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New Traditions

The 18th/25th December issue of Jinja Shinpō had an article about the transfer of the kami back to the main sanctuaries at Tatsuta Taisha, in Nara Prefecture. This was because the roofs of the main sanctuaries had been redone, and the kami are always moved out of the sanctuary while that sort of repair is completed, and then moved back, with a lot of ceremony, afterwards. In this case, because Tatsuta Taisha is an ancient jinja and one that the Tennō historically sent a lot of offerings to, there was also an offering from the Tennō, offered the day after the kami had moved back. (The movement happened at night, which is standard — the transfer of the kami is the only type of Shinto ceremony that is still normally held at night.)

The sanctuaries are roofed in hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark. This is a traditional roofing material in Japan, although today it seems that it is almost exclusively used for jinja. The bark can be gathered without killing the trees, and it is more durable than thatch. However, it is still less durable than copper or titanium, and needs replacing roughly once every thirty years. Thus, I am not aware of anywhere other than large jinja that use it today, because only they can afford to maintain and replace it.

On this occasion, Tatsuta Taisha has decided to start a new tradition, of regularly repairing the sanctuaries, including the roofs, once every thirty years. This was, therefore, the first “Shikinen Zōei”, or “Fixed Year Refurbishment”.

Such cyclic renewals are well known in Shinto. The most famous is the Grand Renewal at Jingū, performed every twenty years. (Preparations for the next one are likely to start soon.) However, they also happen at Kasuga Taisha in Nara and the Kamo Jinja in Kyoto. These traditions all have centuries of history — in the case of Kasuga Taisha, around 1300 years of unbroken history.

Thus, it is a little surprising to see an ancient jinja, well over 1300 years old, starting a new one. This demonstrates a great deal of faith in the future of the jinja, but given how long, and what, it has already survived, that is probably justified. (The collapse of Japan into violent anarchy? Been there, survived that.) The priests are also confident in their ability to simply start a new tradition which, again, is probably justified, given the background that the jinja has. It is hard to see anyone objecting, as the maintenance is clearly necessary, and doing it on a fixed cycle is clearly within the Shinto tradition, but still: it is a new tradition, created with the implicit assumption that it will continue for centuries. They have, after all, labelled this one the first, and are probably assuming that the number will get out of single digits.

Once again, we see that Shinto is still a living tradition, with new traditions being born even today. In some cases, there is no clear intent to make a new practice into a tradition, although it might happen, but in others, like this one, priests are quite deliberately creating the traditions of the future.

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