In the last few days, I’ve come across a couple of jinja running events at which women can experience being miko. In both places, the stated intent is to counteract the image of miko that comes from manga and anime by providing an opportunity to see what it is really like.
One of them is Amagasaki Ebisu Jinja, in Amagasaki City, which is just to the west of Osaka. Their miko experience is one hour, and while the website, which has English and Chinese as well as Japanese, does not give full details, it seems that you get a brief explanation of a miko’s role, dress up as a miko, and perform a very simple part of a miko’s duties. I would be astonished if paying reverence to the kami is not involved somewhere. It’s only ¥2,000 per person, minimum two people, which makes it a good deal if you are interested in Shinto and visiting Osaka anyway.
The other was much more elaborate. It was held in Maniwa City, at Kiyama Jinja. Maniwa is in the mountains of Okayama Prefecture, in western Japan, and is in an area that is suffering badly from depopulation. Their Miko experience was supported by the prefectural Jinjachō, but according to the article in Jinja Shinpō the expenses were basically covered by the participation fees. The fee for the event was ¥10,000, and participation was limited to women between 15 and 40, with up to 20 participants. In the end, they got 15.
The event started at 8:30 am, with a formal visit to the jinja, and the morning was taken up with instruction on a miko’s role, and on the basic etiquette for a jinja. After lunch, the prefectural sacred dance instructors taught the participants Toyosaka no Mai, one of the standard Miko Kagura. They then ran through two practice wedding ceremonies, taking the various miko roles, before serving at an actual Shinto wedding.
(One assumes that the couple agreed. “On the bright side, we can offer you fifteen miko serving at your wedding, at no additional cost. On the down side, they will all have started training that morning. The later in the day you have the ceremony, the better they will be at their jobs.” There is a good chance that they were friends with the chief priest, as Maniwa is not a big city. The miko experience was linked to a project in the city to get couples who live in the city to have their wedding ceremonies there, to boost the local economy. The article says that 180 or so couples register their marriage in the city every year, and if 60 of them had their ceremonies there, that would be a major economic boost. That should give you an idea of the size of the city.)
There is a video on line, from the local TV station. (The men you can see in the video are instructors; the video says that all the weddings were practice, but Jinja Shinpō is more likely to have got that right.)
Obviously, this is a much more elaborate experience, and involves actually serving as a miko at a matsuri. The article mentions that this is the second time they have done this, and that they would like to draw people from a wider area, including overseas. Now, if you are a young(ish) woman with an interest in Shinto, I would say that this would be worth a special trip to Maniwa. I am going to try to contact them, ideally through Jinja Honchō, to see if I can help them to target English-speaking foreigners. I will report back.
Incidentally, both of these jinja have female chief priests. That is probably not a pure coincidence, but I do not know what the precise connection is.