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The Sale of Ofuda

The May 6th issue of Jinja Shinpō included an article about the sale of ofuda by, er, me.

This is the next step of my strategy to make it easier for people overseas to legitimately get hold of ofuda and omamori: convince the Shinto community that there is a problem here that needs to be solved, and that creating practical, legitimate channels through which ofuda can be obtained from outside Japan is the best way to solve it.

There are a number of obstacles to establishing such channels, some of which are entirely practical. However, if Jinja Honchō is to do anything to overcome the practical issues, it needs to be able to do so without opposition from priests, and at the moment that would not be possible. The basic rule in the Shinto community is that people should only receive omamori and ofuda through a personal visit to a jinja.

At least in theory. In fact, this rule only goes back to the late nineteenth century, and a lot of jinja break it even now. Nevertheless, there is a politically significant constituency of priests who want to maintain this rule, and it would be an insuperable barrier to making it easier to get ofuda overseas. As long as this opposition exists, Jinja Honchō cannot do anything official, which means that we cannot support any jinja who want to do this. Without central support, the number of jinja that can organise this is very, very limited — the handful that already have overseas connections may be the limit.

Fortunately, the reasoning behind the rule provides a way in, and a few months ago the deputy chief priest of an important jinja wrote an article about that reasoning. In the Edo period, most people had ofuda brought to them by itinerant priests — the Isë onshi are perhaps the most famous, but similar roles existed for a number of important jinja. However, this practice was forbidden by the Meiji government, in order to crack down on fake omamori and ofuda, and on people treating such things like goods for sale.

The point of my article is that, if these are the goals, then the current policy is counterproductive when it comes to overseas practitioners. First, almost all the English language articles about visiting Japan talk about “buying” omamori, which means that English speakers are not going to pick up the idea that this is not a commercial transaction. If they then want an ofuda, they cannot visit a jinja in person. It’s too far away. So they search online, and find that Jingū Taima are for sale on Amazon. (No, I’m not linking to it.). They see no reason not to get it there, so they do, in a clearly commercial transaction. It may not be genuine, although at a 500% markup, it probably is. Why bother faking it? There are other sites that do seem to be selling fake omamori lookalikes, though.

The goal for my article in Jinja Shinpō is to convince a significant number of influential priests that there is a real problem here, and one that needs to be solved while the number of foreigners interested in Shinto is still fairly small. If they wait too long, the bad habits will get established, and it will be very hard to change them. I sent my department in Jinja Honchō links to the English sites selling omamori that I found, because I think they will be useful for internal persuasion. It will also be helpful for them to have actually seen the sites if they are called by priests asking whether this is a real issue.

Nothing, of course, will happen immediately. But a general awareness that there is a problem in this area will make it possible for Jinja Honchō to start doing things to solve it, without facing opposition from priests. My article is not supposed to solve the problem. It is supposed to start creating an environment within which Jinja Honchō can take steps to solve the problem.

In the meantime, if you want ofuda in mainland North America, I recommend the Shin Mei Spiritual Centre, which is legitimate.

I have a Patreon, where people join as paid members to receive an in-depth essay on some aspect of Shinto every month, or as free members to receive notifications of updates to this blog. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

2 thoughts on “The Sale of Ofuda”

  1. Wow thank you so much for doing this, sharing this, and referring to Shin Mei Spiritual Centre! All are deeply appreciated.

  2. Shusse Inari Jinja’s (Matsue) U.S. branch Shinto Shrine of Shusse Inari in America (Los Angeles) offers Ofuda and other Jiyouhin, and will ship overseas. Minimum donation amounts are listed on their website Hasegawa Izumi (Guji) is a hereditary priest from the Shusse Inari Jinja.

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