widely seen as problematic. Getting the money to Japan would also involve transactions that may well be illegal.

      If the members of the kō all live close enough to distribute the ofuda in person, and they send a member to Japan to make the offering in cash and receive the ofuda at the jinja, then I am aware of no-one in the Shinto world who would see a problem with it. All of the apparently easier methods face serious obstacles: legal, practical, and theological. I am working on finding ways around them, but for now, forming a kō of this sort is something that people outside Japan can do to receive ofuda in a way that is clearly legitimate. Finding enough people close to you is unlikely to be easy, but it is at least something that people outside Japan can work on — unlike the problems with the other approaches.

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