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New Priests 2019

With the end of the Japanese academic year in March, Jinja Shinpō has published its normal analysis of newly graduated priests. This year, there were 256 altogether, of whom 61 were women. That is a slightly lower proportion than previous years, if I recall correctly. Of these, 65, including 20 women, found jobs outside Shinto.

This is a serious problem for Shinto. Only the two universities give numbers for how many vacancies were reported to them, but there were 290 at Kokugakuin and 217 at Kōgakukan. I have no idea how much, if any, overlap there was between them, but Kokugakuin reports that they were able to fill 63 vacancies, and Kōgakukan was unable to fill vacancies at over 90 jinja. That means that, at Kokugakuin, 43 people who had spent four years training to be a Shinto priest were faced with 227 vacancies to work as priests, and decided that, if the choice was between those jobs and not being a priest, they would not be a priest.

Kokugakuin, as normal, picks up on the things that jinja need to do to solve this problem. As usual, they mention the need for jinja to accept a wide range of types of applicant. This year, they do not specify, but in previous years they noted that jinja kept asking for men raised in jinja families who were in their twenties. The other thing that they mention is the tendency towards the capital.

This has been mentioned before, but gets more detail this year. Students who were born in jinja families come to Kokugakuin from all over Japan, but it is in Tokyo, so after a few years living there, many of them want to stay in the area. The students who were not born within a torii are almost all from the Tokyo area in the first place, so it is natural if they are reluctant to move away. To address this, Kokugakuin asks jinja to make “job adverts” that explain why the jinja and the region are attractive places to live and work.

It is slightly surprising that jinja are not doing that already. They have no excuse for not knowing that there are about five places for every applicant (a lot of new priests go to jobs that are not publicly advertised), and so it should have been obvious that they need to make their jinja look attractive. Apparently not, however.

Shinto already suffers from a serious shortage of priests. The graduates of the training centres cannot fill the available vacancies. Under those conditions, losing about 25% of your newly qualified priests to other fields is catastrophic. Unfortunately, I suspect that the most common reaction at jinja will be to complain that young people today need to be more dedicated and civic-minded. I fear that that will not be effective.

I cannot say anything definite about what might work, because I do not know why the vacancies on offer are unattractive. It might well be worthwhile for Kokugakuin to ask students, and pass the answers on — and, for all I know, they might already do that. If it is the low pay, then there will be little that jinja can do about it, but I doubt that anyone takes four years of training for the Shinto priesthood in order to get rich. There may be more space to fix other problems.

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