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Author: David Chart

Length of Service

Length of Service

There is no standard retirement age for Shinto priests. It is also quite possible to be a priest at a jinja without actually performing many ceremonies there, so it is uncommon for priests to formally retire as priests. The comment I’ve heard a few times is that you can be an active priest as long as you can kneel formally (and get up again), but some priests remain formally in office after that, and may even lead the matsuri. There…

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The Grand Renewal of Kasuga Taisha

The Grand Renewal of Kasuga Taisha

The Grand Renewal of Jingū at Isë, where the jinja buildings are completely reconstructed and the treasures replaced every twenty years, is famous, and a major focus of the activities of the Shinto world. It started in 690, and has only been interrupted for a century or so, during a period of civil war; there have been 62 in total. It is not the only Grand Renewal, however. The latest textbook for the Jinja Kentei, the Shinto examination for lay…

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Shinto Beliefs

Shinto Beliefs

At the beginning of every year, Jinja Shinpō publishes a number of short articles by people in the Shinto world who share that year’s Chinese zodiac animal. As there are twelve animals in the cycle, that means that the articles are written by people who will turn 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, or 84 in the coming year. (I have not yet noticed one by someone heading for 96 or 108, nor by someone about to reach 12.) A lot…

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Aso Jinja and “Migawari”

Aso Jinja and “Migawari”

Aso Jinja is a large and old jinja in Kumamoto Prefecture, in central Kyushu. It is the Ichi-no-Miya of Higo, one of the old provinces of Japan, and its chief priesthood is hereditary in the Aso family, who used to rule the area as well as lead the religious rituals. It is located in the caldera of an active volcano, which is less exciting than it sounds, as the caldera is enormous, and the volcano is much less active now…

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Shimëkazari: New Year Decorations

Shimëkazari: New Year Decorations

New year is a very important period for jinja, and in Japanese culture more broadly. It is the only time of the year that almost everyone takes off, and a shop claiming to be “Open all year, no holidays” means that they are open over the new year period; the sign may even include a note saying that they are closed in August. Most people spend the time with family, particularly with family they do not normally see. It is…

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The Sacred Plaques of Ise: Jingū Taima

The Sacred Plaques of Ise: Jingū Taima

The sacred plaques of Jingū at Ise, officially called Jingū Taima, are distributed through jinja across Japan, with most of the activity happening at the end of the year. Almost any staffed jinja will have Jingū Taima available if you ask at the office, and, particularly in more rural areas, it is common for the priests and other people closely connected to the jinja to go door to door around the area, asking people if they want a Jingū Taima….

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Beginning the Grand Renewal of Jingū

Beginning the Grand Renewal of Jingū

Jingū, at Isë, is renewed once every twenty years. All the main jinja structures are completely rebuilt, and the sacred treasures are all duplicated, so that the new ones can be offered to the kami, primarily Amaterasu Ōmikami and Toyoukë Ōmikami. The most recent one was in 2013, so the next one is due in 2033. Formally, it is carried out on the dates set by the Tennō, and he may, in theory, choose not to have it done then,…

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“Inactive” Jinja in Saga Prefecture

“Inactive” Jinja in Saga Prefecture

Saga prefecture is a rural area on the island of Kyushu, a long way from Tokyo. As a result, it is losing population, both to natural decline (Japan’s population is falling overall), and to the cities (Tokyo’s population is rising). This, obviously, has a profound effect on society, and part of that effect touches the jinja. One manifestation of this is the problem of “inactive jinja”. This is actually a translation of a technical legal term, and means that a…

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Women and Matsuri

Women and Matsuri

Jinja Shinpō has a weekly slot called “Komorebi”, which means “dappled sunlight falling through leaves”. About half a dozen people connected to Shinto in some way take turns to write it, and the whole set of writers is changed every two years. One writer in the current set is Kumiko Hanyū, a woman and an officer of the national Ujiko youth association. (The official definition of “youth” is, I think, “under fifty”, or “under forty” if they are being strict.)…

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Rebuilding Koganëyama Jinja

Rebuilding Koganëyama Jinja

Koganëyama Jinja is on the island of Kinkasan, in Miyagi Prefecture. It is the nearest inhabited piece of land to the epicentre of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, and the jinja was badly affected. Fortunately, the island is a mountain, and the jinja itself is located part way up the mountain, and thus out of reach of the tsunami, but the waiting room and other facilities at the piers were destroyed, many torii and stone lanterns collapsed in…

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