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Jinja Tours

The June 10th issue of Jinja Shinpō included an article that was of particular interest to me, in the “Mori ni Omofu” (“Thoughts in the Forest”) column section. It was by Suzue, who is a singer/songwriter and Shinto priest, and it concerned the various people who act as intermediaries between people and the kami. The main topic was people who divine which jinja is your ubusunagami (“personal kami”, I guess, although originally it was the jinja covering the place where you were born), and apparently there are people who make a living doing that. (Excuse me while my mind boggles.)

There was, however, a brief mention of “Jinja Tours” (“Jinja Tsuaa”) and “Jinja Retreats” (“Jinja Ritoriito”), in which Suzue reported what another priest of her acquaintance had told her. Apparently, these tours are quite expensive, but the group leaders just take people to the jinja, have everyone pay their respects, and then leave, without getting omamori or having a formal prayer said. The way Suzue reports the priest’s words suggests that he (or she) was not really happy about this, because the jinja was not getting any income from it, and was just being used to make money for someone else. Suzue’s opinion was that one had to be careful when making statements about how people should approach the kami, and through whom, but that it was sad if the traditional role of jinja was being used for commercial purposes, or people were trading on a jinja’s name.

I agree with her, and so I feel the need to be careful that I don’t do either of those things. Ideally, I would like to connect my readers with jinja in Japan, but this is currently difficult, for a wide range of reasons. (I have written about them several times, but as well as the practical issues of distance there are legal and theological problems to be overcome.) One way to deal with a lot of these problems is for people to actually come to Japan and visit the jinja — which brings us into Jinja Tour territory.

I do not currently do guided tours of jinja. I have thought about it, because I would probably enjoy it (as long as I didn’t have to do it every week), and if I did, they would be expensive, because my time isn’t cheap. (The biggest obstacle to my doing so is the non-jinja parts of a tour, for which you need a licence as a travel agent in Japan. I don’t have one, and I don’t plan to get one. I am confident that I would not enjoy that part of the job — it’s bad enough doing it for my family.) However, if I did, I would definitely encourage people to get goshuin and omamori, and maybe ofuda if they had or wanted a kamidana, and a formal prayer would happen at at least one of the jinja we visited. (Probably only one, to be honest, unless people were on an explicitly religious tour, because formal prayers are very similar at different jinja, and take up quite a bit of time.) And I would talk to the jinja in advance.

On the other hand, I am currently writing a short book (through my Patreon) which is a self-guided tour of half a dozen jinja in Tokyo, introducing aspects of the history and practice of Shinto as you visit each jinja. It does currently encourage readers to collect goshuin (I mean, really, they are such a perfect souvenir if you are visiting six jinja), and suggests that omamori are good gifts. I am also going to add a bit about having a formal prayer said, but I do need to check which jinja can handle English applications first. So, I guess in most cases I will have to talk to the priests. I do have an advantage over most Japanese people when it comes to being taken seriously — I can hand over my Jinja Honchō business card, and tell them that this is an independent project. (Jinja Honchō cannot recommend any individual jinja, apart from Isë Jingū. They love all their children just the same. Apart from Isë Jingū, which is special.)

There are a lot of complex issues involved in this sort of work.

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3 thoughts on “Jinja Tours”

  1. Just out of couriosity, have you read “The Fox and the Jewel” by Smyers? It’s basically a doctoral thesis from the 1990’s, but it seems like it’s still relevant. She goes-into a lot of what she observed to be the interrelationship (in the 90s) between Shinto Priests, and those who would be better considered: “Shamen”. (The book is a challenging read, but very, very worth it.)

    I totally agree with you and with Suzue. It is totally uncool that anyone would lead a group of any size to a Jinja, and then do nothing to help that jinja stay afloat.

    (I’ve got 3 months in Japan coming-up in a few months. Thank you for letting me know to steer clear of these “Jinja Tours” and the like.)

    1. Yes, I have read that book — although I think it was almost twenty years ago. From what I recall, I think its portrayal of the relationship between jinja priests and “shamans” still holds true today.

  2. Pingback: Multi-Jinja Pilgrimages – Mimusubi

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