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Jinja and Business

The May 6th issue of Jinja Shinpō reported on the 75th anniversary meeting of the National Young Priests’ Association, at which Her Imperial Highness Princess Akiko of Mikasa gave a speech. The editorial picked up on this event, and the speech, and I, in turn, want to pick up a couple of points — from the editorial today, and from Princess Akiko’s speech next time.

One of the things that the Young Priests’ Association does is organise training sessions for young priests across the country. It has done that since it was founded, and when the pandemic interrupted that they tried webinars and similar remote techniques, which have since been introduced more generally in the Shinto world. They make things more accessible to priests who serve remote rural jinja, or who have day jobs — although practising sacred dance is tricky.

The editorial commented on the content of these sessions. In part, this came across as a bit “we never did this in my day” (I suspect the author — the editorials are unsigned — is not a young priest), but there was an important point. The Association has recently had quite a lot of presentations by entrepreneurs and other business people, and the editorial observed that simply adopting management and advertising techniques from regular corporations risked damaging the true essence of jinja.

This is, I think, an important point that needs to be considered from both sides.

First, jinja do need money and labour to maintain the precincts and sustain the matsuri. In theory, this could be done entirely with donations in kind (ujiko providing wood and doing the rebuilding, for example), and in the distant past it no doubt was. However, I strongly suspect that it is centuries since that was possible for almost any jinja, and so money is necessary. If you need money, you need to get it, and you need to handle it. You need advertising for the first, and management for the second. Certain aspects of management techniques are very important for jinja — keeping the jinja’s money and property separate from that belonging to other people and organisations, for example. Similarly, although a century ago advertising might have consisted of running a matsuri that all the locals attended every year while they were growing up, changes in social structure mean that most jinja now need to try other techniques. It makes a lot of sense to look at other organisations, businesses, that have similar problems, and consider how they solve them.

On the other hand, the purpose of a business is to support the livelihood of its employees, including the managers and executives. (Yes, I am aware that that is controversial. No, I do not intend to argue the point here.) This is not the purpose of a jinja. A jinja is not failing if it is unable to pay a priest, as long as it still has a priest willing to serve as necessary. This means that a lot of the standards of judgement that are common sense, and clearly right, in the business world are dangerously inapplicable to jinja. There may even be techniques that cannot be used to advertise or manage a jinja, because they would undermine the purpose simply through their application.

Thus, it is important, I think, for jinja to look at techniques from the business world, but they should be cherry-picking, and they may well have to ignore features that are, for a business, the whole point of an approach. Businesses do, I think, have a lot to teach the Shinto world, but the purposes of businesses and jinja are so different that extreme caution is necessary.

So, what is the purpose of a jinja? That is the topic of my next post.

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