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Tsurugaoka Hachimangū

Recently, there have been news reports that Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is leaving Jinja Honchō. Last time I was at Jinja Honchō, I was able to confirm that Tsurugaoka Hachimangū has started the necessary procedures, but the paperwork takes time, so it has not left yet, and could, in theory, still call the whole thing off. That seems unlikely, however, so I want to talk about what this means.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is in Kamakura, in Kanagawa Prefecture. It is probably the third most important Hachiman Jinja in Japan, behind Usa Jingū in Kyūshū and Iwashimizu Hachimangū, near Kyoto. It was effectively founded by Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, in the late twelfth century, although the tradition is that it was founded by moving and expanding a Hachiman Jinja founded by one of his ancestors. Today, it is one of the top tourist attractions in Kamakura (probably second, after the Daibutsu (huge buddha statue), and it dominates the town, which is laid out around a straight road from the sea to the jinja. The chief priest has served as head of the Kanagawa Prefectural Jinjachō, although he is not in that position now (which is good, as that would greatly increase the complications).

First, it is not clear why the jinja is leaving Jinja Honchō. The jinja staff refused to comment to a reporter for the Asahi Shinbun, and no-one I spoke to knew anything official either. This is odd — one would expect the jinja to be very clear about its reasons, particularly if they were connected to the current trouble over the presidency of Jinja Honchō.  If they announce their reasons later, and they claim to be leaving in response to a serious problem at Jinja Honchō, backed up by evidence, then the significance of their decision will change dramatically. However, it is hard to see any reason to say nothing at this point, because legally Jinja Honchō can do nothing to interfere with the process of leaving once it has been started.

That is the important legal point. Under the law covering “hōkatsu shūkyōhōjin”, religious corporations like Jinja Honchō that oversee a number of individual places of practice, they are allowed to set almost any regulations they like for their member corporations, but they may not restrict the ability to leave, or impose any penalties or disadvantages on groups that are trying to leave. (Debts that the member corporation already owes still have to be paid, but no new ones can be imposed.) The process of leaving is started by notifying Jinja Honchō and people connected to the jinja that plans to leave, and then involves a bunch of paperwork. (Jinja regulations mention Jinja Honchō, so those have to be changed when a jinja leaves, and there are laws and procedures governing that, for example.)

There are consequences both for Jinja Honchō and for Tsurugaoka Hachimangū. First, Jinja Honchō, and Kanagawa Prefectural Jinjachō, will lose the “membership fees” (they aren’t called that, but that is effectively what they are) paid by Tsurugaoka Hachimangū. Since these are tied to the scale of the jinja, this will be a substantial loss. It won’t cause Jinja Honchō any significant problems, because there are a lot of large jinja across the country, but it will have a larger proportional impact on Kanagawa Jinjachō.

Second, the priests of the jinja will no longer be involved in the Jinjachō, or its local branches. The Kamakura local branch has, apparently, fewer than half-a-dozen chief priests, and Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is by far the largest jinja, so it was probably taking responsibility for most of the branch business. That branch is likely to have severe difficulties adapting over the next few months. They may even want to merge with a neighbouring branch. I don’t know what the impact on the Jinjachō will be, because I am not privy to the personnel details. It may be purely financial, if they are not reliant on anyone seconded from Tsurugaoka Hachimangū at the moment.

There will be little impact on Tsurugaoka Hachimangū itself. That’s how the law is designed. However, there will be an impact on the priests serving there. In order to be a licensed Jinja Honchō priest, you have to be on the books at a Jinja Honchō jinja (or a Jinjachō, including Jinja Honchō). What is more, in order to work at a religious corporation that is not affiliated with Jinja Honchō, you need permission from the Chairman (nominally — the offices would do most of the work, of course). If you do it without that permission, you lose your licence completely.

As I have mentioned before, it is common for priests from jinja families to take jobs at large jinja, to get experience while not being a financial burden on their home jinja, so that they can return home to take over from their parents when appropriate. If there are any priests at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū doing that (which is very likely), they risk losing their ability to follow that plan. They cannot take over their home jinja if they have lost their licence, and in any case the time spent serving in Kamakura would not count towards qualifying them to be chief priests. This is, I would imagine, a serious crisis for them.

This does mean that Tsurugaoka Hachimangū will need to start training its own priests, but it is large enough to be able to do that.

So, Kanagawa Jinjachō will lose one of its main sources of financial and personnel support, the Kamakura branch will have to scramble to cope, and some priests at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū will have very difficult decisions to make. This is bad news for Jinja Honchō, but not a crisis.

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2 thoughts on “Tsurugaoka Hachimangū”

    1. 負担金, if I remember correctly. There is another term that gets used a lot, but I think that refers to the calculation rather than the money, and I can’t remember exactly what it is. 賦課金 or something similar. I don’t work in that part of Jinja Honchō, so I don’t need to remember…

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