Ise Shrine becomes social media savvy ahead of G-7 summit

Chunichi Shimbun

Photos of a dimly lit Uji Bridge at night, sacred horses walking on the front approach to the shrine, artists performing court music and dance.

These are among dozens of images depicting scenes at Ise Shrine that have been uploaded to its Instagram account, while on Facebook, Ise Shrine posts various events and provides an explanation of its history and how to offer prayers.

Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture has been increasing posts on its social media and video sites ahead of the G-7 summit of industrialized nations in May, hoping the event will attract more youngsters and overseas visitors to the shrine.

The social media attempts were launched in December with a young priest in charge of taking the photos. The shrine set up a YouTube channel in November to introduce the four seasons in the shrine.

“Distributing information using images makes it easier for foreigners to understand,” said shrine spokesman Shunichiro Nishimoto, 37. “We also looked into using Facebook, which spreads (information) to people who aren’t necessarily interested in us.”

Junichi Nishimura, 47, an executive at the Ise Tourist Information, said, “Seeing is believing, as the saying goes, and when you want to reach out to a non-Japanese audience, the photo-based Instagram is a perfect platform.”

He added, “I believe this will help promote understanding and increase the number of visitors to the shrine.”

The shrine’s Facebook and Instagram accounts are updated twice a week, while new videos are uploaded to YouTube when they become available.

As of March 7, the shrine had around 15,000 followers on Facebook and a little over 1,000 on Instagram. The highest number of views on YouTube is over 28,900 so far.

Other shrines and temples in Japan, including Kiyomizu Temple and Kifune Shrine, both in Kyoto, have amassed between 100,000 to 130,000 followers.

“More and more people, who aren’t exactly pious, are seeking ‘light religious experiences.’ They hope to feel something from the sacred sites and the Internet is an effective means to reach out to them,” said Masanari Itai, an associate professor of sociology of religion at Kogakkan University.

Ise Shrine also offers free Wi-Fi access in front of the Uji Bridge, and in Kaguraden and Sanshuden, with plans to increase the number of hot spots.

“I want the world to know more about the shrine and I hope the summit will trigger people do a search on Ise Shrine,” said Nishimoto.

Itai of Kogakkan University said, “Sharing images on photo-based social networking services may also promote Shinto culture overseas.”

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 7.