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Kusano Jinja

The March 11th issue of Jinja Shinpō devoted half of its back page to the rededication of Kusano Jinja, in Namië, a town in Fukushima near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The article was published thirteen years to the day since the disaster, and the jinja had only just been rebuilt. The author is currently the head of the Fukushima Prefectural Jinjachō, and he was the deputy at the time of the disaster.

The area of Namië in which the jinja stood was devastated by the tsunami, and not only was the jinja swept away, it was the only case in Fukushima in which the chief priest and his family died. At the urging of the ujiko, the chief priest’s third daughter, who lived (and lives) in Kanagawa, and thus survived, took over as chief priest, as she was licensed. (This is common in jinja families — everyone gets licensed, just in case.) The author supported her in taking over the role, giving her a refresher course in how to lead the matsuri, and helping at the matsuri itself. This happened in the February following the disaster, at a temporary sanctuary, and the article says that she did not find it easy to return to the place where her family had died.

Her duties were soon performed on her behalf by another priest who lived nearer to the jinja, but he did not formally take over as chief priest until this year. He spent those twelve years winning the trust of the ujiko, and waiting for them to be ready to rebuild the jinja. That process started formally in 2019, when they formed a rebuilding committee.

The traditional dances performed at the jinja are a Prefectural Intangible Folk Cultural Asset, and had been carried on by a local group even before the disaster. This group restarted its activities in August 2011, and ensured that the tradition of the dances did not die out, so that they could be performed at the rebuilt jinja. A local television station put a short summary video on YouTube.

One thing you might notice at the beginning of the video is that there is nothing around the jinja. This is because the area around it is zoned as hazardous, with building prohibited. It took some time to get an exception for the jinja, but none of the ujiko will be able to move back to the area around it.

The new chief priest is worried about the jinja’s long-term viability.

The author mentioned another experience of his from August 2011, which included this jinja. The Jinjachō got special permission, and a police escort, and over the course of two days evacuated the kami from 240 jinja in the exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant. This involved the creation (for want of a better verb) of “bunrei”, or “divided spirits”, so the kami also remained in their original locations. It is important to remember that, although Shinto may be vague about theology, a lot of priests are willing to make significant sacrifices for the sake of the kami.

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