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New Priests

The Japanese academic year ends in March, and every year, in April, Jinja Shinpō publishes an article about the new graduates from the full-time training courses for priests. There are two universities that provide this training: Kokugakuin University, in Shibuya, Tokyo, and Kōgakkan University in Ise. There are also much, much smaller training centres attached to important jinja around the country. The six smaller centres had, in total, 18 graduates this year, while Kokugakuin had 179 and Kōgakkan had 73.

Of these newly qualified priests, 60 are women, about 22%. 28 of them, including 6 women, went to work at their family jinja, while 156, including 18 women, became full-time priests at other jinja. Eighteen, including 4 women, started working both as priests and in other fields. This is generally common, but it seems to be less common among people who train full-time at these institutions, rather than taking short courses. Another 18, including 15 women, went to work as miko, or in jinja offices.

Kōgakkan reported that all its female graduates who wanted to work at a jinja were able to do so, but that includes four women who were qualified as priests, but have jobs, such as miko, that do not require that qualification. Indeed, Kōgakkan was able to place all of its graduates. Kokugakuin was not; 76% got jobs at jinja, as they wanted. Even so, Kokugakuin was only able to fill 39% of the vacancies that jinja offered; there were 294 vacancies for 179 students. Kōgakkan had a similar problem, with 181 vacancies for 73 students.

These numbers make the problem that Jinja Shinto faces in recruiting new priests very obvious. The report from Kokugakuin suggests that a number of jinja are still trying to restrict recruitment to 22-year-old men from jinja families, and, reading between the lines, is telling jinja outside the Tokyo area that they can forget it; if they want to recruit a new priest, they will need to relax at least one of those requirements, and ideally all three. This is because a lot of the priests who train in Tokyo want to stay in that general area, near their families and near almost everything that happens in Japan.

It will be interesting to see how recruitment patterns change over the next few years. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kokugakuin is able to place all of its students in the near future, as well, as the sheer need for new priests overrides traditional ways of thinking about suitable recruits. However, without a surge in the number of people taking the courses, that will still leave a lot of unfilled posts; the problem of recruiting new priests does not have an easy and obvious solution.

If the problem is going to be solved, it will probably need to take account of the attitudes of most Japanese people towards Shinto, which is the topic of the next essay on my Patreon. If you are interested, please take a look.

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