A few weeks ago, Jinja Shinpō published an analysis of the newly-graduated priests, as it always does in April. This year there were 232, including 59 women, of whom 184 took jobs at jinja. (39 of the women went to work at jinja.) The overwhelming majority of these priests graduated from the two Shinto universities, Kōgakkan in Isë (63) and Kokugakuin in Tokyo (154). As normal, the number of people going to work in jinja offices or as miko, rather than as priests, was overwhelmingly dominated by women (13 out of 16).
On the other hand, Kōgakkan received notification of 274 vacancies, while Kokugakuin was told about 312. Obviously, they were never going to be able to send priests to all of those jinja. Kokugakuin noted, as previously, that it was harder for women and older graduates to find posts, and repeated a request that they have made before. They ask jinja, particularly those outside Tokyo, to include an explanation of why someone would want to work at that jinja with the announcement of the vacancy. They note that a lot of their graduates want to work around Tokyo, because they have lived there for the last four years and are used to it, so jinja that want them to move to an area of rural Japan that they have never visited need to make an effort.
The editorial in the same issue of Jinja Shinpō was about this topic, and as well as expressing the hope that the new priests would make a great contribution to Shinto over the coming years, it touched on some of the other issues. Working as a priest is not an easy job. It starts early, involves a lot of cleaning, has no holidays, and, at the vast majority of jinja, pays badly. Quite a lot of priests have to do other jobs to make ends meet, meaning that they work full time and serve at the jinja in what would be their spare time — and thus have no spare time. The editorial mentions that some priests work part-time in convenience stores, or do seasonal work in fishing ports, in order to make ends meet, something that is probably easy to forget if you work at one of the large jinja. This means that new priests are often inclined to quit fairly early, particularly if they have gone to an area of Japan that they do not know.
I think there is a tendency for older priests to see this as a failing on the part of the younger priests. However, the numbers clearly show that the Shinto world cannot afford to lose any priests. They already have at least 50% more vacancies than there are candidates, and there are plenty of vacancies for young people in the rest of the Japanese economy as well. Someone in his twenties who abandons being a priest will have no problem finding another job and another career, but the jinja will have great trouble replacing him.
I have no idea what should be done about this problem, because it requires changes at individual jinja, but it might be good for Jinja Honchō to start looking at giving examples of good practice in this field as well.