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Reactions to the Noto Earthquake

The responses to Jinja Shinpō’s survey about hatsumōdë this year also included quite a few references to the 2024 Noto Earthquake — naturally enough, as it happened on January 1st. A couple of local reporters who live in the area did respond.

One started by saying that messages of support had started coming from the Shinto community almost immediately after the earthquake, and for that they were very grateful. However, not only had the sanctuaries been destroyed, but so had the surrounding area. With the population shrinking and mostly elderly, there is no sense of when it will be possible to live there again, and no sign of the economy being rebuilt. The whole region is on the verge of dying. There are jinja where the earthquake and landslides mean that not only the sanctuaries, but the goshintai, the items that are vessels for the kami, have been lost, and the ujiko are saying that there is no way to restore those jinja. Some who have evacuated outside the local area are saying that they won’t come back. They think that jinja in an economically strong position might be able to recover, but when they think about the future of jinja in depopulated areas, or areas where the population are all old, or where it might not be possible to return, they feel dreadful.

However, the other priest emphasised that this area of the Noto Peninsula was renowned for the strength of its matsuri, with people coming from outside the area to attend matsuri that were linked to their families. Although things are very difficult now, they are confident that the matsuri will be performed, and that people will return to the area, even if just for the matsuri.

Priests from areas near by, where the earthquake had a direct, but much less destructive, effect also reported on the aftermath. Unsurprisingly, formal prayers that had been booked for the second or later were almost all cancelled, and there were a lot of people who did not manage to get to hatsumōdë until later in the month. They also reported a lot of ofuda being brought to the jinja in bad condition, probably after being rescued from damaged houses, and noted that they had not yet had time to burn them, so they were building up.

Other priests reported the earthquake alarms going off on people’s smartphones, or people evacuating to the jinja precincts in response to the tsunami alerts that were issued.

A lot of priests from elsewhere included messages of support in their responses. A lot of these were statements of intent, often backed up with references to help that those priests had received when their jinja had suffered from disasters in the past, but some jinja mentioned ways in which they had started collecting money immediately after the disaster. The simplest was to set up a clearly-labelled collection box. The labelling is necessary, because people need to know that the money is not going to the jinja they are currently visiting. (It’s an odd case where the default assumption is that the collection box is not for someone else.) Other jinja created such things as a “charity goshuin”, from which all the offerings went to earthquake relief. Jinja Honchō is collecting money for the disaster zone now, so they probably passed the money on through that.

The timing of the earthquake, in the middle of hatsumōdë, meant that this disaster has been even more salient for the Shinto community than normal.

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