The October 25th issue of Jinja Shinpō included another column by Revd Mori, the female priest whose columns I have talked about several times in the past. This time, she wrote about how she nearly quit being a priest — or, more accurately, about how she did briefly quit.
After finishing her training and her period working at the Imperial Palace, she went to work at a jinja (which she does not name). By the time she reached her seventh year there, however, she felt that she could not continue just doing the same thing every day. She was suffering severe stress, had lost ten kilos in six months, and had decided that she was simply not suited to working at a jinja. Because it would severely inconvenience the jinja if she left abruptly, she gave them a year’s notice. She spent that year considering her abilities and experiences, and was quite optimistic about finding a new career, one to which she was better suited.
However, about three months after she had actually left, a priest she knew asked her what was happening about her becoming a chief priest. This was the first she had heard of it, but her immediate reaction was that she wanted to do it. All the other ideas she had had fell away, and being a priest seemed like the only thing worth doing. She enquired, and found out that there really was a suggestion that she replace a recently retired chief priest. Obviously, she took the job, and is now the chief priest of ten jinja. (She lives in Kōchi Prefecture, on Shikoku, which is a rural area, with multiple jinja per priest.)
I suspect that this sort of story is quite common. Working as a Shinto priest is not easy, and does involve doing the same things repeatedly. If you grow up in a jinja family, it is just part of the way things are, because you have almost certainly been helping with the matsuri ever since you were old enough. If you come from outside, it is, reportedly, much more of a culture shock, particularly if you are a junior priest at a larger jinja, as almost all such priests are. It is not uncommon for young priests to quit under the pressure, and I have mentioned before on this blog that this is a problem for the Shinto world, because they are short of new priests to start with.
The ones who persist are, I suspect, mostly like Revd Mori: they feel a deep and strong calling to be a priest, and cannot imagine being anything else.