The YouTube video linked below is an interview with a Ukrainian Shinto priestess, called Tatiana.
The video is all in Japanese, and while I looked at the autotranslate English subtitles, they are terrible. Nevertheless, they are, in most cases, better than nothing, if you assume that the really weird bits are translation problems. (Their conversation is entirely reasonable.)
Tatiana is a priestess, and licensed by Jinja Honchō. (I happen to know, independently, that this is true.) She may well be the first non-Japanese woman to be licensed as a Shinto priest by Jinja Honchō, although there have been a couple of earlier examples in other traditions. She is married to one of the priests at the jinja where she works, and that is why she was able to take the six-week training course that she talks about. She only qualified last year, and in the video she mentions thinking that, if the kami did not want her to be a priest, the course would be cancelled due to COVID, while if it went ahead, that was a sign that the kami was happy with it. (Obviously, it went ahead.)
Most of the conversation is about standard Shinto background, and thus things that regular readers of this blog already know. That includes the fact that non-Japanese people can become Shinto priests.
This is, however, another illustration of the real barrier to non-Japanese becoming Shinto priests: you need a strong connection to someone in the Shinto world who will recommend you. That’s probably harder to get than the necessary Japanese language proficiency. Marrying your connection is, however, definitely not necessary.
Wow, her Japanese sounds really good.
She was able to take the training course in Japanese, so yes, her Japanese is good. That’s one of the very few absolute requirements for being licensed by Jinja Honchō at the moment.
Impressive! And a good example of the fact that Shinto is really open to everyone.
Out of curiosity: Are you familiar with the fact that there is a Dutch Shinto-master Paul de Leeuw active in Europe? As you are originally from the UK, you might have heard of him?
I have seen him perform Shinto ceremonies twice, both in the Netherlands. From the shinto.nl website I get that after 3 years of study he received approval of the 79th Grandmaster of Yamakage Shinto to perform ceremonies. Apparantly that made him the first non-Japanese person to obtain this approval/permission. From an interview with him (mr. De Leeuw) I gathered that he was explicitly told go to work in Europe and not in Japan. Does that happen more?
I have heard of Mr de Leeuw, but only after I came to Japan, so I have never met him. He might well be the first non-Japanese person to get authorisation from Yamakage Shinto, because that is a minor tradition. One of the leaders of the tradition (Motohisa Yamakage) did have a book translated into English (and Mr de Leeuw was one of the editors), so it may be better known outside Japan than inside. (Although Motohisa Yamakage has also published books in Japanese — but there is a lot more competition in the category “books about Shinto” in Japanese.)
I don’t think non-Japanese priests are often asked to work outside Japan, although it is certainly an option.
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