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The Theology of Otaku Elf

A new anime recently arrived on Netflix: Otaku Elf (Edomae Elf, in Japanese). This is about a Pathfinder elf (Pathfinder is just like Dungeons & Dragons, except the elves have longer ears — oh, and it’s better) who is the kami of a jinja in Tokyo, under the name “Takamimihimë” — “Princess Big Ears”. She is a total otaku, and the main sanctuary of the jinja is her nerd nest, where she plays computer games, builds plastic models, watches anime, reads manga, and avoids going out to meet people. The local people make offerings of snacks, soda, and virtual reality headsets rather than rice and sake, and her hereditary miko (a high-school girl) thinks she is a complete disgrace of a kami and wants to get her out more.

Yes, it is a comedy. But how does it hold up as a treatment of Shinto?


Actually, surprisingly well.

The main sanctuary is, conceptually, the place where the kami lives, and in jinja with enough money and space it is furnished with a bed, clothes, and cosmetics, possibly with musical instruments and other things for daily life. Now, admittedly these items are traditionally, well, traditional, but if the kami were a nerd, then nerd things would be appropriate.

Although offerings to the kami are traditionally rice and sake, there are exceptions. The jinja that enshrine the war dead, for example, often offer beer, snacks, and cigarettes, with the explicit justification that those enshrined there probably liked them while they were alive. If your kami were known to prefer “Fonta” (looks like they couldn’t get permission) to sake, then it would be consistent with real-world Shinto practice to offer that.

It is, of course, absolutely standard for the kami to spend most of their time hidden in the main sanctuary, and only go out on special occasions.

But what about having an elf as the kami? It is explicit that she came from another world four hundred years ago (apparently summoned, rather than run over by an ox cart back home), and that she is immortal. To the best of my knowledge, there are no active jinja enshrining Pathfinder elves, although I do know of at least one enshrining a fictional character. However, if such an elf actually turned up, they would certainly count as a kami — an exceptional existence, beyond the human norm.

So, given the fictional assumption of the arrival of the elf in Tokyo, the basic structure does, in fact, make sense within Shinto. The elf is qualified to be a kami, and the way the elf is venerated is consistent with actual Shinto practice. It’s even possible that the author studied Shinto first, and then created the manga.

“…and that’s why we have matsuri for kami.”

“So, like, an isekai elf would be a kami if she came to Tokyo?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so. But she’d have to stay in the main sanctuary almost all the time.”

“Like an otaku, then?”

“Yes, I suppose so… Yes. Hmm. Yes. Excuse me, I have to go write something.”

Hereditary miko, however, are not a thing.

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2 thoughts on “The Theology of Otaku Elf”

  1. Thank you to your blog, I could recognize a lot of things. The accurate sounding norito at the beginning of the first episode for example.

    I wonder if the shut-in thing is also a reference to how the holy is unseen in Shinto, for example that episode where Takamimihimë-no-kami walks around the town in the dark, with all the people closing their windows because she’s shy.

    1. Yes, I would not be surprised at all. This is an edutainment series, after all, so it would be appropriate for the Shinto to be a lot more accurate than you might initially guess.

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