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Digital Okayama

The February 5th issue of Jinja Shinpō included an article by a senior staff member of Okayama Prefectural Jinjachō, about their digital transition. This transition seems to have been driven by the head of the Jinjachō, which is probably how the first examples had to happen.

There seem to be two main elements to this transition. First, they have stopped requiring inkan stamps (the name stamps that used to be needed on everything back when I first came to Japan, eeee, those were the good old days, where’re my glasses, get off my lawn) on almost all documents. The exceptions are ones that they submit to Jinja Honchō or Jingū, and a few that are submitted just to them (they do not specify which). This means that most documents can be submitted electronically.

Second, since 2022, they have been encouraging priests in the prefecture to connect to the Jinjachō through LINE, which is probably the most popular SNS app in Japan. More than 310 priests have signed up, and the Jinjachō thinks that at least one member of every chief priest’s household is a member. (Stereotypically, this would be one of the chief priest’s children — someone in their sixties, rather than nineties.) As a result, about half the priestly families have read an announcement within an hour of its being sent out, and 90% within a day. This is clearly much faster than sending things out by physical mail.

He does mention, in the abstract, that they have had problems with mistaken usage, or sending messages to the wrong people, and “opinions in reaction to the content sent” (which looks like a very polite way of saying “flame wars”), but he expects these problems to reduce as people become more accustomed to the system. For a relatively small group where many members know each other offline, I think that is a reasonable hope.

The Jinjachō has almost completely abandoned the use of paper for internal administration, sharing documents and getting approval electronically. They are also developing an app for LINE that will allow them to do part of the business of Jinjachō committees online. At the moment, priests can download application forms for various purposes from the website, but there as well they hope to move to online forms in the near future. However, they are not going to stop accepting notifications and applications by post.

At the end of the article, there are a couple of paragraphs saying that they do not intend to undermine the custom of using an inkan, and don’t think that these changes will do so. I doubt they really believe this — the inkan is going to become something for special occasions, rather than a normal part of everyday life, rather like things written by hand. This might be a good time for the Shinto community to make a strategic decision on where it wants to retain inkan, and where the vastly improved convenience and efficiency of electronic communication takes priority.

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