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Hatsumōdë Survey 2024

As last year, Jinja Shinpō conducted a survey of hatsumōdë across the country by sending enquiries to all the priests who are engaged as local reporters. They received responses from 349 in total. These priests are at a wide range of jinja, from large ones with multiple priests, to multiple jinja that cannot support a full-time priest between them, and cover the entire country. I think the results came out rather earlier last year, and I suspect that the reason for the delay this year was the 2024 Noto Earthquake. Indeed, the article reporting the results, in the March 18th issue, specifically mentions that the priests in the earthquake-struck area were asked not to respond if it was too much trouble.

The survey does include specific questions about the number of people coming to hatsumōdë, but it also includes space for writing about whatever the priests want. This means that it has become, in effect, a nationwide survey of what concerns Shinto priests. I think Jinja Honchō should be paying careful attention to these results (and the editorial in the April 8th issue of Jinja Shinpō agrees), and I also think that they will be interesting to the people who read this blog. There is too much material for a single post, so I will split it up, even though that means I will get further behind.

First, there is a lot of information about hatsumōdë.

The weather was good this year; 283 reported clear weather, and quite a few mentioned that it was warm. That seems to have led to increased numbers, because 218 reported an increase on 2023, and 92 no change. A lot of the jinja that reported reductions were in regions affected by the earthquake, so there is no mystery about the reasons. (The survey covers the first three days of the year, and the earthquake hit in the late afternoon of the first.)

When asked to compare numbers to pre-pandemic levels, 150 (42.9%) said that the numbers were up, which is an improvement over last year, when only 32.1% saw an increase. Those who still saw a noticeable decline since before the pandemic were down from 36.7% last year to 21.2% this year.

As for the number of formal prayers (that is, the number of groups of people who made arrangements to enter the prayer hall and have a formal ceremony performed), while the most popular single answer (164) was that the numbers were the same as last year, 144 (41.2%) thought that they had increased, at least a bit. Similar trends were seen when comparing with the pre-pandemic situation. One hundred and sixty one thought that there had been no change, but 32.3% (113) thought that there had been an increase, up from 24.1% last year.

Overall, it looks as though the impact of the pandemic on visitor numbers was temporary. The survey also asked about particular measures that had been introduced to respond to the pandemic: which had now been abandoned, or would be, and which would be kept because they had other benefits.

The summary here is that this is very dependent on the individual jinja. There were individual measures, such as changing from using ladles to using running water for purification, that some jinja intended to keep, and others wanted to change back. There is no sign of a general change in practice in this respect, but it may well lead to an increase in diversity. At the least, the standard instructions for visiting a jinja really need to cover running water as well now.

There were some interesting specific examples. For example, at least one jinja decided to keep the clear plastic curtains that were used to limit viral transmission because they also keep the inside of the jinja office warmer. The one that most struck me was a jinja that had decided to keep the dividers that had been set up in front of the offering box to make sure people kept their distance. Without the dividers, people tended to pay their respects two at a time, but with them, they went four at a time, so the queue moved more quickly. One has to wonder whether they really served to keep people apart…

If we restrict our attention to the parts of Japan that didn’t have a major earthquake, this year’s hatsumōdë seems to have gone quite well. In the next post, I want to report what the survey says about the earthquake.

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