The 21st March issue of Jinja Shinpō carried an interesting article about a program at Osaka Tenmangū to support people who are working at the jinja as miko or in an administrative capacity as they train and qualify for the priesthood.
The program started in 2020, and the idea is that people who are interested in the Shinto priesthood, but are not qualified, are hired at the jinja in another role. As part of that job, they are involved with planning and carrying out events at the jinja, and with preparations for matsuri, as well as doing general administrative work. At the same time, they attend training sessions to qualify for Chokkai and Gon-no-Seikai, the two lowest levels of priestly qualification in Jinja Honchō. Once they have the qualification, they begin serving at matsuri as well.
There were teething problems, but as of the writing of the article two people had qualified from the administrative side, and two from among the miko. The article tells the stories of two such people. One was generally interested in Shinto while he was at university, but had no idea how he could become a priest, so he started an “ordinary” job. When he heard about this scheme, he quit and started working at the jinja, and now has Chokkai.
The other is a former miko. She is now 34 years old, and worked as a miko for many years, eventually becoming chief miko. She then transferred to the administrative side (because she was too old to remain a miko, I guess), and in 2020 she qualified as Chokkai. She was licensed as Gon-no-Seikai last year, and now works at the jinja as a priest. She said that she became interested in becoming a priest over her years of working at the jinja.
The head of the jinja’s PR department (it is a big jinja, with its own YouTube channel) commented that it was very important to recruit priests who had experience of working outside the Shinto world, because they would bring great strengths to the jinja. He himself worked in a regular company, and became connected to the jinja through helping to lead its boy and girl scout groups. The jinja plans to continue the program in the hopes of increasing the diversity of Shinto priests, although they do not plan to take a certain number of people per year, and may take no-one in some years.
I agree that this is an important program, and I hope that more jinja will do it. For one thing, you might, naively, expect that there would be a clear path from miko to priest, but there is not. For another thing, it is really not straightforward to shift into the priesthood from outside without going to one of the Shinto universities — and the number of people who can afford to take four years off work to do that is very limited. If more routes like this were available, the Shinto world might be able to do something to solve its recruitment problem.