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Rural depopulation was, apparently, a topic that a lot of priests mentioned in the survey about hatsumōdë that Jinja Shinpō carried out and reported in the March 18th issue. It is the only subject where they explicitly mention that they do not have space to report all the comments that they received.

This obviously is a serious problem, and one that I have mentioned many times before. The comments in the survey bring out two aspects of it.

One is the absolutely simple “there are not enough people” problem. One priest said that there were jinja in the Jinjachō branch where there were not enough ujiko to fill all of the legally required executive positions (I think that number is three), and even in places that were not in such dire straits, the priests were concerned that it would not be possible to preserve the sacred music and dance that had been handed down in the area.

This problem also applies to priests. One priest said that he (probably) had so many jinja that he spent all his time performing matsuri, and had no time left to do anything to earn money to live on. The only option was to have an elderly relative do the matsuri, and take over as chief priest after retirement. Secondary jinja do not produce any income, but the matsuri still have to be performed.

The other problem is a change in attitude. This is summed up by a conversation reported by one priest. One ujiko said, “I want to quit as an ujiko”. The priest responded, “You can’t. Everyone living in the area around the jinja is an ujiko”. However, the ujiko was not convinced. Another priest said that, in the past, people would provide financial and practical support for the local jinja because it was their local jinja, but that people are making much more trouble about that now. Still another said that the number of people from established families was falling, and while new people were moving in, they had no link to the jinja. They said that they were working on ways to build such links.

Another priest captured the reason for the apparent contradiction here. They said that people did come to events (like hatsumōdë), but that they did not want to get involved in the day-to-day maintenance of the jinja. Other priests mentioned the difficulty in getting donations that were, in the past, a matter of course for anyone living in the area.

The “traditional” pattern seems to have been that everyone living in the area chipped in to support the jinja, whatever their personal feelings. It was “their” jinja, after all. (I have no idea how far back this “traditional” pattern goes. It may not even be pre-war — “traditional” just means “the way things were when I was a child”, after all. “Cutting edge” is “things that were introduced when I was 20 to 40”, and “new-fangled rubbish” is anything introduced after that. Thus, TikTok is new-fangled rubbish.)  This pattern no longer holds, and while people still like the jinja, they do not want to pay what is, effectively, a tax to support it. I think there are ways to shift the support base to deal with this change, but they will be seen as a fundamental shift in the nature of jinja, from support by the ujiko, with a semi- or fully public character, to support by sūkeisha, with more of a private character. Some priests will strongly oppose such changes.

One priest wrote a real cry from the heart.

“At its peak, the jinja had more than 1,200 ujiko households, but the numbers have been doing nothing but falling. Even though I am almost seventy, and it is time to start thinking about a successor, I can’t see that anyone would want to be chief priest of this rural jinja, which is nothing but trouble, unrewarded in any way (materially or otherwise). I can’t see any way forward.”

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