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Titanium Roofs

The December 4th issue of Jinja Shinpō included an article about the donation of a small sanctuary building to a company, for use as the jinja of one of its sites. The kami enshrined there is Inari, which is very common for corporate jinja, and such jinja are, themselves, a common feature of Japan. The interesting features of this article lie elsewhere.

First, the building was donated by a vocational training school (“senmongakkō” in Japanese) on Sado Island, an island in the Japan Sea that is part of Niigata Prefecture. The school has a traditional architecture department, and the sanctuary building was the graduation project of a group of students. This is not the only such program in Japan (I am aware of another one in Kyūshū, for example), but they are not common. They do exist, however, and play an important part in keeping these traditions alive.

Second, the building was donated to a plant on the mainland owned by Nippon Steel Corporation, a large metals company. The building is roofed with titanium, and in a remarkable coincidence, this plant makes titanium roofing materials, and even donated them to the school, along with guidance on how to use them to roof a sanctuary building.

OK, so that is not a coincidence at all. The most remarkable thing about the article is that it avoids so much as touching on the potential benefits to a company that makes titanium roofing materials of introducing newly-trained carpenters to the material and encouraging them to use it. This may well be because these benefits are so blindingly obvious that attempts in early drafts to refer to them directly came across as clumsy. I know I feel a bit daft when, thanks to the regulations on the Amazon affiliate program, I have to point out that I have an economic interest in people buying my books. In this case, there was no immediate benefit to the company from their donation, although it did come back to them when the school decided to donate the building to the company, and the long-term potential benefit really is obvious. Even so, the whole article is cast in terms of disinterested donations on both sides. (Do we think the school might be hoping to receive further donations of titanium roofing material? Yes we do.)

It should be said that my understanding is that titanium is a good material for jinja roofs. There is a long tradition of roofing them in metal for durability, and the traditional material is copper. My understanding is that titanium is lighter and more durable, but harder to work. (I have no idea about relative costs. A quick web search suggests that the commodity prices are similar at the moment, but that is only one factor.) A lighter roof is safer in case of earthquakes, both because having less weight on top of the pillars makes the building less likely to fall, and because a lighter roof does less damage if it does fall. Greater durability is obviously good for jinja that do not have the resources to replace the roof frequently, as long as the initial cost is not too much higher than copper. Thus, it is plausible that the spread of titanium roofs would be a good thing for jinja, and that the Shinto community should welcome a greater number of craftspeople capable of installing them.

Nevertheless, this was a particularly clear example of a trend that is very common in the Shinto world. People do not like talking about the economic interests involved in Shinto activities, even when they are very obvious, and very important.

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2 thoughts on “Titanium Roofs”

  1. I find that interesting. Is the reticence to discuss economic matters in this situation a particularly Shinto attitude or rather a reflection of a typically Japanese cultural attitude ?

    1. It seems to be quite general in Japanese culture, but there are extra reasons within Shinto, and probably in Buddhism as well, although I do not have direct knowledge there. Within Shinto, drawing attention to the financial side tends to draw attention away from the “religious” significance of the actions, and people generally want to avoid doing that in public.

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