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New Priests 2022

On April 25th, Jinja Shinpō published its standard annual review of newly qualified priests and their employment. (The Japanese academic year ends at the end of March, so that is when they graduate.) This year, 72 new priests graduated from Kōgakkan University (in Isë), ten fewer than last year, and 149 graduated from Kokugakuin University (in Tokyo), nine fewer than last year.

At Kōgakkan, 58 graduates (80.5%) got jobs at jinja, over 90% of them as priests. This was also largely true of the female graduates: there were 22 graduating women, and 18 went to work at jinja, 14 of them as priests. None of those women went to work at their family jinja, either. It is true that while only one man went to work in the office of a jinja, rather than as a priest, two women did that, and two went to work as miko, but I am not sure that the difference was statistically significant.

A similar pattern was seen at Kokugakuin. One hundred and twelve new graduates (75.1%) got jobs at jinja, again over 90% as priests. Of the 42 female graduates, 28 got jobs at jinja, 23 of them as priests. This difference is statistically significant, and indeed the staff at Kokugakuin commented that they understood that jinja had different situations based on their “kami and facilities”, but asked them to consider hiring priests without worrying about whether they were male or female.

The reference to “facilities” is a well-known problem in the Shinto world. At many larger jinja, priests live on the premises, at least while they are on duty, and there are purification facilities (baths) so that they can prepare for matsuri. Quite a lot of these jinja apparently only have one dormitory and one communal bath, which makes a mixed priesthood awkward. In theory, of course, they could be all female as easily as all male, but all of these jinja already have a lot of male priests. (There is, in fact, at least one jinja where all the priests are female, but it is a small jinja, and they are all related to each other.) The reference to the kami is not something I have seen before, but there are traditions of particular kami objecting to women in particular places. Perhaps the most famous example is Munakata Taisha, in Fukuoka, Kyushu, where women are not allowed on the most sacred island. Female priests there would not be able to participate in some of the most important matsuri, which would be a problem.

Overall, this year’s numbers look good from the perspective of women going into the priesthood. It is still less likely for a woman to become a priest immediately on graduation than a man (the chance for a man was 77%, and that for a woman was 58%), but things definitely seem to be improving.

On the other hand, the shortage of priests continues to be serious. Kōgakkan had requests for 216 priests, exactly triple the number they had available, while Kokugakuin had requests for 261. Bearing in mind that some priests go to work at their family jinja, the overwhelming majority of vacancies go unfilled.

Both universities did note that the new graduates went to jinja at a wider range of locations than in previous years, covering the whole of Japan rather than concentrating quite so much in the cities, which is another good sign.

The most serious problem is clearly the shortage of new priests, and that will, I think, create pressure on jinja to address the gender imbalance. Roughly a third of graduates are female, and excluding them makes it significantly more likely that you will not find anyone.

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