New Priests 2021

Japanese graduation season has come and gone again, and, as usual, Jinja Shinpō has published an article about the new priests who graduated from the main training centres, particularly Kokugakuin and Kōgakkan Universities. At Kokugakuin, 158 people were licensed as priests, including 60 women, while at Kōgakkan there were 82, including 16 women. 108 from Kokugakuin and 68 from Kōgakkan went to work in jinja. It is notable that, of the 50 who took jobs outside Shinto, 24 were women. Given the overall proportions, this does suggest that it is harder for qualified women to find a job at a jinja than for men (p<0.05, two-tailed binomial).

Of the people who went to work as priests right away, 23 went to work at their family jinja, while 132 went to work at another jinja. Some people in the latter group will have a family jinja, but are getting experience at another jinja that can afford to pay them before going back to take over the economically borderline family jinja. Others will be from a non-jinja background, but there is no breakdown for those data. More than half (12) of the people going to their family jinja are women, while less than a quarter (27) of those going to other jinja are. It is also notable that, of the seven people from Kokugakuin who went to work at jinja in a non-priestly role (either administrative or as miko), six were women. It is reasonable to guess that quite a few of them became miko. It is true that miko are not trainee priests, but it is not that unusual for full-time miko at large jinja to be fully qualified priests — it is a job that gives them experience of a Shinto environment, and some of them may well go back to be the chief priest of their family jinja later. (I do not know the proportions — and some miko may well be trainee priests, just not because they are miko.)

Kokugakuin commented that 29 graduating women became priests, while six went into jinja in other roles, which is, apparently, a much higher total number going to work at jinja than in recent years. They think that jinja have become more positive about employing women, and that more jinja now have an environment in which they can employ women. I suspect that the latter means things like “priests staying at the jinja no longer all sleep in one room and share the same bath”. This is obviously a good thing. There is still a problem, however, as 51 out of 115 students graduating from the standard university course were female, which is getting very close to 50%, while the proportion of new priests who are female is much lower. Given that Kokugakuin received notice of 277 vacancies for those 158 graduates, the Shinto world cannot really afford to be losing so many people who have trained. (Kōgakkan just commented that lots of women got jobs.)

Both Kokugakuin and Kōgakkan commented that there were more people taking jobs in non-central areas of Japan. Kokugakuin commented that although placements were still concentrated in Kantō, the area around Tokyo, the number going to jinja in other areas of the country had increased. They attributed this to the university telling students to consider going to jinja in other regions. Kōgakkan attributed the change among their graduates to the students’ own desires.

These articles are published every year, and they give me the impression that Kokugakuin is quite active in trying to address problems with recruitment (both jinja not taking women, and students all wanting to stay in Tokyo), while Kōgakkan is much more inclined to not see a systemic problem.

It is also interesting to note that Kokugakuin’s graduating class was 44% female, while Kōgakkan’s was only 20% women. However, I do not really have enough information to speculate on the reasons for this.

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