Jinja Shinpō has just published the statistics for new graduates of the training courses for priests, as they do every year. I wrote about these last year as well, and similar trends are continuing. This year, 74 students graduated from Kōgakkan University in Isë with a priest’s licence, of whom 46 went to work at jinja. On the other hand, 169 students were licensed by Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, of whom 120 went to work at a jinja.
As always, a little under 10% went to work at their family jinja, while about the same proportion took on other jobs while working at a jinja at the same time, which probably means that they were also at their family jinja. It appears that the 77 students who did not go to work at a jinja did not want to do so. Some of them probably will in the future; they may be from a jinja family and plan to work at a “normal” job until they have to return home to take over. However, 123 jinja asked Kōgakkan for a total of 177 priests, and 186 jinja asked Kokugakuin for 272. There may well be overlap between these, but it is also possible that jinja are only allowed to approach one of the two universities. In any case, the number of vacancies offered to Kokugakuin was larger than the total number of new priests graduating both universities, and a significant number go to work at their family jinja or the jinja of people they know.
This raises the question of why so many new priests do not take jobs at jinja. The two universities give different answers. Kōgakkan focuses on the students taking other jobs, as teachers, civil servants, or office workers, while Kokugakuin focuses on the conditions that jinja put on the sort of people they are looking for. I suspect that both are important factors. I can easily imagine someone entering the training course for the Shinto priesthood, discovering the economic reality as they train, and deciding that they need to find a different job. Similarly, I can easily imagine a lot of jinja looking for young men, when many of the graduates are either female, or older, or both. (As in previous years, about a third of the graduates are female, as compared to about 10% of serving priests.)
Given that jinja have a serious problem recruiting new priests, and that the universities would need to have about twice as many students to meet the demand, the fact that around 30% of the people who qualify go into different fields suggests that Shinto is on the verge of a major crisis, at least outside the Tokyo area. The Shinto establishment does seem to have, belatedly, noticed this over the last couple of years, and it has started active programs to look for solutions. Personally, I do not think that they are giving it a high enough priority, and I have yet to see any signs that it is making a difference. The fundamental problem, I suspect, is that there is no conservative solution to this problem, and the Shinto establishment, and the majority of priests, are instinctively conservative. They may not be able to get widespread support for any changes large enough to have a chance of substantially increasing the recruitment of priests.