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Kokugakuin University

Kokugakuin University is one of the two Shinto universities in Japan. It is the older one, and it is located in Tokyo, although it also has a campus in Yokohama. At the end of February, it took over the entire back page of Jinja Shinpō to introduce some of the activities that took place over the last academic year in the Shinto Studies Department. Thanks to the pandemic, these were somewhat limited: the moon-viewing festival in October, the memorial matsuri for students of the university killed during WWII, also in October, and a student receiving a prize in the Kojiki art competition run by the university. All of these articles took the form of short pieces from students who were involved, along with a brief introduction to the event. There were also two pieces from former students, and a short message from the head of the Shinto Studies Department.

The message from the head of the department makes it clear that the main target audience is new students who will start in April, probably without any real opportunity to visit the university or see what it is like in advance. The aim seems to be to make the department sound like a nice place to study, to reassure the new students. That is a laudable goal.

It also makes the choice of students featured in the articles interesting. Of the nine students who contributed to the page, six are female. Another of them, the student who served as the primary celebrant at the memorial matsuri, does not appear to be of purely Japanese origin, as his name is entirely written in katakana, and is not a “standard” Japanese name. One of the graduating women explicitly mentions that she is not from a hereditary jinja family, while the other implies that she is, although probably the child of a child of a priest who did not take over the jinja.

This leads me to suspect that Kokugakuin has a large female intake this year, and possibly another one or two students of not-entirely-Japanese background coming, and wants to reassure them that they will fit into the department. It could, however, just be random chance. My understanding is that about 40% of the students in the department are female, which means that there is about a 10% chance of getting at least six women when you choose nine students at random. (They also chose several people who danced at the matsuri, and the dancers are likely to be majority female — but then, they chose to have the dancers write, so that is not random either.)

Whether deliberate or not, it does emphasise that the sorts of people currently training for the Shinto priesthood are rather different from the current priests. As this is far from the first time that Kokugakuin has chosen to emphasise the presence of female students, I strongly suspect that there is a deliberate policy at work here. I think they are trying to get existing priests (who make up most of the people reading Jinja Shinpō, after all) to think that it is normal for newly qualified priests to be women. (They already feel that it is normal for them to be men.) That, in turn, should make them more willing to hire women at their jinja, and to have their daughters train to take over. And that should mean that, in thirty years or so, a substantial proportion of chief priests are women.

If you want to correct gender bias in Jinja Shinto, you have to be ready to play a really, really long game.

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