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Shrine parishioners collect signatures for pro-constitutional amendment group

A copy of a sign-up sheet handed out by the chief priest of a shrine is seen in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi)

Local shrines and their parishioners across Japan have been active in gathering signatures for a pro-constitutional amendment conservative organization, which has announced that a total of 7,002,501 signatures to support constitutional change have been collected.

The organization, "Utsukushii Nippon no Kenpo o tsukuru kokumin no kai" (citizens' group for creating the Constitution for beautiful Japan), made the announcement on May 3, Japan's Constitution Memorial Day.

Okitsushima-jinja shrine in the city of Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, distributes household amulets to representatives of parishioners from each local district every New Year's Day.

On New Year's Day of 2015, the shrine's tradition appeared a little different from usual. Chief priest Masatoshi Abe brought up the subject of the Constitution after a shrine ritual and said, "I want you to visit each household (in your district) and collect signatures," as he pleaded and handed out petition sheets to some 30 parishioner representatives.

A man who was present at this meeting as one of the parishioner representative recalls, "It was a little strange." Nevertheless, the man visited some 30 households in his district to collect signatures. He explained to each resident beforehand not to sign if they did not understand what it was for, and five people wrote down their names on the sheet.

"I think at least 10 people would have signed if I didn't say not to sign unless they knew what it was," the man claims.

Chief priest Abe told the Mainichi Shimbun in March this year that shrines in Fukushima Prefecture were collecting signatures for the pro-constitutional amendment organization upon request of the Fukushima Shrine Agency

"Some parishioner representatives who were keen about the project collected a lot of signatures. I have not heard opposition or criticism (from the representatives)," he said.

Of some 2,000 parishioners from 550 households in the area, the Fukushima shrine said it has collected about 350 signatures mainly from heads of families.

Local parishioners have expressed mixed reactions about the signature collecting, with a man in his 40s saying, "I signed because I feel that the current Constitution does not guarantee sufficient national security," while another man in his 70s said, "I think the Constitution is good enough as it is, so I didn't sign."

There have been reports on the internet that shrines are collecting signatures for the organization, and the story about a shine in Tokyo putting up sign-up sheets on its premises on New Year's Day went viral.

The Association of Shinto Shrines based in Tokyo told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We are helping the kokumin no kai organization, but we are not aware about details."

Meanwhile, the pro-constitutional amendment group said, "We are asking different groups in different regions to collect signatures in ways they find the easiest."

One of the Okitsushima-jinja shrine parishioner representatives explained that the signature collecting movement is like when they have no choice but to join a support group for a candidate when one of their townspeople runs in an election. The representative added, "It's like being asked by a god, and there may have been an incentive that made it hard for us to say no (to help collect signatures)."

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